by Helen McCormack
The Prompt – A Walk; and with my coffee mug in hand I've got lost in a walk down Memory Lane, really Lanes. Couldn't find my Saturday notebook – lost in the present chaos of a NO house move, but, I found an old Jotter: I'm amazed, it has a few notes from a few years ago when I attended the Yeats 150th anniversary Summer School.
It has started this present walk: The first school poem I remember and loved, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", used to actually transport me to that wilderness. Years later I found a job in Sligo. Dear Yeats, you had so many of the elements I longed for myself – a Sligo of untrammelled wilderness, that link with the peasant Nature connection, the link with the pantheistic ´other world ´ of fairies and spirits. A connection to my own mythical Gaelic past. Your poetry was my longing.
You too longed for Sligo when your family left Dublin and your spendthrift father settled in London. You inherited your mother´s longing to return to her Sligo family and, lucky for you, she managed it for months at a time when her own father´s merchant boats collected you and shipped you back to Sligo Port. Now that´s a view of Sligo country I would never have – by boat from the sea and to be greeted by the sight of Ben Bulben lying in wait, as if about to slip down to the coast. You wrote more about phallic Ben Bulben on the East of Sligo than Knocknarea and Queen Maeve´s Grave on the West – hers a low rounded mountain bearing her stone cairn tomb like a nipple on her hill breast.
Of course you spent time with your uncle – a vicar of the lovely church under Ben Bulben´s shadow and where your bones rest eternally. Yes, there is where we all pay homage and pilgrimage:
Down the flanks of bare Ben Bulben
It´s head in the clouds, feet cold
against your grave
A sideways glance at Lissadell
and its Beauties
But the gaze cold North and
Ne´er a nod to Maeve.
I would like to have written about the South and West of Sligo which I discovered outside of your poetry.
A boyfriend showed me a faery lane - to the south of Knockrea and Maeve´s grave: It stretched parallel to the road but completely sunken and sheltered from view by a long canopy of green leaves, directing our steps towards Ballisodare Bay. That inlet was possessed by an extraordinary light where I felt Tìr na nÓg was just off shore. I owe you a debt of gratitude dear Yeats for leading my steps to poetry and the riches of Sligo.