Behind the News: Fidelma Healy Eames, WB Yeats devotee

A big donation this week means that Thoor Ballylee, the 16th-century tower house once owned by the poet, will reopen this summer, in time for the 150th anniversary of his birth

The 16th-century Hiberno-Norman tower house once owned by the poet WB Yeats will reopen this summer after the donation of €30,000 by an Irish-American lawyer and Yeats scholar.

Thoor Ballylee, a few kilometres from the home of Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats's friend and patron, at Coole Park in Gort, Co Galway, will once again be on the Yeats tourist trail, thanks to funding by Joseph Hassett, the author of WB Yeats and the Muses.

He has given the money to the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, a voluntary group that is developing a plan to reopen Thoor Ballylee permanently.

"This is an incredibly iconic building, and it's particularly apt that it will be reopened this summer, to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats, " says Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who chairs the society. It took over the tower from Fáilte Ireland, which ran it as a tourist office until it was flooded in 2009.

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"People were tired of coming to Thoor and seeing it closed. WB Yeats bought it in 1916 and spent many summers here with his family. He wrote poems such as The Winding Stair and Blood and the Moon, and the poems in The Tower, while he was staying there," says Healy Eames.

She adds that, despite appeals for Government funding, the society has received no State support so far. “Yeats predicted that Thoor would return to a ruin, but to leave Thoor as it is is to leave beauty behind. It’s a place of solace, and we must wake up to the treasures we have.”

Healy Eames is hopeful that the group will raise more funds at a poetry and music event on Poetry Ireland Day (next Thursday, at 8pm) and at a rooftop auction (Sunday, May 31st, at 6pm), at which a local auctioneer, Colm Farrell, will dress up as Yeats and sell items from the top of Thoor Ballylee.

"The building is in a good state," says Healy Eames. "It has been cleaned, but it needs work done on its electrics and toilets. I have asked Simon Harris, Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, if the OPW might work in collaboration with local people in the future management of it."

The funds from Hassett, who first came to the International Yeats Summer School in 1963, when Thoor Ballylee was open as a Yeats museum, will go towards housing an exhibition in the tower.

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society also hopes to open a cafe and bookshop in the cottage at the foot of the tower.

It will commemorate the 150th anniversary of WB Yeats’s birth with a public event on June 13th.

You can find out more about the society at yeatsthoorballylee.org