Yeats would be pleased by tourist trail, says Heaney


VINCENT RAFTERY remembers as an 11-year-old boy “still in short trousers” leaving the Mall school in Sligo to gaze at the pomp and ceremony as the body of WB Yeats was taken in accordance with his wishes back to Drumcliffe for burial.

People had lined the streets to watch and many filed past the coffin as it rested outside the town hall. The literati who had gathered for the homecoming nine years after the poet’s death in France included Austin Clarke, Lennox Robinson and Frank O’Connor, who gave the graveside oration.

“I just knew he was somebody famous from Sligo,” 73-year-old Mr Raftery recalled yesterday as he watched another Nobel laureate pay tribute to Yeats at the same town hall on the 70th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Seamus Heaney admitted he had been briefly squeamish about the notion of launching the Yeats Trail, a joint Fáilte Ireland/Yeats Society initiative, given the trail marks the “places of silence and solitude” Yeats retreated to when he wanted to get away from the world. But then he remembered when the poet himself was trying to convince the Board of Works to sell him the tower at Thoor Ballylee in Co Galway, he had in one letter pointed out: “I will be a tourist attraction in the region.”

Heaney said he regarded that as benediction and he thought the poet would be pleased at the notion of poetry lovers being guided to the places he had immortalised.

Stella Mew, chief executive of the Yeats Society, doesn’t think there is too much danger of the Yeatsian landmarks in Sligo being overrun with visitors given that there is just one plaque in the town – put up a few weeks ago at St John’s cathedral – marking places of interest to Yeats lovers.

Chairman of Fáilte Ireland northwest Paschal Mooney told the gathering that when he visited Parnell’s home in Steyning, West Sussex, he had been astonished to find this small village had another Irish link which it proudly celebrated – WB Yeats had also lived there for a year.

Ms Mew said she felt sad that none of the buildings linked with Yeats’s family were identified with plaques.

“What gets me is that Yeats should be as important to Sligo as Shakespeare is to Stratford-on-Avon but we don’t treat him with the same respect,” said Ms Mew. She said places all over the world celebrated their links with Yeats, but Sligo, which had formed him, the place which he loved above all others, couldn’t manage to put up a few plaques in the homes his family had lived in.

Ironically, as the trail was being launched, a Sligo family warned that a road-widening project beside their home could interfere with a river where Yeats had sailed toy boats as a child.

Nonie O’Beirne, who has for over 50 years lived at Fort Louis in Rathbraughan, once the home of Yeats’s uncle Mat, said she was heart broken at the notion that the course of the very river so beloved of the Yeats children might be altered. “Rivers are sacred things and we feel an immense responsibility because of the link with Yeats,” she said.

In a statement yesterday the county council said it was considering various road-alignment options between the Old Bundoran Road and the N15. The project was at preliminary investigation stage, it stressed. Environmental and archaeological reports had been commissioned and when a route was eventually selected the views of the general public would be sought before a decision was made.