Nobel prize winner, the poet William Butler Yeats, immortalised Sligo and its place names in his poetry, calling it The Land of Heart’s Desire. In winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 Yeats inspired thousands of people to seek out that long hidden Ireland and popularised Sligo as a place of romance and rhyme.
Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865, into an extraordinarily talented artistic family: his father John Butler Yeats was a renowned portraitist, his sisters Susan (Lily) and Elizabeth (Lolly) were innovative craft workers and printers, and his brother Jack Yeats a celebrated artist.
Although he was born in Dublin, it is with Sligo that W. B. Yeats is most associated. He spent his school holidays in Sligo with his grandmother and listened to her stories of ancient Ireland, myth and legend. From this inspiration, his poetry and storytelling breathed life into the legendary figures of Irish mythology and brought Sligo to the attention of the world. A pleasant way to tour Sligo is to visit some of the places that inspired some of W B Yeats best known poems. These include the Isle of Innisfree, Lough Gill, Slish Wood, Dooney Rock and Lissadell House.
The strong connection between Sligo town and Yeats is evident from the evocative statue on Stephen’s Street to the Yeats Building with its exhibition and reference library. On view in Sligo Model Arts Centre is a copy of Yeats' Nobel Prize medal together with a complete collection of his poems from 1889 to 1936, and a large body of his prose work.
WB's younger brother Jack has become an artist of worldwide renown and his paintings are much sought after. There is a permanent exhibition of some of his works at the Model Arts Centre.
Yeats is strongly connected with Lissadell House and the Gore-Booth family. Lissadell hosts a permanent exhibition dedicated to him.
He is buried according to his wishes in Drumcliff Churchyard in Grange, beside the church where his great grandfather had been rector. His self-penned epitaph reads, “Cast a cold Eye, On Life on Death, Horseman pass by’.