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Thoor Ballylee Gort County Galway Ireland
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Thoor Ballylee   ~   Gort

Thoor Ballylee (aka Ballylee Castle) is a medieval tower house. County Galway has many examples of these square towers; this is a particularly nice one.

In a very pretty location beside a trout stream, it was for some years the home of the poet William Butler (W.B.) Yeats, who later won a Nobel prize for literature.

Thoor Ballylee - Ballylee Castle Gort County Galway Ireland
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 of furniture.

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.


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