In 1917, W B Yeats found this evocative ‘ivy-covered tower’, conveniently close to his friend and patron Lady Gregory, who lived at Coole Park. Thoor Ballylee was a fortified residence built by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family during the 14th century. Yeats is a name that will crop up on any tour of Ireland.
Then in his 50s and newly married to his young bride George Hyde-Lees, Yeats purchased the derelict tower-house for £35 and spent intermittent periods of the next decade there with his new family, converting the interior into simple but stylish living and sleeping quarters. The ‘winding stair’ image which repeatedly appears in his poetry refers to the stone steps leading up the tower. From the battlemented roof-top, views extend over the placid meadows by the nearby millstream to the Slieve Aughty Mountains.
Many of Yeat’s more mystical writings were produced here, notably The Tower and The Winding Stair (not generally his most admired work); by this stage his disillusion with the Irish political scene was taking effect and he sought relief in seclusion and mythology.
In 1928 Yeats abandoned the damp tower for warmer climes and died in France in 1939. The Kiltartan Society took over the decaying tower in 1961 and fully restored it in Yeatsian style, putting many documents, first editions and manuscripts on display.
An ancient bridge and a more ancient tower,
A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall,
An acre of stony ground,
Where the symbolic rose can break in flower.
(Meditations in Time of Civil War)