William Butler Yeats is without doubt, Sligo‘s best known literary figure, especially through his extensive works in the fields of poetry and play writing.
William Butler Yeats, the son of the barrister turned portrait painter, John Butler Yeats (1839-1922) was born in Sandymount, Dublin, on the 13th of June 1865, though his stay in Ireland was short lived as the Yeats family moved to London in 1867, where William was educated at the Godolphin School in Hammersmith.
In 1884 Yeats was back in Dublin where he entered the Metropolitan School of Art, he also joined The Contemporary Club where he met William Morris and John O’Leary, the Fenian leader.
In 1885 his first poetry was published in The Dublin University Review. His first volume of verse, Mosada, appeared in 1886. He also edited and contributed to an anthology of Irish poets, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry in 1888.
Yeats returned to London and began to have his poems published in English and American magazines. His literary friends at this time included William Morris, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.
In 1889 Yeats met and fell in love with the Irish nationalist, Maud Gonne who was to trouble his life and inspire his poetry for many years.
Later in 1889 Yeats published The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems. This was followed by John Sherman and Dhoya in 1892, the play The Countess Kathleen (1892), a collection of stories and legends, The Celtic Twilight (1893) and the drama The Land of Heart’s Desire which was produced in London in 1894.
In 1894 Yeats found a patron in Lady Gregory of Coole Park, and they cooperated in research into Irish folklore, and (with Edward Martyn) in The Irish Literary Theatre.
With George Moore, Yeats helped establish the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899. Plays such as Cathleen ni Houlihan, with Maud Gonne in the title role, first appeared at this venue.
In 1904 Yeats and J. M. Synge became joint directors of The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Collected Works in Prose and Verse was published in 1906. Other workS during this period included The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910) and Responsibilities (1914).
Yeats did not take part in the Easter Rising. However, he knew several of the executed rebels and wrote Easter 1916 , in September of that year. This was followed by The Wild Swans at Coole (1919) and Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921).
After the foundation of the Irish Free State he became a member of Irish Senate and in 1923 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature.
In 1928 Yeats moved to Rapallo in Italy where he published The Tower in 1928 and The Winding Stair in 1933.
William Butler Yeats died on the 28th of January, 1939, at the Hotel Ideal Sejour, in Menton, France, and was buried in Roquebrune, France until 1948, when his remains were brought back to Ireland to rest, as he had wished, “under bare Ben Bulben’s head, in Drumcliff churchyard”.
The Yeats Society was established in 1958 to preserve the artistic heritage of the Yeats family.
The headquarters of the Yeats Society is in the Yeats Memorial Building, situated on Hyde Bridge in the very heart of Sligo Town.
Nearly everywhere you go in Sligo Town you will see references to William Butler Yeats but none enchants the visitor quite as much as the fine bronze statue of William Butler Yeats situated outside the Ulster Bank.