Over Easter I woke early and said to myself, “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.”
No, that wasn't me, that was W. B. Yeats. But I did wake up one day go to Innisfree. Sort of.
I hadn't been to what is known as “Yeats Country” in about 25 years, but my wife, who is a schoolteacher, suggested the trip because she wanted to do a “recce” before heading up to the same area with a school group. We didn't have much of a plan, but we packed up the last of our offspring still living at home and headed up to Co. Sligo.
I didn't really care that we had a minimal plan because I love grabbing any chance I get to explore Ireland's history and country-side. I've lived in Ireland for 22 years and I still really love just looking at the place.
So I happily headed off to “Yeats Country,” to Sligo, my lack of knowledge of Yeats' poetry notwithstanding.
Yes, it's true. I know next to nothing about Yeats' poetry and only a little more about Yeats himself. I should blame myself for this failing, but I'd rather affix the blame elsewhere so I'll blame my ignorance of poetry on the schools I attended.
I have read a couple of Yeats' poems over the years and I know he's great. Any time I take a minute to read “September 1913” it's obvious to me, a poetry plebe, that the guy was a genius.
I only wish I could remember his poems. Or any poems for that matter. I wish I could just blurt out a stanza whenever the situation calls for it (or doesn't). I can't.
Yet, as we rolled into the churchyard in Drumcliffe, Co Sligo, where Yeats is buried, my wife spontaneously uttered:
Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best laborer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind?“Where did that come from?,” I asked, of course.
“It's Yeats,” she said. “I learned it for my Inter Cert.”
My wife's a history teacher, not an English teacher. She told me she hadn't even thought about that poem since she was 14 and yet she was able to cite a Yeats poem at just the right moment. I was envious.
Still, despite my lack of appropriate credentials, here I was at Yeats' grave. If you haven't been to Yeats' grave before you might be surprised at how unimpressive it is and how close to the parking lot it is – about 12 inches away! It's very plain, rectangular with no adornments, but with a famous epitaph from his poem “Under Ben Bulben.”
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
(Apparently gravestones are better at quoting poetry than I am! Although, I have no idea what that means.)
Even if you're not that keen on Yeats' poetry, Drumcliffe churchyard is worth a stop. The church itself is pretty and there is a 1,200 year old high cross on the grounds. You also get a good view of Benbulben, which isn't hard to find really. Every view, every angle looking up at Benbulben is impressive.
Benbulben is the 'table top' mountain that dominates the landscape in northwest Sligo. Benbulben is just stunning. My big problem with Benbulben is that none of my pictures seems to capture that, they just don't match my memory.
From Drumcliffe we traveled to picturesque Glencar Waterfall, which is in Co. Leitrim. Glencar is an ideal place to take a break from the narrow, twisty roads. Glencar is another place that inspired Yeats. “Where the wandering water gushes, From the hills above Glen-Car...”
Farther on we came to Parkes Castle on Lough Gill. The castle is almost directly across from the “Lake Isle of Innisfree.” (Yeats again – I was less surprised when my wife let loose with a few lines from this one too.)
Parkes Castle is a great place to visit, with beautiful scenery all around, a connection to Yeats – it was a Yeats Country tour after all – and some good history as well. Actually, if I'd known, I would have started our tour at Parkes Castle because it has a good short video introducing visitors to all the historical attractions in the area. There are ancient monasteries and megalithic tombs and so on all around.
Those ancient sites that I missed will have to wait for another day, which is a good thing because now I have an excuse to head up to that part of the country again.
“Bare Ben Bulben's head” is calling me back already.