Yeats’ poetry has helped shape Ireland as a nation. His words have given hope, inspiration and comfort, and have told Ireland’s story for over a century. This is now under threat as the key custodian of his legacy in Sligo, his source of great inspiration, faces imminent closure.
Before the pandemic, Yeats Society Sligo was thriving – the Yeats International Summer School brought together enthusiasts, experts and writers from across the world to Sligo and the the Yeats Building, managed by the Society as a cultural hub, allowed visitors and locals alike to be inspired with a love of Yeats’ work.
When the pandemic forced the Yeats Building to close to visitors and tours in March 2020, followed by the cancellation of the Yeats Summer School in 2020 and a pared back online 2021 version of the event, the Yeats Society Sligo sources of revenue dried up. Careful financial management of savings has allowed the Society to continue through 18 months of closures and uncertainty however, as an organisation without core funding, the future of the Society and of Yeats’ legacy in Ireland is in peril. The Society is now looking to raise €100,000 by September to guarantee its survival and allow it to thrive once again.
Founded by contemporaries of Yeats in 1960 (he had died just 21 years earlier) Yeats Society Sligo is the heart of the cultural and tourist scene in Sligo town. The Society has been a cultural hub at the centre of Sligo for many years, and the Yeats Building houses a huge collection of books and other archive material, available for scholarly research. The Society runs the Hyde Bridge contemporary art gallery, with 11 exhibitions a year and the Penny Café, offering coffee roasted in Sligo and good homemade vegetarian food. It also offers space to local community organisations to run cultural events.
One of the major initiatives, wholly managed by Yeats Society Sligo, is the annual Yeats International Summer School. It is now the longest running literary school in the world, integrating an academic programme of lectures and seminars with poetry readings and cultural events. The Summer School has welcomed luminaries including Paula Meehan, Eavan Boland, John Montague, Jessica Traynor, John McGahern, Mary Robinson and Edna O’Brien, and brings attendees from across the globe to Sligo each year. The Summer School can also lay claim to being where Seamus Heaney met arguably one of his most important champions, the leading American scholar, writer and critic Helen Vendler, highlighting just how important a cultural touchstone it has been over the last six decades.
Yeats’ relationship with Sligo can be heard throughout all his poetry: its lakes and hills inspired ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, the western starlit skies twinkle over ‘He Wishes For The Clothes Of Heaven’ and the wild beauty of the Hazel wood is depicted in ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’. He transformed Sligo into Yeats Country – ‘The Land of Heart’s Desire’ – the name of his first play.
“In the years leading up to the coronavirus crisis, Yeats Society Sligo had transformed into a centre for our local community as well as our international visitors,” said Susan O’Keeffe, Director of Yeats Society Sligo.
“We brought our poet to the people, especially for the people of Sligo. We’ve opened our doors to aspiring writers and poets discovering that first spark of literary inspiration. Our centre welcomes families who come to relax in the café, explore the gallery and exhibits and enjoy a tour about the Yeats family and Sligo. And of course, we offer a home to academics and enthusiasts where they can study, research, and network at our annual Yeats International Summer School. Our building is a place for all of us to explore Yeats’ work and find our connection with Sligo’s greatest poet and to enjoy and appreciate contemporary writers, poets and visual artists.”
Yeats retold Ireland’s myths, shaped the literary culture and celebrated Irish traditions. He is often the first poet read but also the poet people return to throughout our lives, at special and reflective moments. Yeats Society Sligo’s work has been so important in safeguarding this legacy and inspiring future generations with a love of Yeats’ poetry through numerous outreach programmes. They are now looking for help to continue encouraging readers to discover his verse for themselves and also to help shape the careers of academics and poets for the next 100 years.
Visit the crowdfunding site here.