After the Yeats family moved out in 1929 it fell
into disuse, but was restored as 'Yeats Tower' in 1965 and fitted out as a Yeats
museum, containing an interesting collection of first editions as well as items
The adjoining cottage is fitted out as a tea room and shop. The tower has been
wired for sound and a pre-recorded commentary can be played on a push-button
system. In addition part of the ground floor has been adapted for an
audio-visual presentation on the years of Yeats's occupancy; however the rest of
the history of the tower is ignored.
The building dates from the 16th century and was bought by Yeats for a nominal
sum in 1916 from the Congested Districts Board. The original fortification was
erected by the DeBurgo family, who established themselves in Connacht after 1200.
The poet W. B. Yeats was so enchanted with this
sixteenth-century tower house beside the Cloon River that he purchased the
property in 1916 and restored it. For twelve years Yeats made "Thoor Ballylee"
his summer home, which he found "so full of history and romance" that he was
inspired to write "The Winding Stair" and "The Tower Poems". He once said: "To
leave here is to leave beauty behind", and in a letter to Olivia Shakespeare
wrote: "We are in our Tower and I am writing poetry as I always do here, and, as
always happens, no matter how I begin, it becomes love poetry before I am
finished with it", and remarked "as you see I have no news, for nothing happens
in this blessed place but a stray beggar or a heron".
The castle originally belonged to one of the Burke septs, ultimately forming
part of the huge estates of the Earls of Clanrickarde. It stands four-storeys
high and its original windows still survive in the upper part, though Yeats and
his architect Professor William A. Scott installed larger windows in the lower
floors. The ground-floor chamber was described by Yeats as "the pleasantest room
I have yet seen, a great wide window opening over the river and a round arched
door leading to the thatched hall". He also loved the mural stair, symbolically
declaring "This winding, gyring, spring treadmill of a stair is my ancestral
stair; That Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burke have travelled there."
Ballylee Castle was abandoned and started to fall into ruin in the early 1930s.
For the centenary of the poet's birth in 1965, however, the place was fully
restored to appear as it was when he lived there. It now also houses an
interpretative centre on his life and works.
Lest it be forgotten that this was once the
poet's home, there is a tablet on the wall commemorating his sojourn here:
I, the poet William Yeats,
With old mill boards and sea-green slates,
And smithy work from the Gort forge,
Restored this tower for my wife George;
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again.