Yeats school and festival under way


A GRANDDAUGHTER of the poet WB Yeats last night welcomed students to the opening of the 53rd Yeats International Summer School in Sligo.

Caitriona Yeats was in Sligo almost 150 years after her great-grandfather, portrait painter John Butler Yeats, first visited the town, where he promptly fell in love with Susan Pollexfen, daughter of a wealthy local merchant and ship owner.

The marriage by most accounts was not a happy one – John B Yeats once said his wife’s family had a genius “for being dismal” – but students attending this year’s summer school will hear plenty about the offspring of the unhappy union.

Tread Softly is a new festival organised to coincide with this year’s summer school and to highlight the link between Sligo and the Yeats brothers, William Butler and painter Jack B. While Sligo’s influence on the poet has been a talking point during every summer school for more than half a century, less well documented is Jack B Yeats’s affection for the local landscape. He once said he never created a painting “without at least a thought of Sligo in it”.

Among the highlights of the festival will be readings by Seamus Heaney, Harry Clifton, Ciaran Carson, Belinda McKeon, Kevin Barry and Bernard O’Donoghue; an exhibition at the Model arts centre of work by John B and Jack B Yeats; and a musical “extravaganza” at the Hawk’s Well Theatre featuring Steve Wickham.

There will also be a Yeats Vintage Day on August 4th with prizes for the best dressed man and woman in Edwardian attire, and an exhibition of original costumes from productions of Yeats’s plays at the Abbey Theatre.

As is customary, the summer school started yesterday with a visit to WB Yeats’s grave at Drumcliffe Church. Today James Pethica from Williams College in the US will give a lecture, Yeats and the Loss of Coole, about the impact of Lady Gregory’s death on the poet. The school continues until August 10th.