Thursday 22 June 2017

Hallelujah -- hats off to the master as Cohen bows to his hero Yeats

Back on Boogie Street: Cohen salutes the crowd in Lissadell at the weekend
Back on Boogie Street: Cohen salutes the crowd in Lissadell at the weekend

Paddy Clancy and Ken Sweeney

FROM one renowned poet to another.

Leonard Cohen performed in front of 20,000 fans at Lissadell House in Sligo during two concerts over the weekend but, arguably, he was performing to one of his greatest heroes, WB Yeats.

The 75-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter thrilled the audience -- the majority of whom were in his own age group -- when he recited Yeats. The poet was born in nearby Drumcliffe and often stayed at Lissadell.

Cohen repeated the poet's lines about visiting the young Countess Constance Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth at Lissadell: "Two girls in silk kimonos, both/ Beautiful, one a gazelle."

He told the audience that he first learnt those lines, and other Yeats poetry, more than 50 years ago in his home city of Montreal. Later, in the middle of one of his greatest songs, 'Hallelujah', he included the line, "I've told the truth, I did not come to the Yeats County to fool you".

And they came from near and far, to Yeats County, 10,000 on both Saturday and Sunday night. Mike McGettrick travelled 35,000 miles from his home in Canberra, Australia.

"It was a bit wet but I think that was people brushing the tears from their faces," the 60-year-old said. "In all my life I have never seen a performance the like of which Leonard Cohen gave in Ireland this weekend. The whole atmosphere he created and the crowd's reaction. We were shaking by the end of it."

Mr McGettrick grew up in near-by Ballymote but emigrated to Australia over 40 years ago. Footage posted on the internet of Cohen's 2008 concert in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham convinced the businessman to make the trip.

"I thought, 'The next time Leonard plays Ireland, I'll be here'. When I heard that he was performing in my home county of Sligo, I had to come. The trip has cost me a huge amount of money but it's been worth every penny," he said.

Among his treasured possessions is a photograph of him, his wife Janis, and Cohen after a concert in Sydney two years ago.

Less travel-weary but equally enthused was Olive Tee (71), from Clonskeagh, Dublin, who only 'discovered' Cohen two years ago on Lyric FM. "I thought he had something really special. I'm really glad I came. The setting is fantastic," she said. Her daughter Dee admitted she was there for a different reason. She has a Chinese medical practice.

"A friend who is a very powerful healer told me that Leonard Cohen's voice has a particular effect on people's energy so I came to find out if that was true," she said. "It's true. It actually relaxes your energy enough so that if you could have that sound in the healing session, that would heal people."

Although Lissadell has been closed to the public for more than a year since a rights-of-way dispute flared between the owners and Sligo County Council, the public is now able to return to view the house and its exhibitions -- including a Yeats exhibition.

A decision was reached over the weekend to reopen it to the public for the rest of the season despite the dispute awaiting a High Court decision.

"After all the effort and energy we put into making it look fantastic for the concerts it will be re-opened for August and September," estate manager Isobel Cassidy said.

At the weekend, much of the Yeats exhibition -- including letters between Yeats family members -- was on show in Cohen's concert-changing quarters. "I could get used to this," he told his hosts.

Yesterday, the singer took time out to officially open the Yeats exhibition. It followed an earlier visit to Yeats's grave at Drumcliffe where he signed the visitors' book: "Leonard Cohen, Montreal". In the space for comments he wrote simply, "sublime".

Indeed it was.

Irish Independent

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