Nobel Prize-winning poet W.B.Yeats is County Sligo’s most-famous son. When you visit the town you can’t miss this visually striking statue of the poet.
Created in 1989 by sculptor Ronan Gillespie, this statue was erected outside the Ulster Bank at the corner of Stephen Street and Markievicz Road (across the Garavogue River from the equally striking Glasshouse Hotel) on the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death. Among other reasons for this location was Yeats’ remark on receiving his Noble Prize that the Royal Palace in Stockholm resembled the Ulster Bank in Sligo. The statue also looks across the river at the Yeats Memorial Building, home to The Yeats Society and exhibitions about the poet.
It’s notable that rather than an excessively reverent, realistic statue, as is the usual safe choice to honor dignitaries, this statue is flamboyant and a little cheeky. The poet’s body is made larger and distorted by a jacket that almost resembles a pair of wings. His clothing is completely covered in words, all excerpts from his poetry, symbolizing the work that was both his legacy and his armor. His enigmatic hand gesture resembles both flipping the bird and a thumbs up, depending on the angle from which it is viewed; something that struck me as particularly appropriate for a poet who held high hopes for the fledgling Irish state, yet often called out the people and policies that he feared were taking the nation in the wrong direction.
Tread Softly, the annual festival dedicated to the work of the Yeats brothers, William and Jack, takes place in County Sligo at the end of July. 2014’s festival features over 90 exhibitions, performances, tours, and music. The festival is a highlight of Ireland’s cultural year, and a feast for anyone who has enjoyed W.B. Yeats’ poetry or Jack B. Yeats’ paintings.
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