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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Coffins have to brought by tractor over flooded North Galway road
Annual flooding on a stretch of road in North Galway requires the necessity for a tractor and trailer to bring the remains of a deceased person from the area to the local cemetery.
This was the claim at a local area meeting when it was demanded that Galway County Council carry out flood relief works on the road near Glenamaddy which is left under several feet of water every winter.
It resulted in Cllr Peter Keaveney tabling a motion at the Ballinasloe Municipal Council meeting that essential drainage works take place along the Roscommon road out of the town now that water levels are low. He wants this carried out within the next two weeks.
During one of the worst winters in recent years, the road was closed for three months and the Fine Gael councillor and agricultural contractor said that he pulled around 20 cars out of the flooded stretch when motorists decided to take the chance of driving through it.
Even in drought conditions, the levels remain incredibly high and this is mainly down to a local turlough that retains water throughout the year.
While he said that Galway County Council officials were extremely helpful, the problem lay with the Office of Public Works who would not allow drainage works as the road is situated in a Special Area of Conservation.
Senior Executive Engineer Damien Mitchell informed the meeting that Galway County Council are in a position to carry out some works but there are certain areas that only the Office of Public Works can drain.
Mr Mitchell said that the best way forward was a co-ordinated approach involving the County Council and the OPW while accepting that there was a major problem with flooding along this road.
In response, Cllr Keaveney said that this was a very acceptable move and added that a joint approach to the flooding in Glenamaddy was required at this stage and particularly with the winter approaching.
Williamstown’s Cllr Declan Geraghty said that residents were living in hell as some of them saw their houses destroyed by rising flood waters near Glenamaddy.
“There are even deceased people being brought by tractor and trailer to be buried which is an absolute disgrace. There is an opportunity to do this now or otherwise we are looking at flooding for the next 10 years.
“People have put everything into their homes only to see them destroyed when it comes to prolonged heavy rainfall.
“There is a solution to this problem and environmental issues should not take precedence,” he added.
The Independent councillor said that raising the level of the road, which leads to Creggs and onto Roscommon, was not the answer to the problem because the levels were so high.
Galway County Council have carried out several surveys of the area around the flooded road and officials told previous meetings that, subject to approval from the OPW, there was an engineering solution possible.
(Photo Cllr Declan Geraghty (Ind) and Cllr Peter Keaveney (FG) at the Creggs road out of Glenamaddy where flooding occurs on an annual basis.)
Teen arrested over €45,000 cocaine seizure
Gardaí have seized €45,000 of what they believe to be cocaine in Ballinasloe.
Gardaí attached to Ballinasloe Garda Station conducted an intelligence-led operation in the Dunlo Harbour area of the town yesterday.
During the course of this operation a quantity of suspected cocaine, estimated to be worth €45,000, concealed on derelict grounds was seized.
A male in his mid-teens was arrested at the scene and detained at Ballinasloe Garda Station on Sunday.
He has since been released with a file being prepared for the Garda Youth Diversion Office.
The focus of Operation Tara is to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute drug trafficking networks, at all levels.
Thousands on waiting list for student accommodation in Galway
The student housing crisis is ‘the worst it’s ever been’ – with thousands on waiting lists for rooms; hundreds relying on hostels and friends’ sofas; and countless more facing deferral or dropping out altogether.
The President of NUI Galway’s Students’ Union, Róisín Nic Lochlainn, told the Connacht Tribune that students had been left in a desperate situation, as she called for mass protests to have the issue addressed.
According to Ms Nic Lochlainn, 3,000 students were currently on the waiting lists for NUIG’s on-campus accommodation – Corrib Village and Goldcrest Village – with around 500 in line for any bed that might come up in the Westwood.
“Gort na Coiribe and Dunaras have told us their waiting lists are well into the hundreds too. I’ve only got to contact two of the hostels around town, but Kinlay and Snoozles have almost 200 students between them already – and they’re expecting more.
“The first years haven’t even arrived yet, and on top of all that, you have people in B&Bs and staying on their friends’ sofas,” said Ms Nic Lochlainn.
Pressure on the student rental market had been building for years, she said, but it had gone off the cliff edge this year as a perfect storm was created by increased student numbers and reduced bed availability.
“[Minister for Further and Higher Education] Simon Harris created new places on courses this year and talked about maximum access to education . . . I’m not sure how that works for students who are homeless.
“Because there weren’t many students around last year, some private landlords might have moved on. There was no new purpose-built accommodation delivered, and then Simon Harris creates new places with no new beds,” said Ms Nic Lochlainn of the causes of this year’s problems.”
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