When I was 20 years old, I attended the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo, Ireland. I had fallen in love with William Butler Yeats and his poetry. After the school, I took a horse drawn tinker’s caravan across County Cork to the sea. It was a summer I’ll never forget, and I have dreamed of returning to Ireland ever since. It took me nearly 50 years, but return I did.
I was so afraid that the country might be vastly changed, but it was not – and the spirit of the lovely Irish people has remained just as warm and gracious and hospitable and humorous as I remembered. In fact, my age helped me appreciate all that these amazing people have to offer. The art of conversation is certainly not lost in Ireland!
If you are planning a trip to Dublin, I highly recommend the free Dublin City Walking Tours. There is a tour of the south side of the River Liffey at 11 a.m. and a tour of the north side of the River Liffey at 3 p.m. We lucked out with a guide named Peter, who is the owner of the company. He is incredibly knowledgeable – a Trinity College grad who could answer questions on anything, from politics and poetry to architecture and art. Find it at www.dublinfreewalkingtours.com
Of course I had to make a personal pilgrimage to some of the places where I could learn more about Yeats. In fact, our hotel was just around the corner from the house on Merrion Square where Yeats lived when he was a Senator.
I also learned a great deal about Yeats’ brother, Jack Yeats, considered one of the world’s greatest artists of the early 20th century, and of course Yeats’ father, John Yeats, one of Ireland’s most prominent portrait painters.
The National Library of Ireland has the largest collection of Yeats manuscripts and material in the world. It is free to get in and Jerry and I spent nearly an entire day there.
As you enter the exhibit, you are surrounded by images of Sligo and a selection of Yeats’ poetry is read by actors. Most moving, we heard Yeats himself reading “Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
Another really special treat on this trip was a visit to the Abbey Theatre to see a play by Frank McGuinness called “Behold the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme.” Yeats was one of the founders of the Abbey and I have wanted to see a play there for many years. As a student, I couldn’t afford a ticket. The play was brilliant and moving and beautifully directed.
The Book of Kells is the most famous visitor attraction in Dublin, but Jerry and I were more excited about the Long Library, where floor to ceiling volumes grace the shelves.
I don’t want to belabor this blog, but please know that I will be writing a number of blogs about our trip to Ireland, with beautiful scenery from Counties Wicklow, Clare and Kerry. We spent two weeks with a group of artists and teacher from Canada, trying to capture some of the magic of Ireland with watercolor.
– Paula Rath