THOOR BALLYLEE / BALLYLEE CASTLE

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Thoor Ballylee, also known as Yeats Tower, is a 15th-century Anglo-Norman tower house located near the town of Gort in County Galway in Ireland. It was once the home and refuge of the Nobel Prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats, who restored it in 1919 and lived there with his family until 1929. Thoor Ballylee became a source of inspiration and creativity for Yeats, who wrote some of his most celebrated poems there, such as “The Tower”, “The Winding Stair”, “The Wild Swans at Coole”, and “Coole Park and Ballylee”.

Thoor Ballylee was originally built by the de Burgo or Burke family, a powerful clan that ruled much of western Ireland after the Norman invasion. The tower house consists of four floors with one room on each, connected by a spiral stone staircase built into the thick outer wall. Each floor has a window overlooking the Streamstown River, which flows alongside the tower and drops over a waterfall before disappearing into an underground passage. The top floor has a flat roof with a great view of the surrounding countryside, including Coole Park, the estate of Lady Gregory, Yeats’ friend and patron.

Yeats first saw Thoor Ballylee in 1916, when he visited Coole Park with his wife Georgie Hyde-Lees. He was enchanted by the tower and its romantic setting, and decided to buy it for £35 in 1917. He spent two years restoring it with the help of local craftsmen, adding a thatched roof, new windows, doors, fireplaces, and furniture. He also built a cottage next to the tower for his guests, and a walled garden across the road. He renamed the tower Thoor Ballylee, using the Irish word for tower (túr), as he had a fondness for the Irish language and culture.

Yeats and his family moved into Thoor Ballylee in 1919, and spent most of their summers there until 1929. Yeats described the tower as his “permanent symbol”, and used it as a metaphor for his poetic vision and imagination. He also felt a connection with the history and folklore of the place, and incorporated them into his poems. He wrote:

“I am contented
For I know that Quiet Wanderer
And may find him or his friends
Among the winds that clamour down the empty walled garden,
Or play in the flooded stream;
Or that at twilight by some old black water
He may suddenly rise in green reed from an old stone bridge,
Or be some passing woman’s harsh wild song.”

Thoor Ballylee was not only a home for Yeats, but also a cultural hub for his friends and fellow artists. He hosted many visitors there, such as George Bernard Shaw, J.M. Synge, Sean O’Casey, Edmund Dulac, Oliver St John Gogarty, and Robert Gregory. He also organized events such as lectures, readings, plays, concerts, and dances at the tower or at nearby venues. He founded the Thoor Ballylee Society in 1925 to promote local arts and crafts, and to raise funds for the maintenance of the tower.

Yeats left Thoor Ballylee in 1929, after a series of floods damaged the tower and made it uninhabitable. He moved to Dublin with his family, where he died in 1939. The tower remained vacant for many years, until it was restored and reopened in 1965 as a Yeats museum and heritage centre. It displays exhibits and memorabilia related to Yeats’ life and works, such as his books, manuscripts, paintings, photographs, furniture, and personal belongings. It also hosts cultural events such as poetry readings, music performances, workshops, and festivals.

Thoor Ballylee is open to visitors from May to September every year. It is managed by the Thoor Ballylee Development Group, a voluntary organization that aims to preserve and promote the tower as a national monument and a place of literary pilgrimage. Thoor Ballylee is more than just a historic building; it is a living testament to Yeats’ genius and legacy.

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Thoor Ballylee

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