POETRY IN MO­TION

Damien Bren­nan is a witty ex­pert on Yeats, Paula Gil­varry is a su­perb cook, so, pool­ing their tal­ents, they use their won­der­ful home to in­tro­duce visi­tors to our na­tional poet. Edited by Mary O’Sul­li­van. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Tony Gavin

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - MY FAVOURITE ROOM -

Damien Bren­nan and Paula Gil­varry live in a house with the most stun­ning views. Lucky them, you might say, but most likely you would also add that so do many other peo­ple; af­ter all, Ire­land is blessed with gor­geous lakes, moun­tains, rivers and forests.

But Damien and Paula’s as­pect is ex­tra spe­cial; they live in Sligo, within spit­ting dis­tance of both Lough Gill and Ben­bul­ben, and the view from their lofty liv­ing room con­tains the lo­ca­tions and in­spi­ra­tion of four of Wil­liam But­ler Yeats’s early po­ems. “That’s the hazel wood out there; re­mem­ber, ‘I went out to the hazel wood/Be­cause a fire was in my head’, from the poem,

says Damien, go­ing on to ex­plain the other po­ems as he points out dif­fer­ent el­e­ments of the land­scape out­side his win­dow. “That’s Dooney Rock, as in ‘When I play on my fid­dle in Dooney’; and see there, where the moun­tain dips down into the lake? That is ‘Where dips the rocky high­land/ Of Sleuth Wood in the lake’, from

In­n­is­free is just around the cor­ner,” he fin­ishes proudly.

Damien has had a life­long in­ter­est in Yeats. Al­though he’s from Dublin, he spent all his child­hood hol­i­days in this very spot in Sligo, and also had

of Wan­der­ing Aen­gus?” Stolen Child. The song The

in­spi­ra­tional teach­ers — Jill Noone and Fa­ther Tom Doo­ley — who ig­nited in him a love of Yeats. How­ever, it wasn’t un­til three years ago that he and Paula de­cided to cap­i­talise on their in­cred­i­ble lo­ca­tion and Damien’s vast knowl­edge of the poet. These days, the cou­ple run the Yeats Ex­pe­ri­ence, which in­volves reg­u­lar Yeats lunches, din­ners and even tours, but they had a whole other life be­fore Yeats took over their thoughts and their home.

Damien is a flam­boy­ant dresser — olive-green trousers, a green-and-white striped shirt and a green-and-red spotty bow tie would be ev­ery­day wear for him — and he’d be hard put to pick the right bow tie, as he has a col­lec­tion of 125. So it’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that he was once pre­pared to spend his life in black. “I stud­ied for the priest­hood with the Marists for three years,” Damien ex­plains, adding that he left for a year, then came back again, but af­ter a fur­ther 12 months, he left for good. “As one of my su­pe­ri­ors put it, ‘A vo­ca­tion is an in­vi­ta­tion from God, you can ac­cept, or you can de­cline with grace’,” Damien notes, adding that he de­clined.

It’s ob­vi­ous from the way he speaks of the Marists that he doesn’t re­gret the ex­pe­ri­ence; in fact, he is en­riched by it, adding that he made friends for life dur­ing his days in the sem­i­nary. “His friend­ship with those men is such that if we were in trou­ble, one of them would al­ways turn up to help,” Paula, who’s a doc­tor, notes.

Af­ter the sem­i­nary, Damien got a job in the Sligo Park Ho­tel, and two years later, in 1978, he opened a pub of his own, called Beezies, which be­came the hap­pen­ing place in Sligo.

Paula, who’s from a med­i­cal fam­ily in Castle­bar — her fa­ther and two sis­ters are also doc­tors — was a house doc­tor in Sligo Gen­eral at the time, and she shared a house with Damien’s sis­ter, Su­san, a phys­io­ther­a­pist. The girls, of course, had to go in and check out Beezies, and that’s where the cou­ple met.

How­ever, Damien was a bit slow off the blocks. “I met him in May, 1979. We started go­ing out in June; I went to Eng­land in July. I came back a cou­ple of times, and then on New Year’s Eve of 1980, I rang him up and pro­posed to him. He said he’d think about it. Three days later, he rang me back,” Paula says with a laugh. The mar­riage is still go­ing strong 36 years later.

The pub didn’t last, for var­i­ous rea­sons. Damien got out of that busi­ness, and then went into sell­ing cater­ing equip­ment.

Paula went into com­mu­nity medicine and has had a long ca­reer as a doc­tor, but she also adores cook­ing, and in 1985, the cou­ple opened a restau­rant in Rosses Point, which was a huge suc­cess; it was called Rever­ies, af­ter Yeats’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy,

In 1988, when the EuroTo­ques move­ment was started in Ire­land by Myr­tle Allen, Paula’s rep­u­ta­tion was such that even though she prac­ticed medicine by day, she was one of the first to be in­vited to join, as she was con­sid­ered one of the lead­ing chefs in the coun­try.

The cou­ple ran the restau­rant for six years. How­ever, when their chil­dren Sarah and Paul were born, they de­cided to sell it. Ini­tially they planned to buy a coun­try house, with a view to run­ning it as a guest house, but in­stead Damien got a job with Failte Eire­ann, and Paula con­tin­ued with the medicine.

Then in 2012, af­ter 20 years with

‘I rang him up and pro­posed to him. He said he’d think about it. Three days later, he rang me back’

and Youth. Rever­ies Over Child­hood

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