Poetry in motion on Yeats Day boat trip


AT THE Yeats statue outside a bank in Sligo, Paul Murray was blowing up balloons and trying to explain to a tourist what Yeats Day was all about, with a passing reference to Bloomsday. “In Sligo we have a writer who people actually read,” he explained.

The first ever Yeats Day, billed as a dawn to dusk celebration to mark WB Yeats’s birthday, had started with a boat trip across Lough Gill to the lake isle of Innisfree and a full Irish breakfast on the menu for passengers (not a nutty gizzard or a urine-scented mutton kidney in sight).

Senator Susan O’Keeffe, the driving force behind the event, said the idea was to give everyone an opportunity to enjoy Yeats, “even the people who know only one Yeats poem”.

Across the road from Yeats’s statue, the Yeats Memorial Building was humming with the sound of local children reciting their favourite Yeats poems.

Stella Mew, outgoing chief executive of the Yeats Society, entertained visitors by sharing her endless supply of stories about the Yeats and Pollexfen families.

Yeats was not actually able to find the isle of Innisfree when he rowed out on Lough Gill to show it to his future wife Georgie Hyde-Lees, she explained, and some say the poet had been inspired by a different island when he wrote the poem.

Joe Cox, president of the Yeats Society, said the society was proud to host an international summer school every year (this year’s will be the 53th and it runs from July 29th to August 10th) but he also stressed it was important to make the Yeats phenomenon “not populist but popular”.

In the Pollexfen Building in Wine Street, once the business headquarters of William Pollexfen, Yeats’s maternal grandfather, current owner and local solicitor Gerry McCanny was delighted to be hosting a collection of the poet’s papers, courtesy of the National Library.

As a trickle of passersby, young men in soccer jerseys, parents pushing buggies and teenagers in school uniforms scanned the exhibits, he said people seemed anxious to know more about the poet who had put Sligo on the map. “I hope we can expand this and really celebrate the 150th birthday.”

Local historian Joe McGowan, one of those who pinned a favourite quote from Yeats to the “living statue”, had come directly from the bank. “I said that if the news was good at the bank I would pin up a poem – but I decided to do it anyway,” he said.

Mr McGowan said he applauded the idea of having a Yeats Day which was accessible to everyone, as he believed the poet was inspired by folklore and the customs and beliefs of the common people.

On O’Connell Street, closed to traffic for the day, they had a party to celebrate the 147th birthday, and homemade cards made by schoolchildren from all over Co Sligo were pinned to shop windows and the Johnson Court Shopping Centre.

“Happy 147th birthday, William. I thought your cat and the moon poem was great,” a little girl called Megan had written. The reviews continue to be good.