Yeats 2015: Statements

It gives me great pleasure to be here today to outline to the Seanad the celebrations of Yeats Day 2015 and surrounding events. Yeats Day 2015, which takes place this coming Saturday, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Nobel Prize winning poet, William Butler Yeats. The key focal point for the celebrations is a four-day Yeats Festival from 11 to 14 June, centred in County Sligo, which was the inspiration for much of his poetry. This weekend will be the high point of Yeats 2015 - a year of tribute to W.B. Yeats, which includes visual art, poetry, drama, street performance, music and family events. The initiative has been embraced across the globe. More than 40 countries are marking Yeats Day with cultural events taking place in cities such as Melbourne, Vienna, Montreal, Berlin, London, New York, Singapore, Shanghai, Paris and Madrid. Events include a range of concerts, readings, talks and screenings with a host of well-known personalities taking part, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Adrian Dunbar, Joanna Lumley, Edna O'Brien, Orla Kiely, Gabriel Byrne, Colum McCann and many more. This global response shows the incredible reach of Yeats's poetry and writing.

Yeats 2015 forms an important part of the official decade of commemoration celebrations. The funding of €500,000 provided by my Department is part of a wider allocation of €22 million for a number of flagship commemorative projects, including a GPO interpretive centre, the development of Kilmainham Courthouse and Jail and the redevelopment of the storage warehouse at the National Archives Project. The celebrations of Yeats 2015 are intended to capture the wonder of his work and to understand what inspired him. Yeats 2015 partners span the literary, cultural, historical and academic worlds. Through Yeats 2015, Ireland is making a statement to the world about its rich cultural heritage and our contemporary cultural wealth. Yeats 2015 celebrates the poet's work and showcases Ireland as a dynamic, inspiring and creative place.

I would like to look ahead to some of the highlights of this weekend's range of activities in Sligo. One of the key focal points will be the poet laureate event this Saturday in Knocknarea. This once-off event is a wonderful idea that will gather the poets laureate from Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London to pay tribute to W.B. Yeats. The laureates have never performed together in Ireland so it promises to be a really special evening. President Michael D. Higgins, who is patron of Yeats 2015, will be in attendance at this event and I also hope to go along myself. I will also be attending the Great Yeats Birthday Party at Lissadell House, which will include a dawn cycle race, a hat party, special poetry readings in the house and an hour-long play by the Curlew Theatre Company.

In particular, I am looking forward to unveiling the audio-visual history project produced in collaboration with the National Library and awarding prizes in the Yeats poetry competition which has been sponsored by Newstalk. Lissadell is, of course, deeply associated with Yeats and I am sure it will act as the perfect location for his 150th birthday party. Indeed, I think it is only when one visits Lissadell and looks out across the lake and the beautiful landscape that surrounds it that one can begin to appreciate the profound impact of this environment on Yeats's work. Like Patrick Kavanagh in Monaghan and Seamus Heaney in Ulster, Yeats's work is Sligo and the county will certainly come alive in a celebration of his work this weekend. Another key event is the unveiling of "Clay and Wattles Made" - an architectural competition run by IT Sligo. The winning entry will create a temporary cabin on the Lake Isle of Innisfree for the summer months as a special tribute to the poet's well-known poem named for this picturesque location. There are many other events taking place in Sligo over the weekend and if they have not already done so, I would certainly encourage Members of the House to come along and check them out.

A series of other commemorative initiatives are marking Yeats 2015. As a special tribute, the Central Bank has issued a limited-edition Yeats-inspired €15 coin on 3 June while An Post will issue a new commemorative stamp on 11 June to honour the poet's 150th birthday. larnród Éireann is also set to partner with Yeats 2015, displaying some of Yeats's best-known and lesser-known poetry on DART trains for the month of June. It is also hosting a poetry carriage on the 11:05 a.m. service from Connolly to Sligo on Yeats Day with live readings, which certainly promises to liven up what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill train journey. The 2015 Great Music in Irish Houses Festival promises to portray Yeats's influence on the musical world by offering audiences an array of vocal and instrumental works from the classical music tradition inspired by the poet. A distinguished line-up of musicians from Ireland have been invited to perform with four distinctly different performances taking place in historic venues in Dublin. In this context, the Dublin Musical Saunter takes place on 14 June at Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane Gallery; the National Concert Hall; the Dublin Writers Museum; and The Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle. The Irish Film Institute will present Alan Gilsenan's special screening of "A Vision: A Life of WB Yeats" on 13 June. There will also be a series of free lunchtime short film screenings across the month of June entitled "Images from a Past Life: W. B. Yeats in Film." In Galway, Coole Park will host a special fancy dress family day celebrating Yeats with the Coole Harmonies choir and uilleann piper Eugene Lamb.

Coole Park was the home of dramatist and folklorist Lady Gregory, friend to Yeats, and was the centre of the Irish literary revival.

To pull it down.

William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey all came to experience its magic. Yeats described it as the most beautiful place on earth, and many of his great poems were written at or about Coole.

On Sunday, 7 and 14 June, guided walks will be offered at 3 p.m. through the magical landscape that Yeats loved so well and celebrated in his poetry.

Our national cultural institutions are also playing a significant role in the Yeats 2015 events from poetry readings at the National Gallery of Ireland to talks on Yeats by the National Library and a unique event dedicated to Yeats planned for the National Concert Hall in September. There are a range of innovative and inspiring events taking place.

The National Library of Ireland holds an award winning, permanent exhibition of the life and work of Yeats. Since the opening of the exhibition in 2006, more than 0.25 million people of all ages and nationalities have delighted in that experience.

I wish to formally acknowledge the work carried out by the national steering committee for Yeats 2015 chaired by Senator Susan O'Keeffe, with involvement from key and noted people from the fields of the arts, culture, tourism and other supporting industries. I also wish to acknowledge the work of Mr. Ian Brannigan and his team at the Western Development Commission, which is administering the Yeats 2015 programme. The range of events is a fitting tribute to a great man who left a lasting mark on our cultural and national heritage. He was a poet, a politician and a man deeply rooted within the very soil of this island. He is a man in whose work we can all trace life's cycle, from the optimistic dreamer of youth through the trials of life to the realism of older age and hope for the renewal of life.

Yeats 2015, and the events planned in Ireland and around the world, will do a tremendous job in celebrating and commemorating the life, work and achievements of W.B. Yeats as well as show-casing Ireland as a dynamic, creative and inspiring place. I thank the Senators for providing me with the opportunity to speak about Yeats 2015 in the House this evening.

I feel I am being advanced to an unusual degree because this is, after all, not just Yeats's evening but Senator O'Keeffe's evening. I thank the Government for providing this opportunity for us to speak of one of the great Members of this House as well as a poet. W.B. Yeats was someone who took up the cause of divorce when it was extremely unpopular, who spoke of the Anglo-Irish minority as no little people and was a remarkable figure here. He also produced the first and most beautiful coinage this State has ever seen, so he was a remarkably practical man for a poet.

He is remembered in this House also because of the wonderful portrait of Constance Markievicz that hangs on the Seanad staircase. When I see that I always think of those beautiful lines of Yeats that I am sure Senator O'Keeffe was going to, and may well, quote:

The light of evening, Lissadell,

Great windows open to the south,

Two girls in silk kimonos, both

Beautiful, one a gazelle.

In the manner of many families of what I call the Gaelic descendancy, my great aunt, after she left Alexandria, was governess to the Gore-Booth girls in Lissadell and although she had an impeccable Gaelic ancestry, she was a complete Union Jack waving, God save the Queen British imperialist. I think that browned off those two girls so much that they went off and got pistols and became revolutionaries so I claim a certain level of a family interest in this but, unlike that other female scion of the revolution, Maude Gonne, they did at least have some Irish blood. Maude Gonne did not have a titter of Irish blood. She first saw Ireland from the inside of the Curragh Camp where her father was a colonel in the British army. She did not have a word of Irish, and she started an organisation called Inghinidhe na hÉireann. Irish history is full of this kind of drivel and rubbish, much of it racist, from these English people like Padraig Pearse, but I will not go into that; I will talk about Yeats.

I was fascinated from a young child with the marvellous musicality of Yeats's verse. There was a swing and a melody to it, despite the fact that Yeats was notorious for having a tin ear. He could not tell the difference between the original Dixieland one step and the national anthem, but he had a wonderful sense of poetry which remained with him throughout his life.

Yeats was one of the great figures of world literature. One of the things I love about him was when somebody telephoned him - I think in 1922 - to tell him he had won the Nobel prize, his immediate response was, "How much is it?". He was immensely practical. He could make world-class poetry out of utter dross. The nonsense of the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky, bangs that go bump in the night and all that kind of stuff provided him with a vocabulary about the perne in a gyre and all that wonderful, spine-tingling imagery. He was like Rembrandt, who had old buckets and scuttles and bits of oars around the studio, but he could make great art out of them, and Yeats was the same.

Yeats also came from a wonderful family. His father, Jack Yeats, was a most brilliant portrait artist and his brother, who I do not believe has been properly assessed in terms of art, is one of the great modern artists.

Yeats founded the Abbey Theatre, another thing for which we have to be grateful to him, but there is always a little bit of humour underneath it. I remember speaking at a planning conference in Sligo at which one of the planners told me that he had applied, in triplicate, as Béarla agus as Gaeilge, for permission to construct a small dwelling house of mud and wattles made, with provision for nine bean rows, on the "Lake Isle of Innisfree". It was turned down with a bang by Sligo County Council, who said it would constitute a gross insult to the visual amenity of County Sligo. So much for attempting to realise a poet's dream.

When I think of Lissadell I also think, very sadly, of the way his family were treated by this State. We do not have a good record in rewarding the figures of the literary renaissance, possibly because, and this came into my mind listening to the Minister, they were all Protestant. O'Casey was a Dublin working class Protestant, Synge - ascendancy, Shaw; Yeats, Lady Gregory, and what a tragedy that is. There were walking tours round the gardens of Coole, and that is because the house is not there any longer. It was deliberately pulled down by the State.

I remember the two old girls in Lissadell, Gabrielle and Aideen, who were wonderfully innocent, lovely creatures, and the way they were harassed by the trustees of the estate. Timber was taken out of Lissadell. I remember the way they were imprisoned in the house. I am sorry the Sinn Féin representative is not here because I remember hearing some squalid little Shinner from Sligo saying on the wireless that it was a pity about the Gore-Booths that they left the people there during the Famine with the green grass running down their lips. The Gore-Booths, like my Gaelic Irish family, bankrupted themselves feeding and looking after the people-----

The Senator is over time.

I am just finished. They should be saluted and remembered. They were wonderful people, and Constance and Eva Gore-Booth were in a remarkable tradition, which was memorialised by probably the greatest poet this country has ever seen and somebody we are honoured to have had as a representative in Seanad Éireann.

The Minister is very welcome to the House. I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak about the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats, which takes place next week, 13 June. I commend Senator O'Keeffe, and her hard-working committee, on all the work she has done to create Yeats 2015.

It is a year-long national and international celebration of the life and works of this great poet.

Believe it or not, I can somewhat recall 50 years ago being a young 12 year old boy in secondary school studying a little of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree". My mother told me at the time that William Butler Yeats was not from Sligo but was from Dublin.

He was from Sandymount, Dublin 4. My mother was born and raised on Bath Avenue in Sandymount in Dublin 4 and she was very proud that William Butler Yeats was from her neighbourhood. This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Yeats country, including Lissadell and Mullaghmore, and I saw some wonderful and beautiful scenery. Although he was of Anglo-Irish descent, William Butler Yeats as a young poet came to think of Sligo, where he spent much of his youth and childhood, as his spiritual home. Its landscape became over time, symbolically, his country of the heart. It was the inspiration for many of his great works. For this reason, a large part of the celebrations will be rooted in Sligo but events will be held nationwide and around the world. There will be events in the National Concert Hall in Dublin and the National Library of Ireland, along with the education programme and the Yeats Among Schoolchildren competition.

The Minister mentioned that from this Thursday to Sunday, the Yeats Day festival will take place in various venues throughout Sligo and Ireland, and a programme of activities will be held in over 20 venues in Sligo town and county over the four days. There will be poetry readings by laureates and national poets who have never performed together in Ireland. These include Paula Meehan, Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Liz Lochhead, Aisling Fahey and Sinead Morrissey. As the Minister mentioned, President Michael D. Higgins, patron of Yeats 2015, will attend this event. Other guests include Edna O'Brien, Eimear McBride, Ambassador Dan Mulhall, Keith Hopper and Professor Meg Harper.

William Butler Yeats was also a great patron of the arts. Perhaps Members know that his brother, Jack Yeats, competed for Ireland in the 1924 Olympic Games and won a silver medal for The Liffey Swim, a painting category on sports that was part of the Olympics up to 1948. We know he had a great interest in the arts and politics. One of his greatest works, "September 1913", explores these interests and there is bitterness in the tone of the poem. In response to the Dublin Municipal Corporation refusing to build a gallery for the Hugh Lane collection, he wrote:

What need you, being come to sense

But fumble in a greasy till

And add the halfpence to the pence

And prayer to shivering prayer, until

You have dried the marrow from the bone.

It is powerful stuff.

Senator Norris has mentioned that in 1904 Yeats founded, along with Lady Gregory, the Abbey Theatre. Our colleague, Senator Mac Conghail, is the current director of that theatre. In 1899, Yeats, Lady Gregory, Mr. Edward Martyn and Mr. George Moore established the Irish Literary Theatre. Yeats declared, "We hope to find in Ireland an uncorrupted and imaginative audience trained to listen by its passion for oratory and that freedom to experiment which is not found in the theatres of England and without which no new movement in art or literature can succeed". What a noble aspiration.

In 1922, Yeats was appointed a Senator in the first Irish Seanad and he was reappointed for a second term in 1925. In a speech during a debate on divorce all those years ago that was regarded as one of his supreme public moments, he said: "It seems to us a most sacrilegious thing to persuade two people who hate each other to live together and it is to us no remedy to permit them to part if neither can remarry." In December 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; he was chosen that year for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic forum gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation. It was after he received the prize that his best work emerged.

I congratulate the Senator on the hard work put into this, and that knowledge, experience and passion has been invaluable. I commend the Minister and the Department on highlighting the importance of this year's celebration, as well as providing the funding to go towards costs.

I welcome the Minister and thank her for the speech and the investment being put into the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats. When Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize, he quoted from the Yeats speech of 1923, when he stated: "I consider this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature. It is part of Europe's welcome to the Irish Free State." Yeats was not famous for modesty but it is interesting that he saw that as an honour for the country. He mentioned, in particular, his friends in saying, "Think where man's glory most begins and ends and say my glory was I had such friends". He had in mind Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge, who inspired him so much in his theatrical interests. It is interesting that Heaney continued that reference and chose pretty much the same themes when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in the same building and the same podium in 1995.

Senator O'Keeffe knows much about this. The honour for Yeats is that an entire county has called itself after him. In the 1950s recession, those who founded the Yeats school in Sligo and drew such scholars, including Helen Vendler and Seamus Heaney, whose Nobel Prize saw its genesis there, were remarkable in their vision for the commemoration of this poet. They were Frank Wynne, Canon Tom Wood, Fr. Tom Moran and T.R. Henn, a native of Sligo and one of the first directors of the school. It is interesting that in the summer there will be a reunion of the famous directors of the Yeats school, as the scholarship has gone worldwide, linking with Japanese Noh plays and extensively through the best universities in North America and the UK. It is a remarkable achievement of scholarship, so well commemorated by the people who inherited and cherished the landscape which inspired Yeats in Sligo. Thanks is due to volunteers like Jim McGarry and the others I mentioned. John and Michael Keohane had a wonderful library of Yeats books in their bookshop but, alas, it was a victim of what may be termed the "supermarketisation" of traditional book stores. That is a pity, as we need places where younger people can be inspired by the poet.

Yeats wrote to Ezra Pound, as recorded by David Fitzpatrick, about what it was like to be a Senator. He warned Pound not to take up a seat in the Senate in the unlikely event it would happen. He indicated that meetings are dominated by old lawyers, old bankers and old businessmen. Senator O'Keeffe and I share the problem of trying to figure out what bankers were up to in Ireland and we recognise how William Butler Yeats felt about them. The banks in Sligo did endow the Yeats Society building, which is a fine headquarters and a great centre of scholarship, with lateral links with Sligo's institute of technology and St. Angela's College.

Also, Yeats did some service to the State in the area of banking by helping to design the currency, as Senator Norris mentioned.

We need a society that cultivates the type of creativity that Yeats sought, especially in this House. He spoke against censorship and the then rules on contraception, as well as on divorce, partition, prison conditions and public safety. He was concerned in the early days of the State, as the Irish Boundary Commission came to its unsatisfactory but probably inevitable conclusion, that we were setting up barriers between North and South. He did not expect to see a united Ireland in his lifetime, but he hoped that we would always be open-minded enough not to set up barriers between the two parts of Ireland. He said in the Seanad, "we are assembled here no longer in a Nationalist or Unionist sense, but merely as Members of the Seanad". It is to the credit of W.T. Cosgrave, first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, that he nominated him to be a member of this House with those noble goals in mind.

One thinks of the great phrases such as "peace comes dropping slow". Seamus Heaney was at the end of the peace process and Yeats got his Nobel Prize at the end of the Civil War: "Was it for this the wild geese spread/ The grey wing on every tide". We must always try to make this country a better place. That is why we are here, and few people inspire us as much as W.B. Yeats. I am delighted the Government is honouring him and I thank the Minister for her presence tonight. I also echo the thanks to Senator O'Keeffe for the work she and her friends in Sligo have done to keep the name of a great poet alive and constantly growing. Each year at the end of July and the beginning of August, scholars go to Drumcliffe and see where his ancestor was the rector. It is a wonderful part of an Irish contribution to a worldwide culture and I am delighted this House is honouring it.

I welcome the Minister. I hope the Cathaoirleach will give me a small-time indulgence, given that I have been allowed to escape from the banking inquiry committee room along with Senator Barrett. We make rare appearances in the Seanad now. However, I will try not to take the indulgence too far.

I particularly thank the Minister's Department and the former Minister, Deputy Deenihan, for their support since the launch of Yeats Day in 2012. It has been great to partner with the Western Development Commission to deliver a year-long celebration of Yeats throughout the country and across the world. I especially thank President Michael D. Higgins as the patron of Yeats 2015 and, as Senator Barrett mentioned, the Yeats Society in Sligo which has flown the flag for Yeats for almost 60 years and which had the vision and foresight to say that it wanted to celebrate Yeats and that he ought to be celebrated. Its members have continued to do so over that period. Perhaps no other Irish writer has been feted simultaneously by the English poet laureate and the other national poets of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and Ireland as Yeats will be in Sligo on 13 June, his 150th birthday. It sums up his importance in Ireland and the world that this event is a high point among high points this week, this month and this year.

The man with silver hair who wore silver buckled shoes was a great poet, but also an unlikely champion of the Irish nation. Arguably, William Butler Yeats devoted a large part of his 79 years to the building and strengthening of the Irish identity. Indeed, the citation for his Nobel Prize from the Swedish Academy in 1923 said that his poetry gave expression to the spirit of the nation. In this Yeats 2015 year of celebration we have a responsibility to salute one of the great writers and thinkers of the past two centuries and to reconnect with his inspiration and his work. This year of celebration opens a door to the world of Yeats, to encourage us to see beyond the leaving certificate curriculum and the dog-eared pages that many of us threw out when the leaving certificate ended. It extends an invitation to see beyond the caricature, to reconnect with his inspiration and language and to appreciate him in a new, multicultural 21st century Ireland. Very simply, it extends an opportunity to choose a new way of perceiving his work and his vision, not always perfect but rich and many layered.

At the turn of the 20th century the Irish spirit was troubled. Ireland was out of touch with its identity and desperate to establish its independence. At 35 years of age, Yeats was no classic revolutionary. He was not to be found manning barricades or polishing a gun. He went about it in a different way. He sought to give the troubled nation a powerful voice through its actors and writers. His keen understanding of the richness of Ireland's history and culture came from the time he had spent as a boy in his beloved Sligo. His mother was from Sligo and Yeats described the county as his spiritual home. In Sligo he experienced a type of wild freedom he would never again enjoy in his life. He listened to the storytellers and the sailors, he heard the myths and legends, he climbed the sacred mountains of Ben Bulben and Knocknarea and he fished in the rivers and streams. He loved the water and the wildness of the natural environment and these would be his bedfellows for the rest of his life.

Armed with this knowledge and his love of writing, Yeats sought to reveal to his new generation of the 20th century the wealth and complexity of our culture and history. Together with his muse and mentor, Lady Gregory from Coole Park, one of the most beautiful places with which he is associated, he worked to found the National Theatre, the Abbey Theatre, a place to articulate a voice for Ireland by speaking to its past and wrestling with its present to build a future that would instil in Ireland a sense of pride and identity. Yeats and the other writers who gathered around him created the Irish literary revival and thus were part of shaping the new 20th century nation which seized its moment at the GPO in 1916. By then the Abbey Theatre was already ten years old.

However, for his great contribution to the creation of our nation, Yeats has been almost reduced in this country to the leaving certificate perennial question of whether it will be a Yeats, Heaney or Dickinson question on paper two in the English examination. Other nations boast of their great writers. France has Proust, Germany has Thomas Mann, England has Shakespeare and America has Mark Twain. In Ireland we have let the larger part of Yeats's life and work languish and be misunderstood, at best, and, at worst, be forgotten. There is a school of thought that concentrated on his eccentricities, such as his interest in the spiritual and the occult and his Protestant upbringing. Even his name was a little posh. Somehow, he was not one of us, not even like us and certainly not of the Ireland that so famously danced at the crossroads and prayed in the church. It was relatively easy to sweep Yeats away, as something out of the ordinary rather than as someone quite extraordinary.

Despite this, we call on Yeats more often than we know. He lines and his thoughts are in our DNA. "A terrible beauty is born" is for many a formidable thought. Of course, it is part of his great work "Easter 1916", but many do not know that. Yeats had the capacity to crystallise a momentous thought in a single sentence, allowing us to cherry-pick his greatness and abandon the rest. Phrases such as "fumble in a greasy till", "add ... prayer to shivering prayer", "peace comes dropping slowly" and "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams" are among many of the quotes often used, but some have lost their original meaning or context.

Yeats was no dusty icon. He liked a glass of claret and he owned a dog. He loved the steamboats owned by his grandfather, whom he greatly admired. He loved to fish and row his boat. He chose to wear black clothes in his younger years, and the silver buckles of his later years were as deliberate. He first trained to be an artist but abandoned it in favour of writing. He was a canny businessman and his attention to detail was often an annoyance to those who worked alongside him.

As my time is limited, I will speak a little about this year. Senator Barrett has referred to the need for young people to engage. The educational project at the core of Yeats 2015 has engaged with more than 100,000 national schoolchildren. Every national school in the country has taken part in this project. His sisters Lily and Lolly - Susan and Elizabeth - have their own festival this year, as they have had for the past two years. The work of his brother, Jack Yeats, is on exhibition once more in The Model in Sligo and the work of his father, John, will be exhibited in the National Gallery later in the year. There will be readings, exhibitions, poetry and song in Cork, Kerry, Kildare, Monaghan, Galway and Dublin. Yeats and James Joyce knew each other and both of their festivals, Yeats 2015 and Bloomsday, will acknowledge their relationship. We have events taking place in Belfast, Chicago, Singapore, Slovakia, Vienna, Korea, Australia, Paris, London and Atlanta, to mention just some of them.

I thank the Leader of the House for allocating time to talk about Yeats, and I am sorry I have run out of time for my contribution. I acknowledge that this year is also the year of design, Irish Design 2015, and we are collaborating with the Crafts Council of Ireland this year. It is important for us to do that.

Next Monday the Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness D'Souza, will be hosting a special Yeats event. It is appropriate for us, therefore, to celebrate Yeats tonight. When Prince Charles visited Sligo recently, he acknowledged Yeats by visiting the famous grave at Drumcliff and received the world's first William Butler Yeats rose at NUI Galway. The Indian Government has gifted a bust of the Nobel Prize-winning Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, which will be unveiled in Sligo in July.

We are celebrating Yeats around Ireland and the world. As Seamus Heaney said, Yeats had a marvellous gift for beating the scrap metal of day-to-day life into a ringing bell. In 2015 we have a chance not just to hear that bell ring but also to help it ring out across the world.

This is a welcome opportunity to speak about the huge number of activities and events taking place to mark the birth date of William Butler Yeats. He is not somebody removed by history but a person who sat on these seats and contributed to debates in this Chamber, the walls and ceiling of which resounded to the sound of his voice. He is very much part of our recent history. The Minister and Senator Susan O'Keeffe referred to the love he had for Sligo. Like Patrick Kavanagh in County Monaghan and Seamus Heaney in Ulster, Yeats's work is Sligo.

Perhaps it might be useful for future generations if I were to outline Yeats's biography. He was born in Sandymount in Dublin and of Anglo-Irish descent. His father, John Butler Yeats, was a descendant of Jervis Yeats, a Williamite soldier, linen merchant and well known painter who died in 1712. Jervis's grandson, Benjamin, married Mary Butler from a landed family, the famous Butlers of Ormond in County Kildare. At the time of his marriage John Yeats was studying law, but he abandoned law to study art at Heatherleys art school in London. His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen, came from a wealthy merchant family based in Sligo who owned a milling and shipping business. Soon after William's birth the family relocated to the Pollexfen home at Merville in Sligo to stay with his mother's extended family. The young poet came to think of the area as his childhood and spiritual home. Over time, its landscape became his symbolic country of the heart.

The Butler Yeats family were highly artistic. William's brother Jack became an esteemed painter, while his sisters, Elizabeth and Susan Mary, who were known to family and friends as Lolly and Lily became involved in the arts and crafts movement. That is the context in which Yeats came to embrace Sligo and its environs, although he also ventured into County Leitrim. We have always cast envious eyes across the county boundary into Sligo because it rarely acknowledges the fact that he also drew inspiration from County Leitrim.

I had an interesting experience approximately 20 years ago while I was investigating events in the life of one of my heroes, Charles Stewart Parnell. We hear about the Redmondites in Waterford, but if I had lived during that period, I would definitely have been a Parnellite. I discovered that Parnell and his wife had been married in Steyning, a village in west Sussex not far from Bognor Regis, where I have family connections. When the children were small, we used to visit once or twice a year. I also visited Brighton where Parnell and Katharine O'Shea lived after they were married. There is only one street in Steyning, with a large manor house at one end. A plaque on the wall of the house revealed that Yeats had lived there in 1938, just prior to his death in 1939. It is strange that I never saw another reference to this village, but he must have made an impact, given that a plaque was erected to commemorate him. I visited the village to investigate the activities of Parnell and was astounded to find that another famous Irishman lived in the same village.

We cannot fully celebrate this year of Yeats without Lissadell being a central part of the activities. It was where he wrote his most famous poem about two girls in kimonos like gazelles. Only last week I was invited by Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy, the owners of Lissadell, to attend the launch of the special events taking place on Saturday. I stood at the actual window that had inspired Yeats's poem. Just like I am aware of his presence in this House, Lissadell reminded me of the continuum of history. I cannot praise highly enough what Eddie and Constance are doing in Lissadell. They have transformed the tourism potential of County Sligo and the north west. Several years ago, while I was chairman of Fáilte Ireland, the Yeats trail was launched by Fáilte Ireland north west. The late Seamus Heaney was in Sligo for the launch and I was honoured to be involved. We saw great promise in establishing Lissadell as a central part of the Yeats trail, but then the court case happened, Lissadell was shut down and that aspect of what was to be an important aspect of the tourism product of County Sligo and the north west was shut down with it. It has now reopened thanks to the marvellous work done by Eddie and Constance to enhance it as a tourist product and it is a must see place for anybody interested in Yeats, Constance Markievicz and our history. It is vital to the story of Yeats. Senator Susan O'Keeffe has done outstanding work on the project and I wish her continued success in her endeavours.

I will conclude by making a connection with County Leitrim. One of Yeats's most famous poems was about Glencar. Leitrim County Council has done an extraordinarily good job in making Glencar accessible to what will be a significant number of visitors interested in the connection with Yeats. His poem about it is long but I will only read one verse:

Where the wandering water gushes

From the hills above Glen-Car,

In pools among the rushes

That scarce could bathe a star,

We seek for slumbering trout

And whispering in their ears

Give them unquiet dreams;

Leaning softly out

From ferns that drop their tears

Over the young streams.

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

I wish those involved in the Yeats weekend the most outstanding success, both at home and abroad.

The first Montessori school in Ireland was established in 1920 in the Mercy Convent in Waterford owing to the interest and influence of the Mother Superior, Mother de Sales Lowry. Madame Montessori visited the convent in 1927 and an address, suitably worded for the great occasion, was read by Ms Winnie Cummins, later Sister Redemptoris, who died in 2013 at the age of 99 years.

Winnie Cummins happened to be an aunt of mine. One might ask what has this to do with Yeats. The same Winnie Cummins was part of the welcoming party when W.B. Yeats visited the Mercy convent in 1926. Yeats, as a Senator, was a member of a Government committee that was investigating the state of Irish education at the time. The school in Waterford had a reputation for modern and enlightened teaching systems and using the Montessori method which placed an emphasis on spontaneity and self-expression.

My aunt had a vivid recollection of Yeats's arrival and recalled that he walked up the convent drive attired in a long frieze coat, slouched hat and spats. As he approached she overheard someone make the comment: "Look at him now with his spats and he hasn't the religion of a cow". This disparaging remark referred to Yeats's known interest in mysticism and spiritualism which aroused considerable disapproval, even hostility, in the conservative religious climate of the 1920s.

According to Raymond Cowel, in his book W. B. Yeats, the poet was impressed by the educational methods he observed in the school and the balance that was struck between intellectual, practical, aesthetic and spiritual values. It was following his visit to St. Otteran's school, which was part of the Mercy Convent, and his experience in the Montessori and senior classes that he wrote his poem "Among School Children", which begins with the stanza:

I walk through the long school room questioning;

A kind nun in a white hood replies;

The children learn to cipher and to sing;

To study reading books and histories;

To cut and sew, be neat in everything

In the best modern way - the children's eyes

In momentary wonder stare upon

A sixty-year old smiling public man.

That is an example of how Yeats often took, as a starting point to a poem, an everyday occasion in his life.

On my recent visit to Taiwan, I visited a university which was celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Yeats. The university has an excellent society that places great importance in the works of Yeats. Indeed, Yeats was offered a three-month contract in Taipei with a £1,000 fee, which was a very considerable sum in those days. He refused the offer as his son was said to be very unwell at that time. These are but a few occasions where the name of Yeats crossed my path.

As has been mentioned by many members, Yeats was a Member of this House. His son was also a distinguished Member of the House.

Senator Norris spoke of the musicality of Yeats's voice. Certainly, the musicality of Senator Norris's voice was clearly evident here today in his few words.

Like others, I join in thanking Senator O'Keeffe and her committee and wishing them every success with the excellent programme of events that they have put in place. I also thank the Minister for providing €500,000 of funding for this year's events.

Yeats's great love of Maud Gonne is well documented. It is fitting that when his coffin was returned to his beloved Ireland in 1948 that it was met by Seán MacBride, who was the Minister for External Affairs and a son of Maud Gonne.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Mar a dúirt daoine eile, táimíd ag comóradh 150 blian Dé Sathairn seo, an 13 Meitheamh, breith William Butler Yeats. Guím gach rath ar an bhféile agus tréaslaím leis an Seanadóir O'Keeffe as an obair iontach atá sí ag déanamh.

I commend Senator O'Keeffe, all of her committee and everyone involved with the Yeats 2015 event which aims to celebrate and commemorate the life, work, influence and achievements of W.B. Yeats. It is fitting that there is a celebratory and cultural programme that aims to showcase Ireland as a dynamic, inspiring and creative place.

Sinn Féin welcomes the cultural events that have been planned. I look forward to them, particularly the events in the west. I am especially happy with the work that has been done at Thoor Ballylee. I am pleased that the venue has been reopened and with its programme of events. Senator Healy Eames has also been involved with the project and I extend congratulations to her.

In a previous life I filmed in and around Thoor Ballylee, not about Yeats, but another poet called Antoine Ó Reachtabhra, or Raftery the poet. Before Yeats visited the place, Antoine Ó Reachtabhra wrote about the beauty of the place in his song called Máire Ní hEidhin. In the first verse he said:

'S ag gabháil chun an Aifrinn dom le toil na nGrásta,

bhí an lá ag baisteach 'gus d'ardaigh an ghaoth

casadh an ainnir dhom le hais Chill Tártain

agus thit mé laithreach í ngrá le mnaoi.

D'umhlaios síos go muinte mánla

's de réir a cáilíocht do fhreagair sí;

's dúirt an ainnir liom, "Béidh m'intinn sásta

agus gluais go lá liom go Baile Uí Laí.

It is probably that kind of inspiration and mysticism in the area that drew W.B. Yeats to the magical place that is Thoor Ballylee.

Yeats 2015 is a great moment to celebrate and promote creativity in Ireland, to support the artistic and cultural heritage which emanates from this island, and to help inspire another generation of artists. Now more than ever there needs to be a genuine investment in the arts and to ensure it is meaningful.

William Butler Yeats is not just one of the most omnipresent Irish literary figures, he is also one of the most recognisable, celebrated and feted Irishmen in our history. Yeats endeavoured to encapsulate something of the national character of Ireland. His early works were heavily influenced by the Gaelic revival and he, in turn, influenced that movement through his poetry and plays. The reasons and motivations for Yeats's use of Celtic themes can be understood in terms of the author's sense of Irishness, an overriding personal interest in Celtic mythology and folklore and his keen interest in the occult. Immersing himself in the rich and varied world of Celtic folklore and myth, Yeats contributed to the world of poems and plays that embraced native legends while promoting his own sense of nationalism.

As we all know, Yeats also drew hugely on certain places in his poetry and Sligo was one of the main constants throughout his life's works. Sligo not only gave Yeats a sense of home, it also gave him confirmation of superiority of scenery and artistic sensibilities. The serenity and beauty of Sligo also had a huge influence on Jack Butler Yeats who dedicated many paintings to the area, including Leaving the Far Point, The Sea and the Lighthouse and The Metal Man. Therefore, it is great to see that Yeats 2015 will focus on events to take place in Sligo, Galway and across the globe.

In Yeats's later works, particularly around the revolutionary period, his poetry and plays became full of the intensity of his emotional experience during that period. They are often a subtle insight into his assessment of that revolutionary time. His play "Cathleen Ni Houlihan" was one of the great pieces of nationalist writing of the time. As Yeats said himself in an interview published in the United Irishman: "My subject is Ireland and its struggle for independence."

In December 1923, Yeats became the first Irish person to be awarded a Nobel Prize in literature. He was keenly aware of the symbolic value of an Irish winner. The award prompted him to write the following to Sir John O'Connell: "I consider that this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe's welcome to the Free State."

Yeats's first major collection of poetry, in the aftermath of winning the Nobel Prize, was called The Tower. The collection was a supreme achievement and has been hailed as one of the most important books of the 20th century. Next door to the Oireachtas is housed the National Library's fantastic exhibition on the life and works of William Butler Yeats where many of the notes and works of Yeats are on display.

Yeats's work as a Senator was commendable and I hope that Yeats 2015 will highlight that part of his life. In the Seanad, Yeats operated as a true Independent. He was political but detached from parties. His commitment to theatre and the arts followed him into the political sphere. He worked to make the Abbey Theatre the first state-endowed theatre in any English-speaking country. The Seanad of Yeats's day was able to initiate legislation. Yeats took advantage of that situation to try to recover the Hugh Lane paintings for Ireland.

Yeats was also true to his independence in the Seanad. He railed against the banning of divorce and claimed that it would alienate Irish Protestants from the State. He also famously weighed in against the new censorship laws against immorality in literature that were being brought in under the Free State.

It is William Butler Yeats's commitment to the arts for which he is most celebrated and remembered, and it is his commitment that I am sure we will all celebrate in the coming year. Yeats 2015 is an opportunity to bring arts and culture closer to the people. I look forward to attending the events of Yeats 2015 and I hope it enjoys great success.

We can all be a little bit parochial on these occasions. Therefore, I shall recite a poem that springs to mind when I think of Yeats. It is his poem "At Galway Races" which reads:

There where the course is,

Delight makes all of the one mind,

The riders upon the galloping horses,

The crowd that closes in behind:

We, too, had good attendance once,

Hearers and hearteners of the work;

Aye, horsemen for companions,

Before the merchant and the clerk

Breathed on the world with timid


Sing on: somewhere at some new moon.

We'll learn that sleeping is not death,

Hearing the whole earth change its tune,

Its flesh being wild, and it again

Crying aloud as the racecourse is,

And we find hearteners among men

That ride upon horses.

Guím gach rath ar an bhféile.

I am delighted to speak in the House today ahead of Yeats Day 2015. As has been mentioned by several of my colleagues, this earmarks the 150th anniversary of W.B. Yeats's birth, a man who is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest poets the English language has ever known. What a gift his poetry and legacy have been to the people of Ireland, capturing the myths and beauty of our landscape and transporting them right across the world through the weight and majesty of his words.

Much has been made of Yeats’s strong links to Sligo, rightly so – I look forward to visiting the newly opened Lissadell House over the summer and perhaps even climbing Knocknarea if I feel brave enough or energetic enough on the occasion - but as a Galway East-based Senator I feel it is very important also to highlight the links to my own locality, in particular Gort and its surrounding area. Yeats famously kept a summer home at Thoor Ballylee just outside Kiltartan. It is a Norman tower quite close to Gort. He purchased it in 1917 and restored it. It was one of the inspirations for many of his celebrated collections, in particular The Tower, which featured some of his best known and best loved poems, including "Among School Children", whose closing verse always bears reciting:

The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.

Nor beauty born out of its own despair,

Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Thoor Ballylee is of huge historical significance to the Irish people and artistic and literary communities in this country and around the world. As such, it is very much now the key driver of tourism in the south Galway area. I am hugely proud of the work that has been done by the community of Gort and the local Yeats committee, including Sr. DeLourdes, Karen, Colm, Rena, Ronnie, Senator Healy Eames, and everyone else who has been involved in the surrounding area, to preserve and celebrate Yeats’s local legacy.

I am also very proud to have campaigned for vital funding for the restoration of Thoor Ballylee after extensive flooding in 2009 and 2010. I raised the matter in the Seanad on several occasions in the past. I look forward to the future development of the site, as research has indicated that as with Drumcliffe in Sligo, tourists would spend a lot more time at Ballylee if facilities were in place. I therefore urge the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to liaise with her colleague in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure that in the years ahead Fáilte Ireland gives priority to Thoor Ballylee and gives it the attention and investment it deserves as a key part of Ireland’s cultural history. We have seen the fantastic success of the Wild Atlantic Way in the past year and there is no reason a similar route could not be plotted for cultural landmarks throughout the west and north west, of which Thoor Ballylee is most definitely one.

I commend Senator Susan O’Keeffe on her work on the committee and everybody else who has been involved with the Yeats Day, the weekend and also Yeats 2015. There is no question but planning such celebrations is a huge undertaking. A huge amount of effort, enthusiasm and energy goes into it. To have developed such a vibrant and diverse programme of events is something that each and every person who is involved with it should be very proud. I extend my sincerest congratulations to each and every one of those involved.

I wish to start by thanking Senator Maurice Cummins for scheduling the statements, which are very significant in the week in which we will celebrate the 150th birthday of W.B. Yeats which takes place on Saturday.

It is a very special time for us in Galway. I note in particular what Senator Lorraine Higgins has said. We will reopen Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’s ancestral home this Saturday. I am chair of the voluntary committee which has worked tirelessly against all the odds to reopen Thoor Ballylee. It was closed in 2009 due to flooding. It was in the ownership of Fáilte Ireland but it wants no more to do with it. Last September in this Chamber, as chair of the committee I was granted a licence to take over the tower, by the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring. It is only from then on that we have made progress to bring about the opening on Saturday.

The tower is opening against all the odds and sadly with no help from the State this year or any share of the €500,000 invested in the Yeats 2015 commemorative fund. That has dismayed the local committee. People have asked why that is the case. Thoor Ballylee is an iconic building, a national treasure. The Norman tower Yeats bought in 1917 is also an iconic building in and of itself yet the State was prepared to let it fall into ruin. We do not understand that, given the very valuable literary heritage of Yeats’s own life and work. He spent many summers there in the 1920s. According to Yeats scholars, he is reputed to have written his best works there with The Tower in 1928 and The Winding Stair in 1933.

The question I have for the Minister is what value the State puts on our heritage given that it is prepared to let a building as important as Thoor Ballylee go to ruin. I only echo the concerns of local people. Thoor Ballylee would not be opening on Saturday but for the voluntary work of people such a Ronnie O’Gorman, Sr. DeLourdes, Colm Farrell, Rena McAllen, Deirdre Holmes, Joe Byrne, Angela Guillemet, Sharon Brennan, Mary Callanan and others. We are dismayed that the Minister would not meet the committee either in Galway or Dublin. It is not easy for me to say that in the House. Senator Susan O’Keeffe has been more than helpful. She has come down to meet us and she has supported us all the way on the matter.

In a funny way Yeats predicted that Thoor Ballylee might fall into ruin. He bought the tower for his wife George. He wrote:

I the poet William Yeats

With old mill boards and sea-green slates,

And smithy work from the Gort forge,

Restored this tower for my wife George.

And may these characters remain

When all is ruin once again.

It has been our goal to ensure that would not happen, because the tower is iconic. It is a national treasure with an incredible international reach that is carrying the words of Yeats worldwide. It is a total shame to see the number of people who go there on cold days to find it closed. As of Saturday, we will reopen it and we will announce that we will keep it open for the summer season from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, manned by volunteers. I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, who has responsibility for the Office for Public Works, OPW. He said the OPW is not in a position to take over the tower from us once we get it back on its feet until such time as it is declared a national monument. That is up to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys. We must apply to the Minister for that designation. I ask the Minister to be open to granting it.

Yeats’ scholars around the world are jubilant that we are reopening the tower. But for the support we received from around the world we would not have been able to reopen it. One of our benefactors is a man called Joseph Hassett. He has given us €31,000 to mount an exhibition. However, that will take time because we must ensure the building is dehumidified for example. We had an auction last Sunday week when we raised approximately €14,000. I do not have the final figure. One of the items that made the largest amount and became a national story was the autobiography of Maud Gonne. Interestingly, the lady who donated the biography was sitting in her bed reading The Irish Times on a Saturday and heard we were looking for items. She had a letter from Maud Gonne to her aunt, who bought the book. The aunt had such admiration for Maud Gonne, who was so admired by Yeats. He proposed to her three times and she turned him down each time. She said she did not regret it for one minute because every time she turned him down his poetry became better as a result. The biography made €5,200. Another item at the auction was a first edition of a book by John Millington Synge which made €1,000. We are operating on a wing and a prayer in trying to keep Thoor Ballylee open. I urge the Minister, in honour of Yeats’ and this anniversary year, to let us spread the legacy around the country.

As Senator Higgins said, we have an amazing legacy here.

The Senator is way over time.

We have the opportunity to co-market Sligo, Dublin and Galway through the Wild Atlantic Way and let us do that. I commend Senator O'Keeffe on the year she has had and long may the work continue. However, we should not forget Thoor Ballylee as part of the national picture.

I welcome the Minister to the Seanad this evening. I thank her for coming to the House to discuss Yeats Day. I also thank Senator O'Keeffe for the hard work she has put into all the celebrations that have taken place.

I am very proud to be contributing to the debate as a Senator from Sligo-Leitrim. William Butler Yeats has contributed so much to our Irish rich literary history and culture. He was very much a Sligo man despite having been born in Dublin. It is only right to celebrate and acknowledge all his achievements on the 150th anniversary of his birth. Yeats Day will be celebrated as part of Yeats day festival taking place in various locations in Sligo this week. Yeats Day is a central pillar of the Yeats 2015 programme, which encompasses many events across Ireland and across the world in 2015.

I acknowledge the vital funding provided by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht towards the programme of events scheduled for Yeats 2015. The Department has assigned €500,000 for the programme and it is intended that additional funding will be secured through philanthropic donations and sponsorship.

It is very appropriate to discuss Yeats in this House owing to the time he spent here as a Senator. He served as a Free State Senator from 1922 to 1928. Throughout his time in the Senate he spoke passionately about matters of social and cultural significance. In 1926 he was involved in designing new coinage for the State. He consistently defended the arts and was very much ahead of his time in defending divorce and opposing the Censorship of Publications Act.

I pay tribute to Yeats, the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He was a prominent driver behind the Irish literary revival in the early 20th century. His writing vastly enriched our literary culture. I come from very close to the Isle of Innisfree. We can sale daily to the Isle of Innisfree on the waterbus, the Rose of Innisfree, which is great for visitors coming to the area. A few miles north of where I come from we can visit Glencar waterfall, mentioned by Senator Mooney. It is very fitting that recently a new visitor centre was opened and we can now enjoy a cup of tea and an ice-cream while having a chat about Yeats in the beautiful coffee shop opened there.

I again thank the Minister for coming to the House.

I also welcome the Minister to the House. Coming from the west, I feel a particular connection to Yeats and am delighted to have the opportunity to speak tonight.

He was, of course, our national poet and regarded as one of the foremost figures of English literature in the 20th century. He was also the first Irish recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature. Later Irish laureates were George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. As we know, Yeats also served with distinction for two terms as a Member of the Free State Senate.

It is appropriate to remember Yeats, particularly in the lead-up to next year's anniversaries. One of his foremost famous poems, "Easter 1916", probably summarises the feelings of many Irish Nationalists at the time. There was initial shock at the supposed foolhardiness of the Rising, which he had advised against. This is followed by the poem's close, a tribute to all the heroic men and women who participated and brought about a new era in the nation's life.

Some of my colleagues already mentioned the Yeats summer home, Thoor Ballylee, which was regarded by the Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, as the most important public building in Ireland. Its close association with Yeats makes it an iconic landmark for the area and for the country, and a resonant site for literary pilgrims across the globe. It is set on the bank of the Streamstown River, a tributary of the Cloone River near the market town of Gort in County Galway.

Today Thoor Ballylee is often referred to as Yeats's tower because in 1916 Yeats fulfilled a long-held dream to establish his own house in the west He bought the tower for just £35 and Yeats and his architect, Professor William A. Scott, spent several years restoring it and the associated cottage and outbuildings. It was rechristened as Thoor Ballylee. A verse inscription in stone in the wall celebrates its restoration as well as foretelling its ruin.

From 1921 to 1929, Yeats and his family spent many summers here. Its constant damp made it impractical for winters, but in the summer Yeats's wife, George, was often to be found fishing from the tower. It is possible to drop a line out of the window straight down into the river that runs alongside.

Unfortunately the flooding in 2009 and 2010 extensively damaged the building and it has remained closed until now. This happened at the worst possible time with the country in the midst of the most severe financial crisis since the foundation of the State. Fáilte Ireland previously provided significant funding to Thoor Ballylee and I hope that now the economy has stabilised and tax revenues are again increasing the State will be in a position to make a contribution to its upkeep, as this is a site of enormous international significance.

I thank the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society for its work in restoring the tower, a gratitude which is shared by Senator Healy Eames. I am delighted to see it being reopened for the 150th anniversary of Yeats's birth. I encourage my colleagues and any citizens listening to this debate to check out the website for a full outline of the unique heritage of Thoor Ballylee and upcoming events.

I join my colleagues in congratulating Senator O'Keeffe on her Trojan work in commemorating Yeats over the past 12 months.

I will start where Senator Naughton concluded in congratulating Senator O'Keeffe on the great work she is doing for Yeats 2015. I acknowledge the work of Senator Healy Eames and others on Thoor Ballylee where Yeats wrote one of his great poems, "Meditations in Time of Civil War", with the memorable lines:

More substance in our enmities

Than in our love;

I think we have moved on from that; I hope we have.

There is no doubt that Yeats is our outstanding poet even though he wrote what I regard as the most self-pitying line in poetic history. Forget about Shelley's:

I fall upon the thorns of life!

I bleed!

or even Gerard Manley Hopkins's:

No worse, there is none.

Pitched past pitch of grief,

in "No Second Troy" Yeats wrote:

Why should I blame her that she filled my days

With misery,

I am with you there, Willie.


I do but jest.

Yeats was a romantic and he imagined a new Ireland. He was a bit disillusioned in September 1913 when he wrote, "Romantic Ireland is dead and gone", but 1916 changed all that. When he wrote, "A terrible beauty is born", the vision he had for Ireland is as valid now as it was then. He saw it as a return to an imagined Celtic twilight. When I was in school, he was referred to as an Anglo-Irish poet. He was an Irish poet. He was one of our own - Irish.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh said he would be principally remembered for his contribution to the arts. I would say he was probably the most political poet I know.

He made a great contribution to political thought and life. In a Seanad debate on 17 October 1924 relating to the Boundary Commission, he stated, "I have no hope of seeing Ireland united in my time, or of seeing Ulster won in my time; but I believe it will be won in the end, and not because we fight it, but because we govern this country well". He said that "we can do that, if I may be permitted as an artist and a writer to say so, by creating a system of culture which will represent the whole of this country and which will draw the imagination of the young towards it".

My favourite Yeats poem is "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven", which reads:

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Sir Walter Raleigh, eat your heart out. Yeats spread his dreams under our feet. His words are as valid today as they were then, which is the mark of great words. Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I thank my colleagues for their valuable contributions to this discussion. I mentioned Lissadell House and I also wish to pay tribute to Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy for the tremendous work they have done at this house. It is certainly a labour of love and an absolute credit to them. I have visited it and what I love about it is the fact that it is once again a family home. It is a house that is being lived in and is now full of energy and enthusiasm. I wish them well and I look forward to going there on Saturday.

I was very pleased to have been in a position to provide €500,000 in funding to the Yeats 2015 celebrations, particularly at this time of careful economic considerations. I assure the Senator that the State supports heritage buildings in many different ways and there is a range of funding opportunities, including Heritage Council grants and buildings At risk grants in my Department, along with others that were available over the past year. Somebody mentioned about my being unable to meet the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society committee. Unfortunately, I could not do so due to diary commitments. However, I commend the work of the voluntary committee. The Department funding of €500,000 was aimed at developing a programme of events to celebrate and commemorate the 150th anniversary of Yeats's birth.

Yeats is unique, not only as Ireland's first winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923 but as a figure of the time in which he lived, which shaped this island as much as it shaped his writings. He lived through the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and provided much of the cultural backdrop for that emerging State, co-founding the Abbey Theatre, which opened its doors in 1904, and driving the Irish literary revival, which was also known as the Celtic Twilight after Yeats's collection of 1893. He left his mark on the Irish political scene from membership of the IRB to becoming a Senator - speaking in the first Parliament and helping to design the Free State's first currency. He was a respected voice of debate in matters ranging from divorce to the impact of the First World War. Yeats was very much aware of the potency of Irish culture. Upon being awarded the Nobel Prize, he said "I consider that this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature".

His collection Responsibilities contained the phrase "in dreams begins responsibility". Yeats gave us many dreams of an Ireland rooted deep in its mystic past and set us on a path of literary and cultural richness. It is our responsibility to honour that legacy and celebrate this man. We have spread his legacy around the world and his works are honoured across the globe with his poetry appearing on the London Underground. I visited Emory University in Atlanta in the US last year. The esteem in which Yeats is held there is huge and they are so proud of their Yeats papers and first editions, which I was fortunate to view.

I thank the Members and the Leader for the opportunity to speak today on the celebration of Yeats Day and the wider events of Yeats 2015. I commend Senator O'Keeffe and her hard-working committee for their great work on Yeats 2015, which is being celebrated not just nationally but internationally. It would be appropriate to conclude with some poetry.

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 10 June 2015.