Plans to have Thoor Ballylee back in business for Yeats’ anniversary

One of William Butler Yeats’ most famous quotes captured the pessimistic outlook of a nation.

“Being Irish,” said Yeats, “he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy”.

But this doesn’t ring true of the campaign to revive his ancestral home in Thoor Ballylee, as optimism abounds that the building could be reopened by next Summer.

The building, also known as Yeats’ Tower, has been closed for the past five years due to severe flood damage.

Now, local group, The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, has ambitious plans to have it re-opened in time for the Nobel Laureate’s 150th birthday in June 2015.

Minister of State for Tourism, Michael Ring this week granted a licence that allows the group to start fundraising to secure the money needed to re-open and keep open what was once described by Seamus Heaney as “the most important public building in Ireland”.

Located on the bank of Cloone River near Gort, it was in this impressive Hiberno-Norman tower where WB Yeats was inspired to write some of his most lauded poems, The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1931). After buying the property in 1917 for £35, the tower was restored by Yeats and he spent Summers with his family there from 1921 to 1929.

The building was badly flood damaged in 2009 and has remained closed ever since. Ireland West, the custodian of the tower, no longer exists and the building was subsumed into Fáilte Ireland whose mandate does not include protecting or promoting heritage sites and which cannot afford to re-open it.

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, chaired by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, stepped in with plans to revive the building.

The society comprises people from the local community, business and academia who feel Thoor Ballylee is a “national treasure” that should be enjoyed by all.

Senator Healy Eames’ Seanad motion now paves the way for the society to fundraise, which is a major boost to plans to have it reopened next year.

“It would be an utter travesty if this iconic building, a national treasure, was not reopened in time for Yeats 150th birthday,” she said.

“We thank the Minister for granting the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society a licence to allow us to start fundraising and secure the monies needed to re-open and keep open this culturally important building, of huge touristic, heritage, academic and educational potential. We are determined to make it happen and as chair, I will lead this project. The granting of this license is significant and enabling. It gives a new lease of life and hope that Thoor will re-open.”

Senator Healy Eames says already philanthropists and academics in the US have pledged to help the campaign.

Minister Ring said: “The work by this community group is to be congratulated and shows that much can be achieved at grassroots when people are impassioned about a cause.

“I am delighted to support them in their efforts to raise the necessary funds to see Thoor Ballylee once again open to the public.

“It would be quite an achievement to have this historic building open in time for Yeats’ 150th birthday next year and would be sure to prove a huge attraction for the area and boost tourism revenues for Ireland as a whole.”