Lily and Lolly Yeats: The Forgotten Yeats Sisters On Sky Arts

Watch Lily and Lolly Yeats: The Forgotten Yeats Sisters Documentary On International Women’s Day

A new Sky Original documentary hosted by singer-songwriter and poet Imelda May explores the legacy of talented sisters Lily and Lolly Yeats, and airs on International Women’s Day …

Lily & Lolly: The Forgotten Yeats Sisters will air on International Women’s Day, Friday March 8 and is a must-watch. This documentary tells the story of two remarkable women, Susan (Lily) and Elizabeth (Lolly) Yeats who were regarded as the backbone of the Irish cultural and literary revival of the 1920s. Singer-songwriter and poet Imelda May, who has a personal interest in the sisters, explores their legacy.

She explains: “Lily and Lolly were the sisters of well-loved literary genius WB Yeats, world-renowned painter Jack Butler Yeats and daughter of celebrated artist John Butler Yeats – if known at all, they were most often only referred to as ‘the sisters of…’ even though they were hugely talented in their own right. I came across them in 2017 when working on my 3Arena show wanting to project onstage the names of exceptional people, especially largely forgotten exceptional Irish women, who contributed hugely to our culture in Ireland. I was curious as to how I’d never heard of them and their artistic contribution to Irish culture and in business, through extraordinary textile craftwork and literature. I was delighted when my friend and wonderful producer Maggie Breathnach and Sky Arts agreed that we should collaborate to make a documentary telling their remarkable story.”

For four decades, the sisters were responsible for the publishing of over 70 beautiful titles including works by many of the period’s leading Irish authors – WB Yeats, JM Synge and Lady Gregory. Alongside a friend of theirs, Evelyn Gleeson, the sisters set up the first and only craft guild of its kind, the Dun Emer Guild, which employed only women. The ethos behind the group was to “find work for Irish hands in the making of beautiful things” and to promote women’s economic and cultural independence. Despite this contribution to Irish culture, the documentary questions if not for their famous surname, would Lily and Lolly Yeats have been airbrushed out of history entirely? The film touches on their complicated relationships with their brothers (and each other) and explores their resilience in the face of lifelong illness, financial struggles and working as creatives.

Throughout the documentary, Imelda’s journey of discovery takes her to Trinity College Dublin, the National Print Museum, and the sisters’ burial place at St Nahi’s cemetery. There are contributions from Lucy Collins (Associate Professor at University College Dublin), Dr Angela Griffith (Associate Professor and art historian at Trinity College), and Mary Plunkett (Education Officer at the National Print Museum). All of these experts help to bring the sisters out of the shadow of their famous brothers Jack and William Butler Yeats.

Need to Know: Lily & Lolly: The Forgotten Yeats Sisters will debut on Friday March 8 on Sky Arts and NOW. It was produced by Red Shoe Productions in association with Sky Studios and Tourism Ireland.


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