Heritage Week: W.B Yeats, Poet, in Drumcliffe

William Butler Yeats  (1865-1939) was one of Ireland’s best known and best-loved poets. One of the great advantages to living here in the mid-west of Ireland is that on  the 255 mile, 6 hour-long  trips back home to Donegal, the county of my childhood, I have to pass through Drumcliffe, in County Sligo. Drumcliffe is the burial  place of W.B .Yeats, and a mandatory coffee stop here down the years has now become a family tradition and marks our ‘arrival’ in the north-west.


Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 but spent much of his childhood in Sligo. He loved the old celtic stories of Ireland and even though born into a Protestant family of Anglo Irish origin he became something of nationalist,advocating the use of the Irish language. In 1899 he co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. His love for Maud Gonne, an English-born Irish revolutionary, is legendary, having proposed to her and been refused 5 times in all.  In 1917, he married an English girl, half his age. Her name was Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom he called George.  They had a good marriage in spite of  the age difference. In 1922 he became a Senator serving two terms and in 1923 he became the first Irish winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He died in 1939  in Roquebrune-Cap-MartinFrance . In 1948, his remains were brought home to Ireland by the Irish Naval Service and re-interred in Drumcliffe.

Yeats was a prolific writer, and has left us short stories,essays, collections of folk tales and myths as well as poetry. In the carpark  at Drumcliffe there is a wonderful interpretation of the Yeats poem, and one of my favourites, ‘He wishes for the Cloths of  Heaven’


ClothsofHeaven1Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Yeats grave is very simple and is located near the door of the church, where his grandfather was once rector

Yeatsgrave Yeats had clearly expressed his wish to be buried here and dictated  the inscription on his headstone in the last stanza of his poem ‘Under Bare Ben Bulben’s Head’:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Ben Bulben is a magnificent mountain that dominates the landscape in this area for miles around. The beautiful St Columba’s Church in Drumcliffe lies beneath it, as can be seen in this photo taken from  his grave with Ben Bulbin in the background.BenBulbin

Among my personal favourites are those poems inspired by the great beauty of the countryside such as The Wild Swans at Coole ( which is in Co. Galway)

The  trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty Swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Yeats love of swans is reflected in the beautiful door of the church


Swans on the doors of the church –  I pulled them closed for a moment just to get a picture!  I know that somewhere I have more details on these doors, but cannot find it at the moment.

drumcliffedoordetailThe Wild Swans at Coole?

Drumcliffe is a lovely place – great coffee shop, a wonderful high cross and remains of an ancient round tower. If you drop by here, I can guarantee that it will instil at the very least a curiosity about our most wonderful poet.


W.B Yeats.Poet, Essayist, Politician, Irishman . Image Wikimedia Commons.

W.B. Yeats  – a magnificent part of our Heritage!

References :



Running to Paradise Poems by W.B Yeats   An Introductory selection  by Kevin Crossley-Holland



Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History

18 responses to “Heritage Week: W.B Yeats, Poet, in Drumcliffe

  1. A long time favourite, what a wonderful tribute… yet another place to add to my list…

  2. My sister and I visited Yeats grave on our way from Clare to Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. = in 1979 from America. We just happen by accident on this site. What a wonderful accident!

    • What marvellous serendipity! It is a beautiful spot, with its round tower and high cross as well. It has been developed somewhat since your visit, but has not been spoiled in any way. I hope you get to come back soon!
      Thank you for visiting my blog .

  3. Very nice post SV. Like Crissouli ^ it makes me want to go to Drumcliffe right away. I’d happily spend hours there – the coffee shop would love me. I’m not one for poetry but I am part-way through ‘Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.’

    • You would love Ben Bulbin too – such a beautifully scenic area. I have never read the Fairy & Folktales of the Irish Peasantry.Must get a copy. I was reared on ‘Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, we daren’t go a -hunting for fear of little men’ The original Leprechauns?’ And as for banshees…!!! Thank you for dropping by .

  4. Oh SV, I just adore this post. Yeats’ poetry, especially his love poetry, flows through my veins and I share his passion for swans. Thanks for bringing such a great piece of writing to me on this Monday morning when I least expected it!

    • Yes his swans – oh what a wonderful poem that is about the ones at Coole! On Mulroy Bay, near my childhood home there were hundreds of swans. My father used call them The Children of Lir and it was a real treat when he piled us into the car to go to see them! Yeats was a marvellous poet!

  5. Very well written, really interesting post… 🙂

    “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” (WBYeats).

  6. Pingback: W.B. Yeats, Swans and Hallucinations ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 226 | Social Bridge

  7. As my Irish friends tell me nothing happens by accident…it was meant to be.

  8. Oh, Angela… the moment I read this post I “liked” it… but then was kept awake with unsettled feelings and trying to remember what it was that I’d forgotten. Then finally it came to me as I re-visited the treasure hanging on my lounge room wall.
    Now I’m having a little cry again on reading the words of William Butler Yeats (1886) so carefully reproduced, on green cardboard, by my youngest child as a Mother’s Day gift for 1998. At the time he was an impoverished University Student, whose final Doctoral Thesis was dedicated to my Susan Kelleher (his 3x Irish Great Grandmother). The Yeats poem he so lovingly transcribed is “The Stolen Child” and here is the verse which lives within my heart.
    “Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand.
    For the world’s more full of weeping
    Than you can understand”
    The tears are good and comforting… reminding me the fact that my Jarren Vaughan Havel will never be forgotten and will always remain an integral part of our family. Sorry about the huge “spiel”… but guess I just had to get that out. xxx

  9. Very lovely tribute, and looks to be a wonderful place. I feel I mut have have been there, as a child at least, we generally went to WEst Cork on holidays but certainly went to Sligo a couple of times. Either way, I can’t remember the place. Anyway, clearly time for a fresh visit! Thanks for a very good post, and for reminders of those terrific poems. -Arran.

  10. Pingback: But I Being Poor Have Only My Dreams | ♥ The Tale Of My Heart ♥

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