The future of Yeats in Sligo is under threat. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the finances of the Yeats Society Sligo and, as a result, the society is facing imminent closure. We must raise €100,000 by August or close forever – closing off the legacy of our greatest poet, and the important literary heritage for future generations of poets, poetry lovers and local people.
Valuing the work and impact of the Yeats Society Sligo must first be rooted in the extraordinary impact that WB Yeats has and continues to have on the world. Not only is he the most quoted poet globally, but his work has appeared in every genre of the arts: opera, folk music, jazz, film, theatre, poetry, art and literature. In addition, and just as importantly, is the realisation that the poet has brought Ireland to every corner of the globe through the universality of his work. Yeats always wrote about the mortal challenges: excavating and untangling love, success, failure, friendship, ageing and death.
And place. Sligo, his mother’s home, endured in Yeats’ life from his early poetic attempts through to the work he created in the last few weeks of his life. Sligo was his inspirational home, where he chose to be buried. And Yeats Society Sligo, now in its sixth decade, has endured in this small town, on the wild, Atlantic coast, with no university (yet), precisely because Yeats’s links with this place are authentic.
As is the work that has been done by the society over those 60 years. The book launches, readings, workshops, art gallery, music performances and the exhibition, which tells Yeats’s story to visitors, is bolstered by what is now the longest running literary summer school in the world. The work we do matters because Yeats has mattered to so many already – across three centuries. Our work must endure for those still here and those to come.
The Yeats Society has devoted itself to honoring the greatest Irish poet of the 20th century in ways that have been intellectually and economically stimulating not only for the northwest but far beyond. The Yeats Summer School is a byword for cultural tourism in Ireland. My strongest sense of Sligo is of a town vibrant with scholars from all over the world and it would be more than unthinkable – a national disgrace – were it forced to shut down.
Paul Muldoon is a poet
My time as poet in residence at Yeats Society Sligo has been a lifeline during lockdown, allowing me to connect with fans of Yeats and aspiring writers all over Ireland and further afield. The Yeats Society has been consistently flexible and fleet of foot when it comes to responding to the crisis, bringing the same verve and energy to their projects that they did before lockdown. Before lockdown, I've attended launches at the building, given readings, and of course visited the Summer School. Sligo, and Ireland, without the Yeats Society would be a much impoverished place.
Jessica Traynor is a poet and dramaturg and poet in residence at Yeats Society Sligo
The work of Yeats Society Sligo over many decades has meant a lot to us as a family. My father, Senator Michael Yeats, was the patron of the Yeats International Summer School and I took on that role after his death. We have seen students, scholars and friends from across the globe come to Sligo to enjoy both the school and the beauty of Sligo. We would very much like to see the society's work continue and for my grandfather's poems and plays to continue to be shared and enjoyed.
Caitríona Yeats is a grand-daughter of WB Yeats
This ongoing pandemic has taught us, among other things, how deeply the Irish people value their singers and poets, their artists and writers, actors and others, who devote their lives to celebrating the imagination, to sharing their insights and their gifts with all. The Yeats Society in Sligo has for more than 60 years brought artists and scholars from all over Ireland and from all over the world to Sligo, to the heart-place of Yeats' enduring and sustaining imagination. They have played a stellar role, often through dark days, in celebrating and nourishing the values we so evidently hold dear, and have played a hugely valuable role in promoting those values to the world. That the society now has to go out on the streets with a begging bowl is nothing short of scandalous.
Theo Dorgan is a poet
From his first visit as a student, to his last in August 2013 when he gave the opening address, the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo was of great significance to my father. It kept him connected to a community of scholars, students, poets and writers from around the world who shared his belief in poetry, and his regard for the work of Yeats in particular – a master who "had this marvellous gift for beating the scrap metal of the day-to-day life into a ringing bell" (Stepping Stones). Many of those encounters were to grow into close and sustaining friendships, and he and my mother returned time and again, always receiving a warm welcome in Sligo, a place that was and remains dear to our family.
Catherine Heaney is the daughter of Seamus Heaney
It would be a source of deep shame if in its 63rd year The Yeats Society was let go to the wall. It is baffling that the society's underpinning of the Yeats Summer School, Yeats Day, and all the amazing readings, performances, workshops, lectures, visual arts, all that "delirium of the brave", might be counted as nought for the sake of, in the scale of things, modest funding. The fruitful decades of network: the artists, the musicians, the writers, the dancers, the students, the tourists, the dreamers that whorled in and out of Sligo and her hinterland in the name of a Dead White Poet, all those scholars and intellectuals that found year after year new lenses, new angles in WB's poetry and in the radical lives of that generation of the Revival and the Revolutionary years. And these lenses offer new ways to look at our own present moment, to interrogate it, to critique it, to celebrate and grieve it. The Yeats Society cherishes and advances the power of the imagination, offers genuine hospitality and kindness to folk of all stripes from all over the world, fosters life long friendships in the name of poetry. It has a destiny in the economic recovery of a most beautiful part of our island home. It is eminently sustainable. If ever there was a moment to step up, to put the money where the rhetorical big talk is, this is that moment.
Paula Meehan is a poet