Speech by the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, Seanad Statements on Yeats Day 2015


It gives me great pleasure to be here today to outline to the Seanad the celebrations of Yeats Day 2015 and surrounding events. Yeats Day 2015, which takes place this coming Saturday, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Nobel Prize winning poet, William Butler Yeats.

The key focal point for the celebrations is a four day Yeats Festival from June 11th -14th, centred in County Sligo, which was the inspiration for much of his poetry. This weekend will be the high point of Yeats 2015 – a year of tribute to WB Yeats, which includes visual art, poetry, drama, street performance, music and family events.

The initiative has been embraced across the globe.

More than 40 countries are marking Yeats Day with cultural events taking place in cities such as Melbourne, Vienna, Montreal, Berlin, London, New York, Singapore, Shanghai, Paris and Madrid.

Events include a range of concerts, readings, talks and screenings with a host of well know personalities taking part, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Adrian Dunbar, Joanna Lumley, Edna O’Brien, Orla Kiely, Gabriel Byrne, Colum McCann and many more.

This global response shows the incredible reach of Yeats’ poetry and writing.

Yeats 2015

Yeats 2015 forms an important part of the official Decade of Commemoration celebrations.

The funding of €500,000 which my Department is providing, is part of a wider allocation of €22 million for a number of flagship commemorative projects, including a GPO Interpretive Centre, the development of Kilmainham Courthouse and Jail and the redevelopment of the storage warehouse at the National Archives Project

The celebrations of Yeats 2015 are intended capture the wonder of his work, and of course to understand what inspired him. Yeats 2015 partners span the literary, cultural, historical and academic worlds.

Through Yeats 2015, Ireland is making a statement to the world about its rich cultural heritage and our contemporary cultural wealth. Yeats 2015 celebrates the poet’s work and showcases Ireland as a dynamic, inspiring and creative place.

I’d like to look ahead to some of the highlights of this weekend’s range of activities in Sligo. One of the key focal points will be the Poet Laureate event this Saturday in Knocknarea.  This is a once-off event is a wonderful idea – it will gather the poet laureates from Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, to pay tribute to WB Yeats.

The laureates (or national poets) have never performed together in Ireland, so I think it promises to be a really special evening. President Michael D. Higgins, Patron of Yeats 2015 will be in attendance at this event and I also hope to go along myself.

I will also be attending the Great Yeats Birthday Party at Lissadel House, which will include a Dawn Cycle Race, a Hat Party, special poetry readings in the House and an hour long play by the Curlew Theatre Company.

In particular, I am looking forward to unveiling the Audio-Visual History Project done in collaboration with the National Library, and awarding prizes of the Yeats Poetry Competition.

Lissadel is, of course, deeply associated with Yeats and I am sure it will act as the perfect location for his 150th birthday party. Indeed, I think it is only when you visit Lissadel and look out across the lake and the beautiful landscape that surrounds it, that you can begin to appreciate the profound impact of this environment on Yeats’ work.

Like Patrick Kavanagh in Monaghan and Seamus Heaney in Ulster, Yeats’ work IS Sligo.

And the county will certainly come alive in a celebration of his work this weekend.

Another key event is the unveiling of ‘Clay and Wattles Made’ – an architectural competition run by IT Sligo.  The winning entry will create a temporary cabin on the Lake Isle of Innisfree for the summer months as a special tribute to the poet’s well known poem named for this picturesque location.

There are many other events taking place in Sligo over the weekend, and if you haven’t already done so, I would certainly encourage members of the House to come along and check them out.

Special Commemorative Initiatives

There are also a series of other commemorative initiatives which are marking Yeats 2015.

As a special tribute, the Central Bank has issued a limited-edition Yeats inspired €15 coin on June 3rd while An Post will issue a new commemorative stamp on June 11th  to honour the poet’s 150th birthday.

Iarnród Éireann is also set to partner with Yeats 2015, displaying some of Yeats’ best known and lesser known poetry on DART trains for the month of June.

They are also hosting a poetry carriage on the 11:05hrs service from Connolly to Sligo on Yeats Day, with live readings, which certainly promises to liven up what would otherwise be a run of the mill train journey!

The 2015 Great Music in Irish Houses Festival promises to portray Yeats’ influence on the musical world by offering audiences an array of vocal and instrumental works from the classical music tradition inspired by the poet.

A distinguished line-up of musicians from Ireland have been invited to perform, with four distinctly different performances taking place in historic venues in Dublin.

In this context, the Dublin Musical Saunter takes place on June 14th at Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, The National Concert Hall, Dublin Writers Museum and The Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle. Also on June 13th, The Irish Film Institute will present Alan Gilsenan’s special screening of, A Vision: A Life of WB Yeats.

There will also be a series of free lunchtime short film screenings across the month of June entitled Images of a Past Life: W. B. Yeats in Film.

In Galway, Coole Park will host a special fancy dress family day celebrating Yeats with Coole Harmonies Choir and uilleann piper Eugene Lamb. Coole Park was the home of dramatist and folklorist Lady Gregory, friend to Yeats, and was the centre of the Irish Literary Revival.

William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge and Sean O’ Casey all came to experience its magic.

Yeats described it as the most beautiful place on earth and many of his great poems were written at or about Coole. On Sunday June 7th and 14th guided walks will be offered at 3pm through the magical landscape that Yeats loved so well and celebrated in his poetry.

National Cultural Institutions

Our National Cultural Institutions are also playing a significant role in the Yeats 2015 events.

From poetry readings at the National Gallery of Ireland, to talks on Yeats by the National Library and a unique event dedicated to Yeats planned for the National Concert Hall in September, there are a range of innovative and inspiring events taking place.

The National Library, of course, holds an award-winning permanent exhibition of the Life and Woks of Yeats.  Since the opening of the exhibition in 2006, over a quarter of a million people of all ages and nationalities have delighted in this experience.


In conclusion, I wish to formally acknowledge the work carried out by the national steering committee for Yeats 2015, chaired by Senator Susan O’Keeffe, with involvement from key and noted people from the field of the Arts, Culture, Tourism and supporting industries.

I also wish also to acknowledge the work of Mr. Ian Brannigan and his team at the Western Development Commission, who are administering the Yeats 2015 programme.

The range of events is a fitting tribute to a great man who left a lasting mark on our cultural and national heritage: a poet, a politician, a man deeply born of and rooted within the very soil of this island, and a man in whose work we can all trace life’s cycle, from the optimistic dreamer of youth through the trials of life to the realism of older age, with hope for the renewal of life.

Yeats 2015 – and the events planned in Ireland and around the world – will do a tremendous job in celebrating and commemorating the life, work, and achievements of W.B. Yeats, as well showcasing Ireland as a dynamic, creating and inspiring place.

Thank you for providing the opportunity to speak about Yeats 2015 in the House this evening.


Reply to Debate

I wish to thank my colleagues for their valuable contributions to this discussion.

I am very pleased to have been in a position to provide €500,000 in funding to the Yeats 2015 celebrations, especially in this time of careful economic consideration, but I firmly believe that it is fitting to do so.

Yeats is unique, not only as Ireland’s first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, but also as a figure of the time in which he lived, which shaped this island as much as it shaped his writings.

He lived during the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and provided much of the cultural backdrop for that emerging state, co-founding the Abbey Theatre which opened its doors in 1904, and driving the Irish Literary Revival, also known as the Celtic Twilight after Yeats’s collection of 1893.

He left his mark on the Irish political scene, from membership of the IRB to becoming a Senator, speaking in the first parliament, helping to design the Free State’s first currency and was a respected voice of debate in matters ranging from divorce to the impact of the First World War. Yeats was very much aware of this potency of Irish culture as he said upon being awarded the Noble Prize, “I consider that this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature.”

In his opening to his collection Responsibilities, Yeats said “in dreams begins responsibility.”  Yeats gave us many dreams of an Ireland rooted deep in its mystic past and set us on a path of literal and cultural richness.

It is now our responsibility to honour that legacy and celebrate this man, this writer, and this cultural colossus.

I wish to thank the members and the Leader of the House for the opportunity to speak today on the celebration of Yeats Day and the wider events of Yeats 2015.


Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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