Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, Ireland

Yeats Lissadell collection

W.B.Yeats at Lissadell




poet, novelist, singer, songwriter

01 August, 2010

William Butler Yeats was a Sligo boy who, with his brother Jack Butler Yeats evoked the Sligo countryside with great beauty and genius in poetry and painting. When Robert Gore Booth built Lissadell house in the 1830s, Yeats’ great grandfather, John Butler Yeats, was Rector of Drumcliff (1811 to 1846). As children the boys visited Lissadell for cricket matches and horse racing; and as a young man the poet made friends with the Gore Booth sisters Constance and Eva, and stayed at Lissadell during the years 1894 and 1895. Tradition has it that he was given a bedroom on the first floor landing, to the right of the imperial staircase; but when the house was full of guests he was sent over to the guest rooms in the stable block, the fate of many young bachelors.

Yeats found “a very pleasant, kindly, inflammable family, ever ready to take up new ideas and new things”, and “an exceedingly impressive house .. with a great sitting room as high as a church and all things in good taste. Outside it is grey, square and bare yet set amid delightful grounds”.

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The infant W. B. Yeats sketched by his father; and a previously unpublished photograph of the poet on his deathbed, taken by his wife. This photograph was pasted into a rare first edition of Yeats' 'John Sherman and Dhoya'.


The new exhibition in the Yeats Gallery displays a definitive collection of original books, letters, paintings, drawings, photographs and ephemera focussing on the life and works of the poet William Butler Yeats, his brother the artist Jack Butler Yeats and his father, the portrait painter John Butler Yeats; the artistic works of his sisters Lily and Lolly Yeats at the Cuala Press; and the works of thier literary and artistic contemporaries. The collection is both comprehensive and unique, and has been painstakingly and lovingly assembled over the past five years.

The material was first seen publicly by Leonard Cohen in August 2010. The collection includes many first edition books, including:

Yeats at Lissadell

The collection also includes original letters and ephemera, including letters between Yeats and Lady Gregory concerning the famous Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery bequest controversy, about which Yeats wrote the poem “September 1913”; also original letters to Thomas Bodkins, curator of the National Gallery; and original letters between Yeats and George Sigerson; and with Padraic Colum; and original letters of George Bernard Shaw.

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The gallery also has a collection of the oil paintings of Jack B. Yeats; and a comprehensive collection of his Cuala Press prints, and of his pen and ink drawings. The ink drawings include the original illustrations made by Jack Yeats for a series of school books for Irish classrooms. Click on JACK BUTLER YEATS above.

Also on display are paintings and sketches by father of the poet, John B. Yeats who, in a letter to his son Willie, explained his own profession thus: “Obviously a portrait painter is a craftsman – a born portrait painter as I believe myself to be (W. Osborne always said so) imprisoned in an imperfect technique – that has been my tragedy”.   He was obviously proud that the great Walter Osborne RHA regarded him as a ‘born portrait painter’. John B. Yeats painted and sketched his eldest child, Willie, from babyhood on. He told his son: "I think your birth was the first great event in my life ... I was for the first time - I suppose - pure animal. I never felt like that afterwards at the birth of the others".

WB as a boy by his dad Lissadell Collection Yeats Lissadell Collection

On display we also have original photographic material, including a photograph of the ship bearing the coffin of W. B. Yeats back to Ireland from Switzerland, for burial in Drumcliff churchyard.

The collection also includes material (paintings, photographs, letters, sketches) relating to contemporaries and associates of the Yeats brothers including:

Harry Kenoff Lissadell Collection

W. B. Yeats by Harry Kernoff (left) and by his father in 1894, a year in which the poet visited and stayed at Lissadell with the young Gore-Booth sisters

W. B. Yeats was asked by the Vicar, Fletcher le Fanu (nephew of the writer J. Sheridan le Fanu, and great-great nephew to the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan) to give a talk on Irish folklore in the local school. Yeats developed a special affinity with Eva, confiding in her his unrequited love for Maud Gonne, and encouraging her poetry, as to which he advised “whenever the feeling is weightiest you are at your best”.

Yeats had recently edited the poetry of William Blake, and Eva’s three volume copy of this work is now in the Yeats’ study (next to his bedroom) in Lissadell. On a frosty morning in March 1895 W.B. Yeats and the Lissadell party skated on the frozen Lough Gill, home of the lake isle of Innisfree where “peace comes dropping slow – I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore, I hear it in the deep heart’s core”. They had hot coffee on the lakeshore. Yeats was a timid horseman, and he much admired the fearless Constance, remembered in these words

When long ago I saw her ride
Under Ben Bulben to the meet,
The beauty of her countryside
With all youth’s lovely wildness stirred,
She seemed to have grown clean and sweet
Like any rock-bred,
sea-borne bird.


Yeats Collection Lissadell Lissadell Collection

Constance Markievicz, sketched by John Butler Yeats, and her sister Eva Gore Booth

Looking back on his youth, W.B. Yeats remembered these happy times, when he ‘wandered by the sands of Lissadell’ in the celebrated verse:

Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion,
mix Pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle


Hugh lane Lady Gregory

Hugh Lane and his aunt, Augusta, Lady Gregory . Yeats wrote angrily about the controversy generated by the Hugh Lane bequest of paintings to the nation in the poem entitled "September 1913".

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Iseult Gonne and her mother Maude. Both rejected Yeats' proposals of marriage.


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John Butler Yeats self portrait, and portrait of his son Jack B. Yeats

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John and Susan Yeats, parents of William, Jack, Lily and Lolly

Lily Yeats Lissadell collection

Lily Yeats painted by her father.

In 1923 WB Yeats won the Nobel Prize ‘for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation’. He is burried, at his request, under Ben Bulben in the graveyard of Drumcliff Church where his great great grandfather had been rector, and where his wife was later laid to rest.

Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

W B Yeats by Pamela Cassidy

George Yeats by Pamela Cassidy

Drumcliffe Church by Pamela Cassidy

Ben Bulben Blue

Photographs copyright Pamela Cassidy / Lissadell. No reproduction without express, written, permission