I know, there’s an awful lot on about the poet W.B.Yeats at the moment, you might be getting tired of it but… well I just have to tell you this and then I’ll stop, I promise. I got an invitation this morning, to an extra special, once-in-a-lifetime event, celebrating Yeats’s poetry in Sligo on Yeats’s Day. But just wait till you hear who’ll be at it! – This event features the Chair of Irish Poetry, Paula Meehan; the Poet Laureate of England, Carol Ann Duffy; the National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke; the National Poet of Scotland, Liz Lochhead; the London Laureate, Aisling Fahey and the Northern Irish Poet, Sinead Morrissey. And in the midst of all that Pageantry and Poetry, our own Uachtarán/poet: Michael D. Higgins, will be the special guest for the evening.
So how come I was invited? Well, maybe you heard that the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo invited over 50 of Ireland’s leading contemporary visual artists to create an artwork, inspired by the life and writings of the poet W.B. Yeats – all sorts of wonderful artists including (ahem) RHA members James Hanley, Martin Gale and Nick Miller, and others including Ian Wieczorek, Brian McDonagh, Trudie Mooney and yes – me! The exhibition is entitled: Impressions and Portraits of W.B. Yeats and is described as ‘a compelling, contemporary response to the work of one of our literary giants for his 150th birthday’. All the artworks are only 20 centimetres square. That’s mine above and yes, you’re right – I’ve also completed a much bigger portrait of Yeats for the Hodges Figgis Bookshop, for a show curated by Olivier Cornet. That’s the one below.
But back to the question about Romantic Ireland? Hmmm… well, there must be some reason why so much is being made of Yeats’s poetry, 75 years after he died. Are we all Romantics at heart? And yet, people are so cynical these days, so dismissive of the Romantic’s dream… What do you think? What is meant by ‘Romantic Ireland’, for starters? Romanticism, according to Wikipedia, was ‘an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe in the 18th century… a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment… emphasising the primacy of the emotions over rational thought’. I understand it as a yearning for the past, for Paradise Lost, a yearning for a time, long long ago when humankind was at one with nature, when warriors and heroes roamed the earth… Perhaps Yeats was referring back to the days of the mythological Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his legendary knights Na Fianna, (the motto of Na Fianna was: Glaine inár gcroíthe, Neart inár ngéaga agus Beart de réir ár mbriathar – ie: Purity in our hearts, Strength in our limbs and Truth in our words).
Perhaps he was just sick of the leaders and politcians of the day, and sick of the way the country was going. Sound familiar? “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” – that’s a quote from Yeats. It sounds to me like he was talking about himself!
So, as you see, I don’t have an answer for you. Is Romantic Ireland dead and gone? Did it ever really exist? Are you yearning for a fairer, more honourable society? I’d love to hear your views.
And the art exhibition in the Hamilton Gallery will continue until the 29th of August. More details at http://www.hamiltongallery.ie/ And there’s more about my paintings at:
and more about the Yeats celebrations at:
and just for you, here’s a wonderful rendition of The Song of Wandering Aengus by actor Michael Gambon. This is from the “Yeatsday” website :