Yeats’ poetry has given hope, inspiration and comfort, shaping the literary culture and celebrating Irish traditions. Yeats Society Sligo’s work has been integral to safeguarding this legacy and inspiring future generations. This is now under threat and faces imminent closure …
Yeats’ relationship with Sligo is integral to his poetry. Its lakes and hills inspired “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, the western starlit skies twinkle over “He Wishes For The Clothes Of Heaven” and the wild beauty of the Hazel wood is depicted in “The Song of Wandering Aengus”. He transformed Sligo into “Yeats Country” – The Land of Heart’s Desire – the name of his first play.
Founded by contemporaries of Yeats in 1960 (he had died 21 years earlier) Yeats Society Sligo is the heart of the tourist scene in Sligo town. Susan O’Keeffe, Director of Yeats Society Sligo explains, “We brought our poet to the people, especially for the people of Sligo. We’ve opened our doors to aspiring writers and poets discovering that first spark of literary inspiration. Our centre welcomes families who come to relax in the café, explore the gallery and exhibits and enjoy a tour about the Yeats family and the area. And of course, we offer a home to academics and enthusiasts where they can study, research and network at our annual Yeats International Summer School. Our building is a place for all to explore Yeats’ work and find connection with Sligo’s greatest poet and to enjoy and appreciate contemporary writers, poets and visual artists.”
The Society runs the Hyde Bridge contemporary art gallery, with eleven exhibitions a year and the Penny Café, offering coffee roasted in Sligo and good homemade vegetarian food. One of the major initiatives is the annual Yeats International Summer School. It is the longest running literary school in the world, integrating an academic programme of lectures and seminars with poetry readings and cultural events. The Summer School has welcomed luminaries including Paula Meehan, Eavan Boland, John Montague, Jessica Traynor, John McGahern, Mary Robinson and Edna O’Brien. Apparently the Summer School was also where Seamus Heaney met one of his most important champions, the American scholar, writer and critic Helen Vendler, highlighting just how important a cultural touchstone it has been over the last six decades.
Before the pandemic, Yeats Society Sligo was thriving. However Covid-19 forced the Yeats Building to close to visitors and tours in March 2020, followed by the cancellation of the Yeats Summer School in 2020 – a pared back online version of the event is taking place this year. This all means that Yeats Society Sligo sources of revenue dried up. Careful management of savings has allowed the Society to continue through 18 months of closures and uncertainty. However, as an organisation without core funding, the future of the Society and of Yeats’ legacy is in peril. The Society is now hoping to raise €100,000 by September to guarantee its survival and, most importantly, to continue encouraging readers to discover Yeats’ verse for themselves and to help shape the careers of academics and poets for the next 100 years.
Visit www.yeatssociety.com to find out how to help.
Image: From the poetry series with includes The Song of Wandering Aengus, The Lake Isle of Innisree and The Wild Swans at Coole, €50 from Linocut Studio; www.linocutstudio.com.
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