Most of us carry without our hearts a list of places to visit. And what a lot of people don’t know is that my list has always begun with Ireland, a country that projects a wealth of familiar imagery.
The brand is cherished and worn – deeply etched in a looping Celtic font – and evokes a stunning panoramas, ancient myths and legends, music and wild dancing.
It promises a rough and ready Aran jumper of an experience – knitted together with a horse and cart clip clopping past green fields and chalk white cottages, a Clancy Brothers album playing as the soundtrack to a lunch of oysters and maybe Guinness.
But as much as Ireland projects a familiar image, it is also a place you need to discover for yourself I guess. W.B. Yeats, the Nobel Prize winning Irish poet, and one of the most important figures in 20th century world literature, found his spiritual home in County Sligo on the west coast.
His love for the sea stemmed from his childhood holidays, which imprinted enduring images that inspired his most famous works, from the enfolding peace of Lough Gill and the cascading rush of water at Glencar Waterfall in neighbouring County Leitrim to the view across to Knocknarea Mountain in the evening light from the lawn at Lissadell House.
And in Sligo’s rambling, grandiose mansions, half lost in the ancient walled demesnes that still survive in their hundreds today, Yeats located tensions between states of being. In these supernatural in between states, morning dew is neither rain nor seawater, the sacred mistletoe is neither a plant nor a tree, the sidhe (the mythical fairies said to rule Ireland) are neither dead nor alive, but inhabit an ancient dream state.
And here is one of the lesser known W.B. Yeats poems that i enjoy:
When You Are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.