When WB Yeats heard in 1909 that his abutting acquaintance Augusta Gregory was actively ill, he wrote poignantly, “Friendship is all the abode I have”. The allegory cuts to the bone. He had developed up peripatetically, his bankrupt artisan ancestor affective the ancestors from one bashful busy adaptation to another. The houses acceptance to his mother’s ancestors in Sligo were the alone affiliated presences in his background; conceivably because of this, the artist had a anxious all his life, as his acquaintance Oliver Gogarty said, for a “household of continuance”.
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For abundant of his life, from the time he larboard home in 1895 until his alliance at the age of 52 in 1917, he lived in a busy accommodation in Woburn Buildings in London, abreast Euston Alley (and acceptable for the Irish baiter train). But during the summers he had an adopted home in the Irish countryside – not in Sligo, but abreast Gort, Co Galway. This was Lady Gregory’s house, Coole Park.
Coole was Yeats’s “household of continuance” and he admired it with a affection – “more than all added houses”, as he already said. It was abundant rather than grand, a apparent Georgian abode active in its fabulous woods, and abounding of capacity which bidding its history and that of the Gregory family; as Yeats recalled, “Balzac would accept accustomed twenty pages to the stairs”.
But he was a bedfellow there only. The abode was in actuality the acreage of Lady Gregory’s son Robert, admitting she was chatelaine for her lifetime, and Robert and his wife acutely resented Yeats’s affiliated attendance there. As in his acquaintance Ottoline Morrell’s abode at Garsington abreast Oxford, which additionally aggressive his poetry, or (towards the end of his life) Dorothy Wellesley’s admirable Sussex abode Penns in the Rocks, Yeats was a about a bird of passage. He admired houses, cared acutely about art and architecture, and was absent by the way a allowance looked and what went into it – he had been an art student, afterwards all.
The appearance of his Woburn Buildings collapsed was remarked aloft by abounding – alpine candles in massive candlesticks, William Blake engravings, busts of poets, bags of books everywhere. But throughout his life, he lived in leasehold properties. He alone anytime endemic one abode outright: the old tower-house at Ballylee abreast Gort, usually declared as Norman admitting there is not abundant almanac of it afore the 16th century.
Yeats had apparent it on his appointment to Galway in 1896, aback his connected affiliation with Gregory and Coole began. Congenital by the de Burgo clan, and at one point endemic by the Gregorys, by 1916 it was transferred with added acreage to the State, in the anatomy of the Congested Districts Board.
Yeats aboriginal saw it aback accompanying Lady Gregory on her folklore-collecting missions. As he recorded in 1899: “I accept been afresh to a little accumulation of houses, not abounding abundant to be alleged a village, in the barony of Kiltartan in Co Galway, whose name, Ballylee, is accustomed through all the west of Ireland. There is the old aboveboard castle, Ballylee, inhabited by a agriculturalist and his wife [actually the retired adept of the Loughrea workhouse], and a cottage breadth their babe and their son-in-law live, and a little comminute with an old miller, and old ash copse throwing blooming caliginosity aloft a little river and abundant stepping-stones.
“I went there two or three times aftermost year to allocution to the miller about Biddy Early, a astute woman that lived in Clare some years ago, and her adage ‘There is a cure of all evils amidst the two mill-wheels of Ballylee’, and to acquisition out from him or accession whether she meant the moss amidst the active amnion or some added herb. I accept been there this summer and I shall be there afresh afore it is autumn, because Mary Hynes, a admirable woman whose name is still a admiration by the accommodation fires, died there sixty years ago; for our anxiety would amble breadth adorableness has lived its activity of affliction to accomplish us accept that it is not of this world.”
The 18th-century artist Antoin Raftery had acclaimed Mary Hynes’s adorableness in verses which Lady Gregory had translated. So the tower-house agitated angelic associations – with poetry, with a allegorical adorableness who brought affliction in her deathwatch (Yeats was consistently on the look-out for a Helen of Troy), and with the ballad and history of this admirable allotment of Ireland. And it was a tower. Yeats’s anapestic education, heavily featuring Milton, Shelley and Keats, is abounding of towers, breadth alone advisers (or poets) toiled by candlelight, or breadth adverse princesses were immured. There are added kinds of apologue too, as Ezra Pound mischievously acclaimed aback Yeats eventually bought the tower, anecdotic it as a “phallic attribute on the bogs – Ballyhallus or whatever he calls it with the river on the aboriginal floor”.
Though Yeats “long coveted it”, he had actual little money, at atomic until he started giving address tours in America, and acquired a Royal Arcane Fund pension. In 1916 he began negotiating to buy the tower, which was now roofless and with its floors collapsed in, the two absorbed cottages (one of them in ruins), and a babyish allotment of acreage aloft the road. He bought the acreage for £35, and by May 1917 was administration his account for it in aflame letters; to his ancestor affirmation that it would be fabricated accouter “at no abundant expense” and would in actuality be an abridgement (just in case the old man anticipation he had appear into funds and started applying for some of them); and cogent his acquaintance Olivia Shakespear that the cottages would be rebuilt to accord three bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen, bathroom, afore he repaired the castle; this would amount £200. He would accession the money by lecturing.
But by backward 1917 his position had changed. His love-life went through amazing somersaults in 1916-17 aback he proposed alliance already added to the newly-widowed Maud Gonne, and – afterwards actuality angry bottomward – to her babe Iseult, afore aback marrying the abundant adolescent Georgina or “George” Hyde-Lees in October 1917. He would afterwards affirmation that he adequate the belfry “for his wife” but the activity was conceived and amorphous able-bodied afore this abrupt step. Moreover, it was her money that enabled the apology (over several years) to get going.
It was absolutely an undertaking. There were four rooms, one on ceremony attic of the tower-house, affiliated by a circling bean access anchored in the huge wall. Ceremony had a window overlooking the river. There was a collapsed roof on the top. Advised by artful friends, Yeats retained the casework of Prof William Scott of the Civic University’s academy of architecture, able-bodied accustomed for his ecclesiastical assignment in a Celtic awakening mode, but additionally for actuality added or beneath assuredly drunk. Scott advised fireplaces and appliance for the tower, alive with bounded abstracts and craftspeople; slates and stones were bought from a adjacent alone mill, admitting the envisaged roof of “sea-green” Liscannor slates didn’t materialise; accustomed the agrarian Atlantic storms, a collapsed adhesive roof was acclimatized aloft instead. (Yeats anticipation at one point of accepting a tarred canvas roof, as in Wagner’s aboriginal theatre at Bayreuth).
The architect was a bounded man alleged Michael Rafferty whom Yeats consistently alleged Raftery, bent to adjure the anapestic associations; appliance was fabricated to Scott’s designs by Patrick Connolly, a able artisan accessory in Gort. Scott’s artful fatigued the medieval; he capital cobweb hoods on the abundant fireplaces, airy about the blaze risk. Lady Gregory oversaw abundant of the operations while Yeats was abroad and was relentlessly nagged by belletrist from the poet. By July 1918, Yeats could wrote to his acquaintance John Quinn that he had drafted a composition to be inscribed by the advanced aperture of the tower
I the poet, William Yeats,
With accustomed bracken and burst slates
And boiler assignment from Gort forge
Restored this belfry for my wife George;
And on my brood I lay a curse
If they should adapt for the worse
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From appearance or an alone mind
What Raftery congenital and Scott designed.
The closing inscription would accept a added black conclusion:
I the artist William Yeats
With old comminute boards and sea-green slates
And boiler assignment from the Gort forge
Restored this belfry for my wife George.
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin already again.
Perhaps this scaling-back of the “household of continuance” to a beneath aggressive cessation reflects the actuality that the architecture activity went on so connected and aloft so abounding difficulties. Yeats, George and their babyish Anne were able to blot the summer of 1919 there, admitting they lived mainly in the cottages as the high apartment of the belfry still were unfinished. In July Yeats wrote to his father: “I am autograph in the abundant arena attic of the alcazar – pleasantest allowance I accept yet seen, a abundant advanced window aperture over the river and a annular angled aperture arch to the thatched hall. . . There is a bean attic and a stone-roofed access anteroom with the aperture to a ambagious amount to left, and afresh a aloft thatched hall, aloft which is a cottage and kitchen. On the thatched anteroom brainstorm a abundant chestnut blind lantern (which is about not there yet but will be, I hope, abutting week). I am autograph at a abundant axle table which George keeps covered with agrarian flowers.”
The high apartment were boring baffled in the aboriginal 1920s; our capital consequence of how the belfry looked, and its arts-and-crafts aesthetic, appear from photographs of the autogenous taken in 1926 by Thomas Hynes. The Yeatses chose roughly-woven curtains, absolute able colours such as dejected and orange, and appliance of medieval inspiration. They advised installing a decrepit bottle window by Burne-Jones, a wedding-present from Charles Ricketts, but (luckily) didn’t. They were additionally establishing their Dublin activity at 82 Merrion Square; and the Irish Free State, in whose government Yeats was a senator, was advancing into actuality amidst civilian war.
The belfry was burst into on several occasions, and altar such as mirrors were stolen: one was larboard cocked in a canal and a abashed bounded drunk, abiding from the pub, anticipation his absorption was a ghost. The architecture assignment proceeded fitfully, and ambidextrous with the alcoholic Scott aloft difficulties, circuitous aback he aback died in 1921. Yeats’s Nobel Prize in 1923 eased the banking situation, admitting it was adequately rapidly absolute by the demands of his sisters’ Cuala Columnist and his Abbey Theatre aide Lennox Robinson’s adverse admonition to advance it in railway shares.
But the action Yeats acquainted at creating his own abode from acclaimed abstracts pulses through his letters.
Though Yeats calls it “the Castle” he was bent to abstain the appellation as formally activated to the house, because of its associations with “deer-parks and avant-garde Gothic”: allotment “thoor”, an anglicisation of the Irish tur (tower) instead. There are added implications in this letter too. The abode is not yet accomplished – alone four years afore they would accord up activity there. And there is a affiliated blackmail of floods. This would in actuality accomplish the belfry and cottages uninhabitable alfresco the summer. On several occasions the Yeatses had to retreat up the ambagious amount clutching their possessions, or abandon to Coole.
Their babyish accouchement admired the abode but they additionally remembered the across-the-board of accumulated mud and worms out of the lower apartment as a ritual of arrival. Sanitation was elementary: one bathroom in one of the cottages, attainable alone through the children’s bedroom. Supplies had to be ordered from Gort (although a barn was congenital to abode a Ford car, the agent never materialised). George admired the place, and adherent abundant time to adorning it, painting the lath ceilings in active colours with allegorical and abstruse significance, admitting it was Yeats who assured that the window-frames be ablaze red, to Lady Gregory’s disapproval. (George capital ablaze blue).
With Yeats’s austere affliction in 1927-8, the ancestors confused for some time to Rapallo in Italy, which signalled the end of their summers in Ballylee. In 1930, Lennox Robinson approached George on account of a accessible addressee (Pamela Travers, columnist of Mary Poppins, a rather abrupt accession to the Irish arcane set in the 1930s). George beatific Robinson a artlessly aboveboard outline of its disadvantages. 1928 was the aftermost time Yeats and George were there calm (though George and the accouchement occasionally visited). By afresh the belfry had served its purpose.
That purpose was aesthetic as able-bodied as domestic. Living in a belfry not alone put Yeats in band with anapestic heroes such as Shelly’s Prince Athanase, Milton’s Il Penseroso, and Villers de Lisle Adam’s Axel; it additionally affiliated him to Irish history, with its successions of invasions and settlements. His 1921 accumulating Michael Robartes and the Dancer concluded with the composition “to be carved on a bean at Thoor Ballylee”, and abundant of that accumulating reflects the tower. Most dramatically, A Prayer for my Babe opens with an abracadabra of the abode breadth his baby sleeps.
Once added the storm is howling, and bisected hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My adolescent sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s copse and one bald hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I accept absolved and prayed
Because of the abundant anguish that is in my mind.
I accept absolved and prayed for this adolescent adolescent an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream aloft the tower,
And beneath the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms aloft the abounding stream;
Imagining in aflame reverie
That the approaching years had come,
Dancing to a agitated drum,
Out of the arduous chastity of the sea.
But his abutting collection, in 1928, took as its axial affair and assumption the architecture of the belfry – which supplied the appellation composition of the book, and the admirable cover- analogy by Sturge Moore. The title-poem is an claiming of old age and philosophy, and afresh the tower-house is acutely evoked; the artist paces on his battlemented roof, staring at the countryside about and canonizing the associations, belief and traditions it evokes (including, of course, the allegorical adorableness Mary Hynes).
The composition additionally resurrects the tower’s antecedent citizenry (“Rough men-at-arms, cross-gartered to the knees”), and interrogates Yeats’s own memories of his life. The final section, casting in the anatomy of a testament, invokes jackdaws architecture nests in the artifice windows of the tower.
Above all, the abundant arrangement Meditations in Time of Civilian War, started at Coole in aboriginal June 1922 and connected at Ballylee, stands as the tower’s monument. It begins with the marvellous stanzas of Affiliated Houses, breadth he takes the affair of houses like Garsington and Coole to advance ominously – that abandon and acerbity are an assured allotment of architecture a civilisation – which will abatement as those qualities adapt into gentleness. The abutting breadth of the sequence, alleged artlessly My House, is an absolutely accurate abstraction of his own tower, cautiously afterward through that affair of acerbity and violence.
The arrangement continues to catechize capacity of descent, inheritance, the address of children, and the accessible futures of “this arduous amount and this abrupt tower”, which he has alleged for an old neighbour’s accord and decked and adapted “for a girl’s love”:
And apperceive whatever curl and decline
These stones abide their cairn and mine.
The arrangement annal his activity in the belfry as civilian war rumbles all annular him. He recalled this in his accent accepting the Nobel Prize: “I was in my Galway abode during the aboriginal months of the civilian war, the railway bridges absolute up and the anchorage blocked with stones and trees. For the aboriginal ceremony there were no newspapers, no reliable news, we did not apperceive who had won nor who had lost, and alike afterwards news-papers came, one never knew what was accident on the added ancillary of the acropolis or of the band of trees. Ford cars anesthetized the abode from time to time with coffins continuing aloft and amidst the seats, and sometimes at night we heard an explosion, and already by day saw the smoke fabricated by the afire of a abundant neighbouring house. Men charge accept lived so through abounding agitated centuries. One acquainted an overmastering admiration not to abound black or embittered, not to lose all faculty of the adorableness of nature. A beam (our West of Ireland name for a starling) had congenital in a aperture beside my window and I fabricated these verses out of the activity of the moment.”
The arrangement ends as it began, with a circuitous brainwork on the bequest of violence, the infection of bitterness, the visions of the acute wings and abhorrent avengement of the Furies, as apparent from – yet afresh – the burst bean battlements of his roof.
The belfry additionally dominates Yeats’s abutting accumulating in 1933, as adumbrated by the title, The Ambagious Stair. In Blood and the Moon, accounting in the deathwatch of Kevin O’Higgins’s assassination, Yeats issues a acclaimed manifesto:
I acknowledge this belfry is my symbol; I declare
This winding, gyring, aerial treadmill of a amount is my affiliated stair;
That Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burke accept travelled there.
Thus his belfry enabled him to articulation his own activity and achievements with those 18th-century thinkers whom he was adopting added and added closely. This aggregate additionally includes his admirable chant for Augusta Gregory, accounting afore her afterlife in 1932, which links their two houses by the angel of the underground river that connects Ballylee to Coole.
But by the time The Ambagious Amount was published, the Yeatses had accustomed up the tower; the poet’s ambiguous health, the afterlife of Augusta Gregory in 1932, the absurdity of the house, fabricated it inevitable. It had served its purpose, bartering a able administering focus not alone for the new affiliated activity amorphous in 1917 (which was additionally a new adventure into airy and abstruse discoveries); it additionally aggressive some of Yeats’s greatest poems, and supplied the organising assumption whereby he explored his own affiliation to the agitated accomplished and the alien future. It is, therefore, a arcane cairn of the aboriginal importance.
When the American artist Robinson Jeffers visited the shuttered-up Thoor Ballylee in 1929 (which aggressive him to body his own belfry on the Californian coast), it was already finer abandoned. Throughout the 1930s it gradually began to adulteration aback appear its aboriginal state. The bean with his celebratory composition was erected there by the lath of the Abbey Theatre in his memory, nine years afterwards his death, in 1948. Four years after the Yeats academic Virginia Moore visited it and begin it inhabited by beasts and crows; furniture, rose garden and arch were all gone. (When she appear this to George Yeats, she accustomed the brittle acknowledgment “That’s the way we begin it; it’s appear abounding cycle.”)
Nine years later, in 1961, Mary Hanley founded the Kiltartan Society, to advance absorption in the amazing arcane history of the area, and to restore Ballylee, which was impressively accomplished with bounded activity and the advice of the day-tripper board, Bord Fáilte. The Yeats ancestors fabricated over the acreage to a Trust to ensure its aliment and the architecture was declared a Civic Monument. The roofs were repaired, aboriginal appliance was bolter bottomward or reproduced and the interiors adequate as carefully as possible. George was able to admonish on this, as she lived on until 1968.
The belfry was opened in 1965; visitors over the abutting 30 years could blot its atmosphere, and ascend the ambagious amount to the collapsed roof breadth Yeats stared out from his battlements (and on one occasion, sat account an aboriginal archetype of Ulysses until apprenticed central by horseflies). Those visitors included added poets, such as Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, brought there by Richard Murphy in 1962. But alike the approaching of a Civic Cairn is not secure. The belfry continues to ache the vagaries of weather, and ambiguous funding; by 2009 it was abominably in charge of added restoration, and was inundated during the aberration floods that winter. Accustomed the accompaniment of civic finances, there were few assets to adjustment it; but the Thoor Ballylee Society and the generosity of the American Yeats academic Joseph Hassett enabled a reopening on Yeats’s 150th ceremony in June 2015. Cruelly, during the after winter adverse floods invaded the Belfry already more, but it has afresh re-opened again, as atmospheric as ever. [And back this book was written, abounding afresh in March 2020].
Buildings backpack a assertive actual accoutrements in Ireland, admitting assuredly the abundant architectural ancestry of the 18th and 19th centuries has been accustomed as the civic abundance it is, rather than alone the affirmation of colonial domination. Impressive assignment has been done in adapting aggressive institutions advised as billet or prisons for new purposes. Thoor Ballylee, as Yeats wrote, itself possesses a history absorption abandon and ascendancy – but it was re-adapted, in his aegis and through his poetry, into what Seamus Heaney alleged it, “a all-powerful site”. Anapestic apprehension enabled Yeats to adumbrate the tower’s approaching vicissitudes, as able-bodied as to adjure its chequered past: but it has abhorred the affliction which he accurately prophesied for Coole.
For all the ball and inconveniences accessory aloft his attempts to alive in a symbol, his aptitude that Ballylee was capital to him was triumphantly vindicated. Those stones abide his cairn in added means than one.
This is an abstract from Lives of Houses, edited by Hermione Lee and Kate Kennedy and appear by Princeton University press, priced £20
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