Thoor Ballylee Castle

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Incident Report Description

Thoor Ballylee Castle, a fortified, 13th century, Norman tower built by the septs de Burgo, or Burke, lies in County Galway near the town of Gort located off the Galway-Ennis road. With four floors, the tower consists of one room on each floor that is connected by a spiral stone stairway built into the seven-foot thickness of the massive outer wall. Each floor has a window that overlooks Cloon River that flows alongside the tower. With a small thatch cottage attached, the castle originally formed part of the huge estates of the Earls of Clanrickarde.

In 1902, the tower became part of the Coole Estate, home of Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats’ life-long friend. On the estate, Coole House, where Lady Gregory lived, was the center for meetings for the Irish literary group, a group composed of a great number of preeminent figures of the day. Near this tower, in Coole Park, began the Irish Literary Revival.

As it is also known as Yeats’ Tower, in 1916 (or 1917), for £35, Yeats purchased the property because he was so enchanted with it and especially as it was located in a rural area. From 1921 to 1929,Yeats and his family lived there as it was his monument and symbol: In both aspects, it satisfied his desire for a rooted place in the countryside. As the tower retains its original windows in the upper part, Yeats and his architect, Professor William A. Scott, restored the tower for the next two years such as installing larger windows in the lower floors. Yeats described the ground-floor chamber as “the pleasantest room I have yet seen, a great wide window opening over the river and a round arched door leading to the thatched hall”. He also admired the mural stair, symbollically declaring “This winding, gyring, spring treadmill of a stair is my ancestral stair; That Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burke have traveled there.”

As he had an affinity for the Irish language, Yeats dropped the term “castle” in naming the property and replaced it with “Thoor” (Túr), the Irish word for “tower”; thus, the place has been known as Thoor Ballylee. For twelve years, Thoor Ballylee was Yeats’ summer home as it was his country retreat. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “Everything is so beautiful that to go elsewhere is to leave beauty behind.” Consequently, it is no wonder that Yeats was inspired and compelled to create literary works at Ballylee such as poems as “The Tower” and “Coole Park and Ballylee.”

In 1929, Ballylee was abandoned as the Yeats family moved out and it fell to disuse and ruin. For the centenary of the Yeats’ birth, 1965, Ballylee was fully restored by the Kiltartan Society as Yeats Tower to appear as it was when he lived there and refitted as a Yeats museum containing a collection of first editions and items of furniture. The adjoining cottage is now a tea room and shop.

There is a tablet on the wall that commemorates his sojourn:

I, the poet William Yeats,

With old mill boards and sea-green slates,

And smithy work from the Gort forge,

Restored this tower for my wife George.

And may these characters remain

When all is ruin once again.
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