The Sligo pub which hosted a daily Yeats reading for a year
Probably the most popular participant at Hargadons pub was Joanna Lumley
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin reading Easter 1916 by WB Yeats in Hargadons Bar, Sligo. Photograph: Brian Farrell
Even over Christmas, the regulars at Hargadons pub in O’Connell Street, Sligo refused to let Yeats down.
The pub – which in 1864 opened its doors the year before Yeats was born – decided to celebrate the poets 150th birthday, with a daily reading from his work.
The readers throughout the past year have been a diverse bunch, including regular patrons, ambassadors, poet laureates, government Ministers, and Yeats’ granddaughter Caitriona. Probably the most popular participant in the Poetry 365 project was “Absolutely Fabulous” star Joanna Lumley who, according to Eileen Monahan of Hargadons , had to pose for about a thousand selfies on her day trip to Sligo.
“The idea really caught on – it became something on people’s to-do list” said Monahan, who with her husband Ray, leased the historic pub in 2008.
One of the most novel readings was via Skype courtesy of Sligo man Declan Foley a long-time resident of Melbourne, Australia, who 25 years ago founded a Yeats Society in Victoria.
“We just put a laptop on the counter and off he went,” explained writer and former Sky and Channel 4 journalist Kieran Devaney, a loyal patron who jokingly refers to the snug in Hargadons as “the office” .
“There were professors from US universities and ordinary people too,” stressed Devaney. One of his favourite contributors was a tourist who arrived in with a fish in a Tesco bag and gave a dramatic rendition of Yeats’ The Song of wandering Aengus with its account of catching “ a little silver trout”.
On the rare occasions when there was no name in the book and nobody stepped forward at one o’clock, one of the bar staff stepped up for Yeats. “One of the regulars even came in on Good Friday, but he swears he did not have a drink”, said Devaney.
Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe, chair of Yeats 2015, who suggested the idea to the Monahans, believes that the project has taken poetry “out of the ivory tower and into the pub”.
On Christmas Day she risked being mistaken for someone trying to get around the licensing laws, when she took a break from turkey basting duties to stand outside the pub and recite “The Indian upon God”.
Yeats himself ran a Rhymers’ Club in the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in London’s Fleet street in the 1800s so may have approved of the Hargadons gesture.
Eileen Monahan observed that a lot of people seemed to have read a poem “ in memory of someone”.
The Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran may have been one of those. He read Red Hanarahan’s Song about Ireland, recalling for those present that his grandmother Katie Dillion had worked for Yeats’ sisters Lily and Lolly as a seamstress, helping them to embroider the vestments for the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress.
Retired coroner and GP Des Moran , one of the December volunteers remembered as a schoolboy attending Yeats funeral in 1948 . The poet’s remains, or so most people then believed, had been returned from France for burial in Drumcliffe.
“I remember being shown De Valera in Drumcliffe and also Maud Gonne’s son Seán McBride,” he recalled. “He was staying at the Great Southern Hotel and he was either Chief of Staff of the IRA or about to be. It was said that he was armed and that the Gardaí did not like to make an issue of it”.
Caitriona Yeats didn’t pretend to know all the work inside out when she popped into the pub on her grandfather’s actual birthday on June 13th .
“We didn’t read much of my grandfather’s work growing up,” she admitted.
She chose, Come Gather Round Me, Parnellites, explaining that her mother Grainne used to sing it.
Given it’s long-time attraction for literary figures, Ray Monahan says that the daily poetry reading was a good fit for Hargadons. A black and white photo of the late writer Dermot Healy with Séamus Heaney taken in the pub has pride of place.
“I’m told Séamus Heaney had his favourite seat and people who spotted him often rushed off to buy one of his books so that they could get him to sign it,” explained the owner.
This article was amended at 4.37pm on Wednesday, January 20th.