Ireland reveres its storytellers. William Butler Yeats once
graced the nation's 20 note, as James Joyce now appears on the 10.
Important sites in writers' lives are preserved, and a handful of
poets and writers are national icons more easily recognized than any
politician or sports star.
Why? Perhaps because its writers best capture Ireland's mythic
view of itself, or perhaps because poets have always occupied an
esteemed spot in Irish culture.
Either way, Ireland enjoys one of the world's most illustrious
literary reputation, with four Nobel Prize-winners - Yeats, George
Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney - and almost as many
poets, playwrights, and novelists as fieldstones in its emerald
Because Ireland is so entwined in poetry, a traveler must
understand its poets to understand the Irish character - and vice
Chief among the poets is Yeats, whose inspiration welled mainly
from the scenic district where he spent the best years of his life
and which now bears his name.
"Yeats created a new Irish identity which was, in part, to
provide an ideological base for the new nation-state," says Frank
Kelly, owner of the Book Nest, a small bookstore in Yeats's beloved
Sligo. "This identity was formed from Irish myths and legends as
well as folklore, much of which was rooted around Sligo."
Start your Yeats exploration at the Dublin Writers Museum (18/19
Parnell Square North). The magnificent 18th-century Georgian
mansion, just five minutes walk from O'Connell Street, in the heart
of the city where the poet was born, houses the books, letters,
portraits and personal items of Dublin's literati over the past 300
With Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory in 1905, Yeats founded what
became Dublin's famous Abbey Theatre, a former morgue at the Liffey
end of Marlborough Street. As its director and dramatist, Yeats
nurtured the Abbey into a center of the Irish literary revival
called the Irish Renaissance.
The theater premired raucously controversial plays, which were
often disrupted by riots. But that was the old Abbey, which burned
in 1951; the new Abbey has little of the same romantic character.
Nonetheless, tickets are hard to come by, so book early.
After Yeats returned to Dublin from Oxford in 1922, a year before
he won the Nobel Prize, he bought a Georgian mansion at No. 83
Merrion Square. That same year, he became a senator of the new Irish
Free State, illustrating the passionate blending of his art and his
politics. In "A Vision," Yeats mounts an elaborate attempt to
explain the mythology, symbolism, and philosophy that underlie his