Sligo is often known as "Yeats Country," where the Yeats brothers spent many holidays in Ballisodare and
Sligo town with their maternal grandparents. They loved the beautiful scenery and, for the most part,
treasured their vacations among the people there.
Poet William Butler Yeats was actually born at Georgeville, Sandymouth Avenue, Dublin, the first child of
John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen Yeats. In 1866, Susan Mary Yeats (Lily) was born. In
1867, father John Butler Yeats gave up the practice of Irish law and moved to London to study art. In
1868, Elizabeth Corbet Yeats (Lollie) was born. In 1870, Robert Corbet Yeats (Bobbie) was born, and
in 1871 John Butler Yeats (Jack) was born. The family actually moved to beautiful Co. Sligo for a short
period of time in July of 1872. During the next few years, members of the Yeats family lived in both
London and Co. Sligo.
Their lives were shattered when tragedy struck not once, but twice. In 1873, little Robert (Bobbie) died,
and the family moved back to London in October of 1874. Little Jane Grace Yeats was born in 1875
where she died the following year.
Poet William Butler Yeats attended the Godolphin School, Hammersmith, London in 1877. In 1881 the
family moved to Dublin where he entered Erasmus Smith High School. In 1884, he attended the
Metropolitan School of Art. His first poems were published in the March issue of the "Dublin University
Review," in 1885.
In 1887, the family moved back to London, but William stayed with his uncle George Pollexfen in Sligo,
August to November of that year, went to Dublin for a short time, the returned to London in late January.
Over the next few years he was very active in poety circles and in the theater, which he loved; his friends
include many of those famous in the world of literature and art including George Bernard Shaw, John
Millington Synge, James Joyce, and lady friends Olivia Shakespear and Maud Gonne.
He purchased and named Thoor Ballylee, a Norman tower near Gort, Co. Galway, the year he married
Bertha Georgie Hyde-Lees on October 20, 1917. They moved to Oxford in 1918, but they restored and
used Thoor Ballylee as their summer residence. He went on an American lecture tour in that same year.
On February 3, 1922, his father died in New York and he returned to Dublin where he becomes a
Senator in the Irish Free State and continued to write his now-famous poetry.
In 1923, he deservedly won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and his outstanding contribution to literature
and the stage has been commemorated by a marvelous sculpture by Rohan Gillespie which sits in Sligo
town. Although he died in the south of France in 1939, it was not until 1948 that he was finally laid to rest
in Drumcliff by the Protestant Church where his grandfather had been rector. A moody individual, he
wrote his own epitaph, "Cast a cold Eye on Life, on Death, Horseman, pass by."
The paintings of his brother, Jack Yeats, are very much in vogue these days and colorfully capture the
"earthy" soul of Co. Sligo in their subjects - fair days, horse races, etc. The comfortable and animated
faces in his paintings are the kind one still sees on the streets of Ballymote and Tobercurry; in the fields
around Gurteen; walking the golden sands of Strandhill. They seem real and the kind of folks you can
"shake hands with," in contrast to the hauntingly beautiful but often disturbing poetry of brother William
which often reflected both the relatively privileged and the darker, supersitious elements of Ireland. Some
of his loveliest poetry includes "The Stolen Child," (1889), "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," (1893), "The Wild
Swans at Coole," (1917), and "My Descendants," (1928)
An unpublished poet in the city of Sligo named Melody, one of the many thousands of ex-soldiers that the
garrison town of Sligo has given to the armies of the world down through the centuries, (in his case the US
Army and the Korean War,) reflected a different view when heard uttering a few lines of his poetry in a
Co. Sligo pub a few years ago:
"The working men of Sligo,
Don't care a damn for Yeats,
All we want are pints of porter,
Spuds and bacon on our plates!"
William Butler Yeats is buried at the foot of Benbulben which rises majestically out of the north Sligo plain
to a height of 1,725 feet.