Saturday, June 20, 2015

Yeats & Howth

Pat Liddy
Click on any image for a larger version

In this decade of celebrations, including the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats, some serious effort is being put into claiming the poet for the Northside, well, part of him, at least.

Yeats's connections with Howth are tenuous enough. He lived there for three years in his late teens. He has the odd reference to the area in the odd poem. But that seems to be it.

Nevertheless that did not deter local TD and Minister for Culture, Aodhán Ó Riordáin, from organising a Yeats walk in Howth earlier today.

Our guide was the ubiquitous Pat Liddy (above).

An enraptured Aodhán Ó Riordáin

Aodhán (above) contented himself with what he referred to as the "housekeeping" ...

No rest for the wicked

... and, of course, him being a Minister, keeping in touch with the powers that be.

Pat's portable Public Address System

We had assembled at Howth DART station where Pat had given us an introduction and we had then wended our way up what he called the "sloping road" to St. Mary's Abbey. The abbey was originally founded when the monastic settlement on Ireland's Eye became too dangerous a location for the monks with the advent of the Vikings.

A smouldering Ireland's Eye

Pat was quick to draw our attention to the fact that they were probably still out there on the Eye (above), though God knows what there is now left to pillage. An alternative explanation is that this is just the remains of the other day's fire still smoking itself out.

Balscadden House?

Following this the group split up, with the fitter members doing the trek around to Balscadden House where Yeats lived for that briefest of brief periods.

I went back to Findlaters for the poetry readings but not before taking a distant shot in the direction of the house. And no, it's not that big house. It appears that all I got of it was the greenhouse at the extreme right of shot.

I missed the house because I didn't know what I was looking for and I'm not enough of a literary type to have wondered about it previously.

The real Balscadden House
Photo: Collette Gill

However, you can see the whole thing above (including the greenhouse), thanks to Collette Gill, who was also on the walk and who knew what she was at. Collette's focus is normally more on Clontarf/Raheny where she will be remembered particularly for her trojan work on commemorating the 1014 Battle of Clontarf all through last year.

Findlaters: initial confab

Back at Findlater's, it's first things first, with Fiach Mac Conghail, looking more like he was planning the actual Rising itself, rather than just sorting out his reading of Easter 1916.

Aodhán and the four readers

The first reading was by Fiach Mac Conghail who read Yeats's Easter 1916. This is a well known poem and I suppose the line that always stays with you is A terrible beauty is born.

The next was from Joanna Siewierska who took her life in her hands and recited rather than read her favourite poem, In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz. Joanna is of Polish origin, has just completed her Leaving Cert, and is Deputy President of the Irish Second Level Students Union (ISSU). Her poem was gently delivered and very evocative.

The third contribution was from Laura Harmon, orignally from Cork but now in Dublin, who is currently President of The Union of Students in Ireland (USI). She also did a daring read, The Lake Isle of innisfree. It is a poem that I like despite its being hackneyed to death on school curricula and elsewhere. I actually lived on Innisfree very briefly way back in the distant past. I have heard W B Yeats reciting the poem (on radio) and it was woeful. He declaimed rather than recited it, but I suppose that was the style of the day. Laura's reading was much softer and intimate and a pleasure to hear.

The fourth and last contribution was from Brigid Quilligan, Director of the Irish Traveller Movement and herself a Minceir. She read The Stolen Child which she said transported her back to her youth every time she came in contact with it.

The Stolen Child

My own connections with Howth do not go back as far as Yeats - a mere seven decades. And my then tenuous connections with the artistic world never blossomed, though had I sat for a real artist like Gordon Brewster, who knows what might have become of me.

Mention of Gordon does, however, remind me of a further minor, but not entirely irrelevant connection. It was through the Yeats family that Gordon met his wife to be, a young lady from the North Strand who they asked him to teach to draw. At that time he was living in Strandville, not far from the house where WB had briefly lived some forty odd years previously.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the Cocoa, well heralded by Aodhán, and the drink the Great Man drank as he wrote. This was served after the readings. I didn't get round to sampling it, but then I'm a Horlicks man myself.

Don't believe a word of it

I started with Pat so I'll finish with him here making a (finger) point which seems to be received with some degree of scepticism, by his nearest neighbour at least.

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