WB Yeats’s Nobel medal donated to National Library

Poet was awarded literature prize in 1923 for ‘giving expression to spirit of a whole nation’

WB Yeats’s Nobel Prize in Literature medal has been donated to the National Library of Ireland. File photograph: Getty Images

WB Yeats’s Nobel Prize in Literature medal has been donated to the National Library of Ireland. File photograph: Getty Images


The National Library of Ireland (NLI) has officially received the medal awarded to WB Yeats in 1923 for winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The medal, valued at €1.5 million, and the accompanying diploma were donated by the Yeats family to the organisation at a special event at the library on Thursday afternoon.

Yeats was awarded the prize by the Swedish Academy for his “always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”.

In his presentation speech, Per Hallstrom, the then chairman of the academy’s Nobel Committee, praised the poet’s ability to “follow the spirit that early appointed him the interpreter of his country, a country that had long waited for someone to bestow on it a voice”.

Yeats himself considered the Nobel to be less for himself than for his country and called it Europe’s welcome to the Free State.

“We are honoured to receive WB Yeats’s Nobel Prize medal and we are extremely grateful for the extraordinary generosity of generations of the Yeats family,” said Dr Sandra Collins, director of the NLI.

“The library already holds the personal library and papers of WB Yeats and the donation of his Nobel Prize medal really completes the story of one of Ireland’s greatest poets here in the National Library.”

The Yeats family had previously facilitated the library’s acquisition of Yeats’s personal library in 2002.

The poet’s family also donated a substantial collection of biographical and critical works on the poet to the library.

Yeats archive

According to the NLI, as a result of these donations its Yeats Collection is now the largest archive of Yeats manuscripts and books in the world.

The donations were at the heart of its award-winning exhibition Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats, which was attended by more than 66,000 visitors last year.

Included in the display are original manuscripts of Yeats’s poems and plays, material relating to the occult and examples of his automatic writing.

Catriona Yeats, the poet’s granddaughter, said: “The donation of the WB Yeats Nobel Prize medal and citation to the National Library of Ireland, together with related letters and telegrams of congratulation to the poet on his winning the award, continues a longstanding family tradition and we are delighted that the medal will be added to the library’s Yeats Collection.”