Internationally renowned historian and WB Yeats biographer, Roy Foster, has called on the State and local government to provide legislation to protect the poet’s home, Thoor Ballylee, near Gort.
The historic tower house, which inspired some of the Nobel prize-winning poet’s most critically acclaimed writings, “deserves to be celebrated and appreciated and preserved on a national scale”, Professor Foster stated in Galway at the weekend.
“In cultural terms, it is, as Seamus Heaney said, the most important building in Ireland,” he told listeners at his First Thought Talk, which was held at NUIG as part of Galway International Arts Festival.
The theme of this year’s First Thought Talks is ‘Home’. While Thoor Ballylee was home to the Yeats family during the 1920s, it was “also a central location of Irish culture, an essential part of our heritage,” stressed Professor Foster, who is Emeritus Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford and Professor of Irish History and Literature and Queen Mary University of London.
However, he added, “we’re a bit hit and miss when it comes to guarding or defending our heritage, or even defining it except in a loose or touchy feely way”.
In 2002, Professor Foster was one of a group, including An Taisce and the Irish Georgian Society, which successfully appealed Galway County Council’s decision to grant planning approval for a private dwelling house less than 100 metres from Thoor Ballylee. He had been alerted to the decision by California-based Yeats scholar, Linda Satchwell, who was also an appellant, as was architect Paul Keogh.
An Bord Pleanála upheld their appeal, saying such a dwelling “would detract from the literary interest, character, heritage and value of the national monument”.
Ireland West Tourism (now Fáilte Ireland) had also opposed the original application, but the State’s then-heritage body Dúchas had refused to contest it, on the basis that there was no archaeological significance attached to the site, Professor Foster explained.
Since the 1960s, Thoor Ballylee has been “saved and is maintained by local zeal and voluntary help from passionate Yeatsians as well as support from tourist authorities”, Dr Foster told his audience. These included American Joe Hassett, who helped with its reopening in 2015, after a series of floods, followed by the recession had left it closed for many years.
But although it’s up and running now, “the structures aren’t there to safeguard a building like TB effectively” he stressed.
“There is no remit to protect so-called one-stop development process or the prioritising of road schemes often paid for by property companies.”
Buildings like Thoor Ballylee carry a certain historical baggage in Ireland, he added, because of their association with the Anglo-Irish. But he gave credit to the Office of Public Works for its role in helping Ireland accept and embrace “the great building heritage of the 18th and 19th centuries”.
Thoor Ballylee predates that heritage, with historians stating that it possibly dates from the 14th century.
Yeats and his young wife, George Hyde Lees bought Thoor Ballylee in 1916 and set about restoring it, a process which took years and involved local craftspeople.
By 1928, the poet’s ill health meant it was no longer practical for the family to use the tower which was often damp and regularly flooded. But it inspired the renowned poem Prayer for My Daughter as well The Tower (1928), which was Yeats’ first major collection after winning the Nobel Prize. It also gave the title to 1933’s collection The Winding Stair.
While Thoor Ballylee is currently open, Professor Foster cautioned people that there was no room for complacency.
“The tower continues to suffer the vicissitudes of weather and uncertain funding,” he said.
The Galway International Arts Festival First Thought Talk series continues at NUIG this weekend. More information at giaf.ie
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Man in his 20s killed in Ballinasloe crash
A man in his 20s was killed in a crash in Ballinasloe this afternoon.
The single vehicle crash occurred on the N63 in Newbridge at around 12.45pm.
A male passenger of the vehicle, who was aged in his 20s, was pronounced dead at the scene. His body was taken to Portiuncula Hospital where a post-mortem will take place.
The driver of the car, a male also aged in his 20s, is receiving medical attention at Portiuncula Hospital.
The road remains closed while investigations continue and local diversions are in place.
Gardaí are appealing to any person who may have witnessed the crash, or who may have dashcam footage from the N63 between 12.20pm and 1pm to contact them.
Údarás defends financial support of companies on east side of Galway City
Údarás na Gaeltachta has defended its financial support of companies based on the east side of Galway City and Claregalway.
It comes after the regional authority responsible for economic, social and cultural development of the Gaeltacht was criticised for supporting companies in predominantly English-speaking areas of Parkmore Business Estate and Claregalway.
Kevin O’Hara, a Sinn Féin representative in Conamara, said the State agency should not support companies in Claregalway or Parkmore on the city’s east side. He suggested Enterprise Ireland or the IDA should support those companies rather than An tÚdarás, even though they were technically situated within the Gaeltacht.
Speaking on Adhmaidin on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltacht, he questioned what benefit the Conamara Gaeltacht reaped by Údarás na Gaeltachta supporting enterprises in Parkmore or Claregalway.
Instead, Mr O’Hara said Údarás should focus on supporting jobs from Knocknacarra westwards, in Gaeltacht Conamara, and in particular in Casla, where it was badly needed.
He said it did not make sense for it to be spending money on client companies in Parkmore or Claregalway, and instead it should be focused on where it would be more valuable to the language and Gaeltacht areas, in South Conamara.
The controversy arose after Údarás announced its end-of-year statement for 2022, which highlighted how its client companies in the Galway Gaeltacht had shed jobs last year.
There were a total of 3,222 jobs in Údarás client companies in Galway at the end of last year.
Some 278 new jobs were created in these companies, but 331 jobs were lost, meaning a net loss of 53 jobs.
Údarás said the previous year, 2021, was “exceptional” for job creation.
In a statement to the Tribune, Údarás said it “does not currently support any companies in the Parkmore Business Estate”.
“We offer qualifying businesses and companies from various sectors a range of incentives and supports to start up, develop, expand or locate throughout the Gaeltacht regions, as defined by statute,” it added.
The fall in Galway Gaeltacht employment, it said, was “associated with the closure of some large companies on the eastern edge of the Gaeltacht” – which is understood to be in Parkmore.
“Most of the new jobs were created in companies operating in the medical devices, science and engineering sectors, including Aran Biomedical and Micron Clean in An Spidéal, and ÉireComposites in Indreabhán.
“In addition, there was an increase in employment in niche manufacturing companies as well as in the community services, education and language sectors,” the review said.
In the coming year, job creation will mainly be in the food and drink, biotechnology, audiovisual, aquaculture and services sectors, it said.
Údarás said 2022 was challenging for its client companies due to rising costs, particularly energy, and an uncertain international trading environment due to geopolitical unrest.
“It is clear that some of these challenges will still be with us in 2023. But Gaeltacht companies have shown stability and resilience, driven by constant innovation,” it added.
Language plans were being implemented in eight of the ten Language Planning Areas identified for the Galway Gaeltacht at the end of 2022, with total funding of €1.3m per year.
Implementation of the language plans will begin in the other two Language Planning Areas, An tEachréidh (Claregalway) and Bearna and Cnoc na Cathrach in early 2023.
‘Gobbledegook’: Galway 2020’s language on €1m legacy funding spend
The Culture Minister has been pressed to provide clarity on what exactly the €1m ‘legacy’ funding for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture (ECOC) will be spent on.
And Galway West TD Catherine Connolly (Ind) accused Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin of using language that was “gobbledegook” to describe the legacy funding.
The money will be channelled through Galway Culture Company, which is the latest iteration of Galway Cultural Development and Activity CLG, commonly referred to as Galway 2020, which was initially established in 2016 to run and operate the European Capital of Culture designation.
Minister Martin told the Dáil that the company will publish details of its “proposed legacy framework” on its website.
In broad terms, however, she said the €1m legacy funding could be broken down into the delivery of three aims.
There was €300,000 to “facilitate EU and international relationships and funding”; a further €500,000 “to develop and support place-based cultural programming”; and €200,000 “to provide supports to the cultural and creative sector”.
“Galway Culture Company is working to develop the legacy framework of Galway’s designation as European Capital of Culture and to build on the learnings and outcomes of Galway’s many European and global designations, including European Capital of Culture, UNESCO city of film, European Green Leaf city and European region of gastronomy,” Minister Martin said.
But Deputy Connolly expressed frustration at the use of language that lacked clarity.
Repeating that sentence uttered by the Minister, which was a direct quote from the company’s website, Deputy Connolly said: “I feel like saying ‘mother of Jesus’. What are we talking about here with regard the €1m of a legacy in terms of infrastructure and artists on the ground getting money?”
Minister Martin replied: “It is the strategic objective of Galway Culture Company to bring together key agencies and stakeholders to drive forward a collective creative vision for Galway through meaningful partnership and collaboration, so creativity is at the heart of that.
“It will seek to complement the work of the two local authorities in Galway by working with the cultural units in the city and county councils and will assist in the implementation of both arts plans and the cultural strategy.”
Deputy Connolly said Minister Martin’s heart was in the right place, but twice she labelled her description of Galway Culture Company’s role in delivering a legacy for Galway 2020 as “gobbledegook”.
And the Independent TD urged Minister Martin to take a ‘hands-on approach’.
Minister Martin said that physical infrastructure, and new cultural buildings “is not and never has been part of the direct delivery and legacy of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture”.
The delivery of physical arts and cultural infrastructure was a matter for Everybody Matters, Galway cultural strategy 2016-25 developed by its two local authorities, she said.
The €1m for legacy is included in the Department’s €15m overall support for Galway 2020.
Minister Martin had agreed in April of 2021 that the legacy funding would be paid, and she acknowledged in the Dáil last week that the allocation was finally approved last December.