Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2013/30 posted by hidden europe on

It was one hundred years ago this month that WB Yeats' poem September 1913 was published in a Dublin newspaper. The poem is more than merely a lament for Irish separatist and bold Fenian John O'Leary. It is a sharp critique of the trend in Ireland to more materialist and bourgeois values. This was a cry from the heart, a plea that Ireland might continue to make space for art and the imagination.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

It was one hundred years ago this month that WB Yeats' poem September 1913 was published in a Dublin newspaper. The poem is more than merely a lament for Irish separatist and bold Fenian John O'Leary. It is a sharp critique of the trend in Ireland to more materialist and bourgeois values. This was a cry from the heart, a plea that Ireland might continue to make space for art and the imagination.

It is quite another O'Leary than John who nowadays presides over the affairs of Ryanair, the cash-counting airline which strongly plays the Irish card across the skies of Europe. Michael O'Leary probably was far too distracted by aviation matters and his company's finances to make time this month to read Yeats' celebrated poem:

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone?
For men were born to pray and save:
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Progress dents our imagination step by step, whittling away at our principles and our hopes until we, too, start to follow the hapless crowd. If you sit in a traffic jam on the M50 Dublin Ring in the rush hour, you'll perhaps see no romance in the way the morning sun dances on the slopes of Kippure or the buzzards swoop over Kilmashogue. If you drive the Ring of Kerry nose-to-tail in midsummer crowds, you may be forgiven for thinking that romantic Ireland is dead and gone.

But has the hangman's rope of Yeats' poem throttled the romance of Ireland? It is a tribute to The Irish Times, which first published September 1913, that the newspaper earlier this month published an intensely thoughtful piece to mark the centenary. The article reflected on the relationship between poetry and the mass media and pondered on how far modern Ireland still makes space for the imagination.

Not in the restless queues for budget flights at Dublin airport perhaps, but office workers in the Irish capital still take time out for a poetry reading at lunchtime in a city-centre café. This is a country that has more than its fair share of landscapes to lift the spirits. There is a literary and linguistic landscape where Irish idioms and cadence have inflected English writing. There are Irish-language writers' collectives like Cumann Scríbhneoirí Úra na Gaeilge. And there are hills and valleys to brighten the soul. Even on dull September days sanctified by the sound of rain. Ben Bulben, Drumcliff and the Isle of Innisfree are more than merely place names on a map. They are the sparks that have inspired, and still inspire, a nation that makes space for poetry.

The hangman's noose has not prevailed. If WB Yeats could somehow be conjured back from the grave, we think he might be surprised to find that there still is more than a hint of romance, and still a lot of poetry, in Ireland. Long may it stay so!

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

Posted in Places
This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.