W.B. Yeats and Sligo, Then and Now

July 22, 2014 1:50 PM

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W.B. Yeats and Sligo, Then and Now

W.B. Yeats writes about Sligo in his first surviving letter, dating from sometime in autumn of 1876. He was 11, in England with his father, and replying to his little sister Lily, who was in Sligo and had sent him a drawing of a mountain he already knew well: Knocknarea. This spectacular mountain already featured prominently in young Yeats's imaginative landscape -- together with its larger fellow across the waters, Ben Bulben. Knocknarea, at the top of which legendary Queen Maeve lies buried beneath her great cairn of stones, and Ben Bulben, in whose long shadow Yeats himself now rests, hold Sligo town in their protective lion's paws on either side of the city and its river, with strands, waterfalls, and people and their homes in between.

What did Yeats love about Sligo? First, having family there - his mother's people, the Pollexfens and Middletons, were of Sligo. Second, the landscape and freedom to range, both physically, and imaginatively, within that landscape. When Yeats, as a middle-aged man, began to write down his first memo...

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