Yeats Day in Sandymount Green

By Peter McNamara

Participants and organiser of festival third left of centre Mr Anthony Jordan.
Indian Ambassador Mrs Vijay Thakur Singh reading from Tagore.
Photo: Peter McNamara.

The annual Yeats Day celebration took place in Sandymount Green on June 13th. Organised by Anthony Jordan, the focus of this year’s event is Major Robert Gregory, the son of Lady Augusta Gregory. This year marks the centenary of his death.

Coming in the middle of the wonderful summer heatwave, the morning was bright and warm. The grass of the green was almost straw.

Festivities opened with the sixth class of Schoil Mhuire. Led by their teacher Donncha Cleary, the girls read A Cradle Song and Words. The chorus of voices made for a lovely recital.

Unfortunately, June being a busy school-term, they were all whisked back to class soon after performing.

Over the course of the morning, attendees were treated to stirring recitals of some of the poet’s best work. Participants read from The Wild Swans At Coole, Byzantium, and The Lake Isle Of Inisfree, to name a few.

Charles Lysaght discussed the short life of Major Robert Gregory, and recited with touching pathos Yeats’s elegiac poem about him – An Irish Airman Forsees His Death. Dark and mystical poems were balanced by lighter romantic ones, making for a morning of rich variety.

There was also a wonderful baritone rendition of Down By The Sally Gardens by Michael MacAuliffe. Added to this was a reading by Felix Larkin from Yeats’s senatorial speech to Dáil Éireann in 1922, on the soon-to-be-enacted law prohibiting divorce. In this speech, the poet touched on the then-pressing question of partition, and how a law forbidding divorce in the emerging Free State was certain to drive a wedge between the north and south of the island. To forbid divorce, the poet argued, would be to deprive the Protestant population of Ireland of a right they had enjoyed since the time of Henry the VIII.

He spoke of the need for tolerance and understanding between the Catholic and Protestant communities of Ireland. It is remarkable (and somewhat disheartening) to find such immediacy to Yeats’s words: That there are still-unresolved tensions between them in 2018.

Halfway through proceedings, Anthony Jordan – the MC for the day – announced a special guest: Her Excellency Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh, Ambassador of the Republic of India. Taking to the stage, Mrs. Singh discussed the connections between Yeats and India. She noted the poet’s fascination with Indian literature and Hindi Gods and read work from the Indian poet Tagore – a fellow Nobel laureate and a favourite of Yeats.

For the grand finale there was a stirring dance set to the Waterboy’s song The Stolen Child, which is based on the Yeats poem of the same name. Dressed in colourful flowing clothing, the two dancers performed beautifully, giving physical expression to the rolling guitar-led music. They completed graceful spins and lifts, and gathered into an irresistible crescendo.

Without doubt Yeats Day 2018 was a great success. Congratulations are due to the organisers and all who took part. For those who missed out, there’s always next year.