The many roadside rambles and woodland walks taken by a young WB Yeats in Sligo led to some of the poet’s best loved works, and these have now been gathered together in a useful new website www.YeatsTrail.ie. From The Wanderings of Oisin to The Fiddler of Dooney, The Stolen Child to the much loved The Lake Isle of Innisfree, themes explored by our great poet – those of love, mysticism and innocence and others, are central to these poems.
The settings of each of the 14 locations on the Yeats Trail are very accessible. Each of them contains an installation and most have a seated area where you can take in captivating views across lakes and forests, mountains and rivers, places often referred to by Yeats, particularly in his earlier work.
The Yeats Trail route is conveniently grouped according to number and to facilitate ease of movement from one to the other. The route begins at the foot of Knocknarea and ends towards the west of the county at Glenwood, and takes its course travelling in an anti-clockwise direction with Lough Gill at its centre.
Of course, you can visit any of these places out of sequence too, as befits your own interests and travel arrangements. Some of the places incorporate walks with links to the Sligo Walks website – places like Dooney Rock, Slish Wood and the Benbulben Forest Trail will already be familiar with many of you.
Make your way to the old car park – now called Knocknarea Car Park – which is located on the Glen Road overlooking Ballisodare Bay. The installation by sculptor Martha Quinn is located at the start of the walk and represents a piece of chert – an ancient cutting tool used by early settlers on the mountain – pieces of which can still be found around the mountain. The highlight of the walk is of course the ancient cairn located on the summit of Knocknarea, reputed to be the burial place of Queen Maeve of Connacht.
‘And passing the Firbolgs’ burial-mounds,
Came to the cairn-heaped grassy hill
Where passionate Maeve is stony-still;’
from The Wanderings of Oisin (1889)
2. Rosses Point
Overlooking the first beach at Rosses Point, this installation pays tribute to the Yeats family and their extensive connections with Sligo. WB’s mother Susan Pollexfen was from Sligo and it was with her relatives that he and his artist brother Jack spent long periods of time and where both drew on the Sligo landscape for inspiration in their work. Their sisters Susan (Lily) was an embroiderer and Elizabeth (Lollie) a publisher, their father John B. an artist.
‘Saddle and ride, I heard a man say,
Out of Ben Bulben and Knocknarea,
What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower? All those tragic characters ride
But turn from Rosses’ crawling tide,’
from Alternative Song for the Severed Head in ‘King of the Great Clock Tower’ (1935)
Located along the N17 just 4km north of Sligo town, the final burial place of WB Yeats is outside the front door of Drumcliffe Church. In advance of his death in France in 1939, Yeats left instructions that his body be moved to Ireland “when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo,” he wrote. The installation at Drumcliffe by artist Jackie McKenna is a poignant reminder of the poet’s vulnerability, especially in the face of unrequited love.
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven:
‘I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’
from The Wind among the Reeds (1899)
Located overlooking the beach at Lissadell, this installation acknowledges the poet’s friendship with Eva and Constance Gore Booth, two sisters who were trailblazers politically and socially in the early 20th century. Eva was a poet, artist and activist for women’s rights, and Constance (Markievicz) a revolutionary and leading member of the 1916 Rising. This poem was written in tribute to both.
In Memory of Eva Gore Booth and Con Markievicz:
‘The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.’
from The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)
Parking up at the new main car park, walk up the gravel path until a clear sight of Benbulben comes into view. Here, to your left, you’ll find an installation, an unmistakeable likeness of Yeats as he looks towards the mountain. Throughout his life, Benbulben (or Ben Bulben as he called it) featured prominently in his writings – both poetry and prose, and he was greatly taken with the idea that a door lay hidden in the side of the mountain through which people and spirits could pass from one world to the other. And when he died, he asked that his remains be buried under the shadow of the mountain.
‘Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,’
from Under Ben Bulben(1938-39)
The tumbling waters at Glencar have cast a spell on many a visitor and Yeats was no exception. The waterfall inspired one of his most-loved poems, one in which he yearned for a return to simpler times as Ireland moved towards revolution in the early years of the 20th century. The poem also draws on stories Yeats heard from his mother, where fairies could take children and leave a changeling in their place. The installation is located at the entrance to the waterfall.
‘Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,’
from The Stolen Child (1889)
Overlooking Lough Gill at Half Moon Bay, this installation was designed by artist Noel Molloy, who says that “the Hazelwood figure is to represent wandering Aengus , who still yearns and searches for the girl he once saw, with broken heart and hollow hands. The frame of the figure shows the way Hazelwood grows while depicting his emptiness.”
The Song of Wandering Aengus:
‘I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;’
from The Wind among the Reeds (1899)
Overlooking the Sligo countryside, an impressive court tomb is found at Deerpark. Yeats was inspired by Sligo’s rich Neolithic landscape and this – one of the finest in Ireland – is an example of how Sligo’s landscape and heritage permeated his poetry. This installation was created by local artist Barra Cassidy, whose artwork was inspired by the image of fish in the poem, adding a flourish in his sculpture in the form of a wave.
‘Why should those lovers that no lovers miss
Dream, until God burn Nature with a kiss?
The man has found no comfort in the grave.’
from The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland (1891)
This installation is located on the southern face of Lough Gill, looking out toward the famous island lake at Innisfree. Yeats often thought of Sligo, particularly when he lived away in London and elsewhere, and he wrote that “when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem ’Innisfree,’ my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music.”
The Lake Isle of Innisfree:
‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade’
from The Rose (1893)
10. Slish Wood
In Reveries Over Childhood and Youth (1914), W.B. Yeats describes a sleepless night he spent in Slish Wood (or Sleuth Wood) awaiting the dawn, an enterprise which would provide him with early morning views over Lough Gill towards the Lake Isle of Innisfree. This night of discomfort was worth it, however, and his experiences here led to one of his best loved poems.
‘Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;’
from The Stolen Child (1889)
11. Dooney Rock
The travelling musician was a common sight in the Sligo of Yeats’s youth, and in particular the fiddler has always been closely associated with the traditional music of the county. Yeats immortalised this experience in this poem that name checks several locations in Sligo, as well as paying homage to a place he came to walk as a boy, the forest walk at Dooney Rock, still very popular with walkers today.
The Fiddler of Dooney:
‘When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Moharabuiee.’
from The Wind among the Reeds (1889)
12. Union Wood
Located along the road between Sligo and Ballygawley, this installation by Martha Quinn is described as “the inkwell, hand carved from Kilkenny limestone, depicts two swans in water. The swans were chosen as they are year-round inhabitants of the lake and they also featured in the poetry of Yeats. The swan’s feather was also used in the making of writing quills, and so are forever associated with our long bardic tradition and history.”
Red Hanrahan’s Song about Ireland:
‘The yellow pool has overflowed high up on Clooth-na-Bare,
For the wet winds are blowing out of the clinging air;’
from In the Seven Woods (1904)
Yeats spent time visiting his great-uncle William Middleton, whose mill overlooked the river and falls at Ballisodare (Ballysadare). The Salley Gardens themselves are thought to be on the banks of the Ballisodare River, and this installation – which forms a willow tree and seated area – is in tribute to one of the most popular of Yeats’s poems.
Down by the Salley Gardens:
‘Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.’
from Crossways (1889)
The furthest west location of the Yeats Trail, the installation here is of a hawk, in recognition of Yeats’s play At the Hawk’s Well. The play was the first of Four Plays for Dancers written in the Japanese Noh style, which Yeats explored in his middle and later years. The characters seek immortality by drinking the fresh waters from a well, drawing on the stories he heard in his youth of the reputed special attributes of the waters at the well in nearby Tullaghan.
‘Three hazels drop their nuts and withered leaves,
And where a solitary girl keeps watch
Among grey boulders. He who drinks, they say,
Of that miraculous water lives for ever.’
from At the Hawk’s Well (1917)
For more details on each of the locations on the Yeats Trail, as well as directions and the full text of poetry associated with each place, please visit www.YeatsTrail.ie.