New York Times and Yeats

TheLake_Isle_of_InnisfreeThe New York Times has arisen and gone to the Lake Isle of Innisfree, as the 150th anniversary of W.B. Yeats’s birth approaches.

The paper’s latest Emerald Isle adventure sees author Russell Shorto sojourn to Sligo and Leitrim in search of one of the most famous islands in poetry.

“Yeats named the poem after an actual place, an island in the middle of Lough Gill, a lake that spreads itself languidly across five miles of furiously green landscape in County Sligo in northwest Ireland,” he writes.

Despite the poem’s ubiquity, and the fact that the island’s name has been appropriated by cosmetics, B&Bs and a local tour boat, Shorto says it still retains the capacity to charm.
“When I reached the lakeshore, I found the opposite of a tourist site,” he continues. “I could barely make my way out to the water to get a view, so thick was the shoreline with trees and brush.”

2015 is the 150th anniversary of Yeats’s birth on June 13, 1865, with Yeats 2015 ( seeing a host of events, readings, plays and celebrations to mark the occasion.
Even so, this tiny island (you’d have a hard time fitting a clay and wattle cabin – let alone a bee-loud glade – on this quarter-acre hump) is remarkably undersold as an attraction… and perhaps the better for it.
Visitors can take a tour of Lough Gill on the Rose of Innisfree (, €15/€7.50pp), and local SUP (Stand-Up Paddling) operators SUPforall (, below) run regular tours, kicking off on the River Bonnet and proceeding to the lake.

On my last visit, the waters were glassy-calm around the tree-covered mound, the only sign of man in the shape of a small concrete pier.
I had to pull back branches and thorns to beat a path forward.
“It’s tiny, and looks like a bur, a bristling seed pod, almost angrily sprouting trees and brush from its humpy back,” as Shorto writes.
He goes on to laud the “craggy loveliness” of Yeats Country highlights, including Glencar waterfall, Ben Bulben (“like a natural acropolis”) and Slish Wood – places that seem “carved to suit his poetry, rather than the other way round.”

Glencar Waterfall, Co. Leitrim (1)(1)

Last Saturday, when the New York Times story appeared, a new walking trail was launched at Knocknarea. Queen Maeve’s Trail ( begins in Strandhill, following a new series of pathways, wooden steps and raised boardwalks to sweeping views over Sligo Bay.
The paper has a daily circulation of some 1.8 million.
Sligo itself is described in the piece as “an ancient and lively enough little center, dominated by its cathedral and ringed with pubs where there’s nonstop rugby and soccer on the telly and you can order not just Irish stew and Guinness, but also chicken curry and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.”

But Yeats Country itself makes the lasting impression.
“Yeats’s meditations weren’t urban, and neither was mine,” Shorto concludes.
You can read the full piece here.
NB: An earlier version of this story stated that Mr. Shorto described the isle as ‘five miles long’. He was of course referring to Lough Gill, and not Innisfree.



NYT article:

2015: Ireland celebrates Yeats’ 150th anniversary

The Irish government has allocated 500,000 euros to celebrate the work of poet and Nobel Laureate WB Yeats.

Next year has been designated Yeats 2015 by the Irish government.

It will be a year-long national and international celebration of the life and works of the poet.

Yeats was awarded his Nobel Prize in 1923, for his “always inspired poetry, which, in a highly artistic form, gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”.

Yeats’ poetry ranged from lyrical to political, and some of his best-known poems can seem remarkably contemporary.

WB Yeats is buried in Drumcliff, County Sligo


Lines such as these from The Second Coming (1919) continue to have relevance today:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity

His poetry is regularly quoted in popular culture with references to some of his well-loved verses in films such as Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, and Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence.

Yeats’ lyrical poetry has also long been a favourite with musicians. In 2011 Scottish rock band, The Waterboys, released An Appointment with Mr Yeats, an album of his poems set to music.

The organisers behind Yeats 2015 expect to attract 85,000 extra visitors to Ireland, and hope it will generate renewed interest in Irish culture and literature.

Yeats 2015 is part of the decade of commemoration in the Republic of Ireland, which includes events to commemorate the Easter Rising and the Dublin Lockout.