Fight on to save retreat of a broken-hearted Yeats
IT is the ancient stone retreat where WB Yeats went to nurse his disappointment after Maud Gonne rejected his final marriage proposal – followed shortly after by his spurned advances to her daughter Iseult.
Soon after, he brought his English bride, George, here and they reared their two children.
"To leave here is to leave beauty behind," the poet wrote of Thoor Ballylee, near his friend Lady Gregory's estate of Coole Park in Kiltartan near Gort, Co Galway.
Locals are now fighting for the future of the 15th-Century Norman tower, which fell into disrepair after Yeats's death and was restored for his centenary in 1965 only to be damaged in the devastating floods of 2010.
It has been closed to the public ever since, despite the hoards of tourists who turn up every year in the hope of seeing for themselves the 'Winding Stair' of Yeats's poem, only to leave disappointed.
The Yeats family signed Thoor Ballylee over to the now defunct Galway West local tourism board and it has been in the hands of Failte Ireland since 2006 but it cannot afford to run it as a tourism attraction.
Failte Ireland is now in the early stages of talks with Galway County Council in the hope that they will take it over and run it in conjunction with local volunteers, like the Joyce tower in Dublin's Sandycove.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, chairperson of the new Thoor Ballylee committee working to safeguard the future of the tower, said she was very hopeful the tower could be taken over and run as a proper tourism attraction.
She revealed that they hoped to have the tower open in time for Yeats's 150th birthday celebrations next year, and also that having it as an attraction would help secure Galway's success in their European City of Culture 2020 bid.
"I'm very hopeful – I think this is a national treasure and it is of international significance," she said.
The committee had been in contact with Joyce tower on how best to get volunteers to run it, she added.
Local auctioneer Colm Farrell – whose grandfather babysat for the Yeats children – claimed Bord Failte had never marketed Thoor Ballylee correctly.
"It's off the radar as far as they're concerned. But it's such an iconic building and every day cars come to view it and then they just leave," he said.
Alex Connolly of Failte Ireland revealed they recently put €150,000 in to safeguard the structure of the tower. "The key thing for us was that the thing didn't collapse," he said.
He claimed they would have "no problem" marketing Thoor Ballylee once it was up and running as a viable tourism attraction.
Local historian Sr De Lourdes Fahy said that while Sligo had claimed Yeats as its own, he actually spent more time in south Galway. She revealed that her father used to drop the poet to nearby Coole Park in his pony and trap.
Yeats kept himself to himself and did not have the knack of conversing with the local people, she said.
"His social skills were probably lacking," added Sr De Lourdes.
"People used to say 'he's a snob' but the jury's out on that one."