On Friday, we got up somewhat early so that we could continue our adventures. We ate at the same pub, and I noticed this mural on the wall of the town we were in from 1935. It is funny because the town looks exactly the same now that it is 2010! We waited forty-five minutes to get breakfast, but the food was delicious! Irish sausages are different than American ones. They have a different consistency, and also taste less filler-y. Also, their pancakes were really thin, but much sweeter—almost like crepes.
On the way to our big sites, we passed Leenaugh Castle (pronounced “Lena.” This was a great example of how people used to put slitted windows in their castle so that in battle, one could pour hot oil or other awful things on the enemy without worrying about it coming back at them.
Poll na Bron
We went to Poulnabrone (Poll na Bron in Irish) after the castle, which is located in the Burren, the area we
saw the movie about the day before. The monument was originally erected by ancient Irish nobles to erect a memorial for the dead. It is a “portal tomb,” which is not the same as a place where people are buried. In this
specific model, the dead person was placed on top of the large rock and burned. The idea was that they were aligned with cosmos, interred the body, and then their souls were shot into the stars. Originally, the people who were burned on Poulnabrone were only royalty (read: men), and were actually pre-ancient Celtic culture. It is so old that they cannot fully date the rocks, but they think that it was built between 3 and 4,000 B.C.
After we left Poulnabrone, we visited Corcomroe Abbey (c. 1194), or “Mainistir Chorca Mrua” in Irish. This is a site of the first Cissertion (?) monks who looked for the most remote places as possible to build
their monasteries. These monks used the least amount of decoration for their places because they believed that things like curves in arches were promiscuous, but this abbey had a little more elaboration than usual. It also was extremely large for its purpose because of all of the richer people who wanted private chapels for themselves. Essentially, they would pay the church a yearly fee for the monks to pray for their souls for all
of eternity. Unfortunately for them, the abbey has been decrepit for a long time. There are some pretty old people at the abbey, including a knight and an abbot buried there. The closer to the Eastern side of the church a person was buried, the faster a person would get to Heaven. That being said, the important people were buried all over the Eastern part of the church. W.B. Yeats wrote a play called The Dreaming of the Bones in 1916 about spirits of the abbey, and we actually read it within the walls of the church. Unfortunately, it was sunny at that point, so not too spooky, but it is really exciting to get to read the literature in places that it was inspired.
Later that day, we settled in at a hostel called Duras House, which is actually the house that the Irish National Theatre—the Abbey Theatre—was designed in. It was a nice, old house on gorgeous grounds across from a large lake and swans. That night, we went to the annual Cuckoo Festival in Kinvara. The festival celebrates the legend of the cuckoo on May 1st because in Ireland May 1st is the day that the cuckoo sings his first song of the year. There was traditional music playing in most of the pubs all around the town, an we had a great time. Everywhere we went was crowded, the ambiance was boisterous and fun. It was probably one of my favorite nights :-) I have tried to upload a video that I took of the music- you should be able to click on it!
Saturday: The Kiltartan-Gregory Museum, Thoor Ballylee, and Coole Park
If you have not read W.B. Yeats, this post will mean almost nothing to you. However, it was a really magical day! People you should know: Lady Augusta Gregory was a Protestant woman who lived in Coole Park and aided Yeats in his poetry. She wrote some of the most popular plays of the Abbey Theatre, and although her status of noblewoman separated her from everyone else in the area, she was very loved by the Irish people because of her strong Irish pride and desire to spread their culture. W.B. Yeats is the most famous Irish modernist poet, and quite possibly the best poet of all time. He was also an Irish senator and nationalist, although he never fought in the civil wars. Yeats would come to Gregory’s estate on Coole Park in order to write and relax, and Coole Park was the setting for many of his poetry.
The Kiltartan-Gregory Museum
Before visitng any of the sites in person, we went to the Kiltartan-Gregory Museum, which was built in an
old school house from 1892 and used as a place for Kiltartan’s (the town’s) history. The museum is actually located on Kiltartan Cross (which I found out means intersection), which is the place that Yeats uses as his hometown in “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Yeats wrote the poem originally to commemorate the character of Sir R
obert Gregory, Lady Gregory’s son, as he died as a fighter pilot in World War I. Anyway, the museum was run by a nun—Sister Mary de Lourdes Fahy—who was in her seventies or eighties and is a beautiful collection of articles of Lady Gregory’s estate, as it was demolished in 1942. She was also very close the Gregory family because her uncle drove around Lady Gregory’s husband and Yeats when he came into town. We got to see letters, documents, posters from the Abbey Theatre, and more at the museum, as well as hear personal testimony about Lady Gregory and Yeats as people. Beforehand, we read Me and Nu, which is an autobiography of Lady Gregory’s granddaughter, Ann, and a great recollection of memories from living on Coole Park.
Lady Gregory’s own life was a very sad one. Although she herself did a lot of writing and even started the Irish National Theatre, Lady Gregory’s personal life was pretty rough. Her husband died after twelve years of marriage, her son died in WWI, and because she had no legal rights to property, she lost her house (at Coole) after her daughter-in-law decided to sell it. Eventually, Lady Gregory herself died of cancer, and her house was demolished (a tragedy) ten years after her own death. The thought process was that after the state took the house, it was too expensive to refurbish once they started to recognize Lady Gregory's importance. It was also considered a house of "the enemy" because, although she herself was benevolent, her family came from the oppressive Protestant Ascendancy of Ireland. The photo to the left is all that is left of her manner- the house itself is gone completely. Now, the museum dedicated to Coole is actually in the stables, which were not demolished.
Thoor Ballylee is the tower that Yeats actually bought from Lady Gregory’s estate in 1917. It is a 14th Century tower connected to an old farmhouse.
Yeats bought the tower for its noble background, and also
because he was somewhat obsessed with its irony—a noble tower connected to a lower class peasant’s house. Upon buying the tower, Yeats renovated it in and lived in the two as a house. In 1928, his most famous book of poetry, The Tower, came out, but soon after he never used it again. When Lady Gregory died of cancer in 1932, Yeats never really came back to Galway (the county of Thor Ballylee and Coole).
After going to Thoor Ballylee, we visited Coole Park. It was an amazing experience. Except for
the house, The estate has been completely restored, and is a beautiful place. I couldn't believe that one person owned all
of the land; it reminded us of Pemberley!! I can definitely see how Yeats would have been inspired. Many of his poems are about swans at Coole- and at some points, there were at least fifty swans on the lake. My favorite part about visiting Coole was the weather. When we were studying Lady Gregory, the weather was warm and sunny, which seems like it would have been perfect for her. She was a very loving and giving woman, and the sunny weather felt like she was smiling down on us and asking us to enjoy her home.
However, when we visited the forest and Coole Lake, it rained almost endlessly. This is a perfect symbol for Yeats because he was into mysticism and spirituality. He loved the Irish rain and weather, and the rain seemed like he was hoping we could experience his own unique sense of mysticism. The photo of the tree on the left is Lady Gregory's famous "autograph tree," which
she asked people to carve their initials into. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and other famous writers of the time have carved their initials into the tree at Lady Gregory's request. She also had a fan that she asked people to sign when she went abroad, and had signatures from Teddy Roosevelt, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and more. The picture of me is in front of Coole Lake in the rain. I am holding my Yeats book up as a testimony to his inspiration. I also thought it would be really cool to have a Yeats book covered in Irish rain. The rest of the pictures are from around the estate. It was soooo gorgeous- the trees were huge, and the grounds felt like a movie set.