Thursday 20 October 2016

Yeats to shine in light of Lissadell

The Great Yeats Birthday celebration at Lissadell is to be a full and joyous celebration and there's a chance to win a poetry prize

Emily Hourican

Published 18/05/2015 | 02:30

W B Yeats
W B Yeats
Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy

There are various contenders for the title of Greatest Irish Poet, but probably none that has entered the public consciousness quite like WB Yeats. Even those who know no poetry will know a few lines of Yeats, their knowledge of certain episodes of Irish history coloured as much by his view of them as by any history books.

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Born 150 years ago, on June 13, 1865, in Sandymount, such were the dynamics of Yeats's life that the biggest celebrations of the 150th anniversary of his birth are likely to be those held at Lissadell, where he spent so many happy days.

To mark the anniversary, Lissadell's owners Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh, have planned what seems to be a remarkable one-day bonanza of fun and celebration, filled with events and activities, chosen with the idea of entertainment in mind rather than anything more academic.

"We couldn't let the anniversary go by without doing something," says Constance. "But we wanted to make it approachable to people of all generations, relevant and interesting to all and not just the poet laureates and academics. We want this to be a day of sheer, unadulterated fun, a happy day, something that ladies will put on their best gunas and hats for."

So the celebrations will be formally launched by An Taoiseach, who reopened Lissadell last year after the long-running court case with Sligo County Council. A dawn cycle race was initially planned for pre-dawn - "Eddie was all for that," Constance laughs, "but the rest of us persuaded him that was too early" - and then a full day of "activities around every corner," including a GAA match to be played on the new football pitch on the front lawn, a Hat Party organised with the g hotel, music, sean nos singers, BMX trails, step dancing, literary talks, a woodland poetry walk, recitations where David Norris, Anne Doyle, Bryan Dobson, Mary Wilson and many more, will read their own favourite Yeats poem.

There will also be what sounds a truly hilarious idea - a mimicry competition, where participants are encouraged to impersonate Yeats's own, very distinctive, way of reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree - and a go at automatic writing, a form of mystical communication much favoured by Yeats.

The main events are probably the art competition, with top prize of €1,000, for the best visual interpretation of Yeats work, and the poetry competition: an all-Ireland event sponsored by Newstalk, in which the winner gets a prize of €1,000. There is also a prize specially for National School pupils, in which the winner gets €300, while their school gets €500. In both cases, the best work in the manner of Yeats will be chosen.

"We want people to make memories," says Constance. "To remember the time they kicked a football on the front lawn or took part in the Hat Party. We have the house and gardens, but we also have so much land around us, perfect for sports of all kinds. We have three miles of seafront."

Her own favourite Yeats poems? "He Wishes For the Cloths Of Heaven is the one I loved as a kid, and Down By The Sally Gardens." Constance is talking to me from the car late on a sunny evening.

She and Eddie are driving home after a long day in their respective law practices, with the running of their homes in Kildare and Lissadell a kind of never-ending second career.

Why, I wonder, do they do so much themselves?

"For this to work, so much has to be done," she responds. "And the way to get people involved and enthusiastic, is if they see that we are, that we want to be there, to be involved, to work there. You can't ask other people to do things you won't do yourself."

Eddie, when I speak to him, has another layer of response. "I'm not of a poetic turn of mind, " he says, "but I do have my Yeats favourites. I remember the Lake Isle of Innisfree, and getting the shite kicked out of me at school for getting the lines wrong. Among School Children always fascinated me, as did The Circus Animal's Desertion - the later poems have a strong resonance with me. That feeling of, 'this is the end of my life, what have I done with it?' I don't intend to let life pass me by. I'm letting no horsemen pass by too quickly."

For entry details for the poetry and art competitions see


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