On the great Yeats trail in Galway
THE Go Galway bus from Dublin sounds an unlikely pleasure, but it is both comfortable and punctual. There is free Wi-Fi if you want it, but it would be criminal to do anything other than gawp at the view. Two and a half hours pass quickly when travelling at sunset, passing between rain clouds with rainbows falling out of the sky.
While my trip was, as they say, for the craic (a good friend’s 40th), I couldn’t come to Galway without making time for a WB Yeats pilgrimage.
His patron Lady Augusta Gregory had her home near Gort, in the south of the county. Galway is saturated in his poetry; or perhaps I mean his poetry is saturated in Galway. But in the county today, there is both chaotic reverence and wilful disregard.
Lady Gregory gives her name to the hotel and conference centre where I stayed, but her house, Coole Park — a refuge for Yeats for more than 20 years — was demolished in 1941. In what was her walled garden children whiz around on scooters, and dogs run off the leash around the so-called Autograph Tree where Bernard Shaw, Augustus John and friends carved their initials.
Roy Foster’s biography provides some piquant details about the relationship between patron and prized pet.
Lady Gregory would not let Yeats socialise with other house guests until he’d written six lines of poetry that day. Her son and heir, perhaps unsurprisingly, was not amused to have this handsome poet hanging around: he once suggested that Yeats might perhaps like to provide his own decanter and wine for his summer holidays.
Though at six lines a day it must have taken a while to come, the landscape and his hostess now have a fame that has outlived the house; most notably in The Wild Swans at Coole. (The swans, at least, are still there.) In the poem, the older Yeats — perhaps in deference to his hostess —