Tread Softly festival steps up celebrations

Event focuses on ‘taking Yeats beyond academia and out onto the streets’

After 53 years you might think they'd run out of things to say at the annual Yeats International Summer School in Sligo. Far from it. This year, a new festival, Tread Softly, will run alongside the two-week school, finishing on August 9th.

As Maurice Sweeney, director of the IFTA-winning documentary film, WB Yeats: No Country for Old Men, pointed out, the poet's work turns up in the most unlikely places, including in the TV series, The Sopranos.

"Tony's son A.J. recites his poem The Second Coming in the last series, and if you look up YouTube clips about 9/11 you will see that the poem is all over them. It is portentous," said Sweeney, whose documentary was screened at the Model arts centre in Sligo last night.

While Tony Soprano regularly complained that “everything turns to shit”, Yeats’s lines, “Things fall apart/ The centre cannot hold” probably says more, and says it more eloquently. Such topics will be discussed in Sligo over the coming fortnight.


Yesterday the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Mark Patrick Hederman, officially opened the 54th Yeats International Summer School, while on Saturday Tread Softly kicked off with Yeats Vintage Day. Tourists did a double take as dozens of people in 1920s attire gathered under on O'Connell Street.

“Tread Softly is about opening up Yeats beyond academic circles and bringing him out on to the streets,” explained Rory O’Connor, one of the festival organisers.

During a Seanad debate about divorce in in 1925, Yeats declared: “Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.” A discussion about what Yeats’s views might be on recent Seanad debates will take place tomorrow evening when Senator Susan O’Keeffe joins former senators John Horgan and Mary Henry at Sligo’s Methodist Church.

Ireland's Ambassador to Germany Dan Mulhall will be at the same venue this evening for a talk about Yeats's pronouncement on the death of romantic Ireland in September 1913.

“I think events in Ireland had embittered Yeats in 1913,” said Mulhall.

Festival highlights include readings by Seamus Heaney and John Banville; a Jack B Yeats exhibition, Enter the Clowns, at the Model; and a performance of A Yeats Summer Suite by the John Carty festival band.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland