Oh to be in Sligo and the magic of Yeats country
Come away, human child to the waters and the wild...
As early as 1913 the poet W.B. Yeats declared, "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone. It's with O'Leary in the grave." To many living in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland these lines have never seemed truer.
The era's prosperity most definitely touched the town of Sligo where the strikingly modern architecture of The Glass House Hotel juts out onto the River Garavogue like a great glass ship.
But just across the street, standing in contrast, is a stately old brick building dedicated to the life of Ireland's most famous poet. It is here that a group of over one hundred students, professors and lecturers from around the world gather for the Yeats International Summer School, and where, at least for two weeks every summer, the Ireland of Yeats' poetry is very much alive.
The Yeats Memorial Building, filled with letters and photographs of the poet's life and work, is an ideal place for the study of all things Yeats. And the town, despite its modern trappings, remains the most genial and magical of settings.
Sligo was the beloved vacation spot of the poet's childhood (his great-grand-father was rector of the parish of Drumcliff, where Yeats is now buried) and served as the site for most of his folklore collecting and as the inspiration for many of his poems.
And from my very first night, when a local man told me I was "with the fairies" because he doubted something I'd said, I knew that this town was different from others I'd visited on my journeys through the Irish countryside.
Yeats quotes are festooned about the town where hotels, pubs and restaurants are named after the poet. Altogether the place has an underlying whimsy, a sense of folktale and fairies. In my boarding- house on the edge of town, I awoke in the mornings to grazing sheep staring at me through the bedroom window. In the kitchen, even the dish soap bore the image of a winking fairy.
Though Yeats prophesied the loss of "Romantic Ireland" he helped create the concept of a poetic Ireland. He distinguished Irish literature from English and declared it had a unique origin and power.
The Yeats Summer School attracts not only Irish and American devotees of the poet but fans from around the world.
This past summer school, which marked the 48th, happened over two weeks in July, and was no different. Students came from India, Italy, Germany, Canada, Greece, Serbia, Cyprus, and as far away as Korea, China and Japan.
In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of the summer school was meeting these students and witnessing the reach of Yeats' poetry and the affection with which he is held around the world.
An evening of Irish dancing in Strandhill, a nearby seaside town, was made all the more memorable by the exchange of cultures. In the midst of "mingling hands and mingling glances" conversations abounded with references to the poet and his work, and when the musicians opened up the microphone to anyone who wanted to sing a song, a professor from India sang a Yeats poem in Hindi, an American woman sang a Shaker song, and a young Irish man sang a song in Irish.