W B Yeats
 

 

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William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

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Born in Dublin. He was one of the major poets of the 20th century and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He was a leading figure in the Celtic literary revival and in the setting up of the Abbey Theatre. Throughout his life he was interested in spiritualism and oriental philosophy. Maud Gonne was the love of his life and she inspired many poems. He later married an English woman, Georgie Hyde Lees 1892-1968, who brought order to his life. His many works include poems, prose, plays, folk stories and autobiographies. These include The Wind Among the Reeds, In the Seven Woods, The Green Helmet and Other Poems, Responsibilities, The Wild Swans at Coole, Michael Robartes and the Dancer, The Tower, The Winding Stair and Other Poems, Cathleen Ni Houlihan and Autobiographies.

            Yeats died at Cap Martin in the South of France and was buried at nearby Roquebrune in the graveyard of the church of St Pancras on 31st January 1939. James Joyce sent a wreath. The Irish Government wanted the body brought back to Ireland and the French Government offered a destroyer to bring the coffin back but the war eventually intervened.

            Yeats had wished to be buried in Drumcliffe and in 1948 his remains were eventually brought from France to Galway Bay aboard an Irish naval vessel. The immediate family was piped aboard and then the funeral procession made its way to Drumcliffe, County Sligo, where he was reinterred in the presence of a military guard of honour and Irish government representation. His wife, Georgie Hyde Lees, is also buried there. The stone has the inscription: Cast A Cold Eye/ On Life, On Death/ Horseman, Pass By!/ W. B. Yeats/ June 13th 1865/ January 28th 1939

            A certain doubt lingers about whether the grave contains the remains of Yeats or those of an Englishman called Alfred Hollis who died a few weeks after Yeats, or the bones of numerous Frenchmen. The graves of Yeats and Hollis were dug up during the war and the bodies buried in a common grave. The grave was partially cleared in 1941 and fully cleared in 1946 and all the bones put in the ossuary. It was custom to separate the skull and the limbs. The remains of Yeats were identified because the local doctor remembered that Yeats had worn a truss. However, Hollis also wore a truss and hence the controversy. The Yeats family were satisfied beyond doubt that their relative was now at Drumcliffe. Brenda Maddox gives a full account of the story in her biography of Yeats and the controversy was raised again most recently in an article by Louise Foxcroft in the London Review of Books. An edited version of this article appeared in the Guardian in September 2000. The Irish Times ran its own article on October 11th 2000.

         The original Yeats grave was on the second terrace of the cemetery. It had a small stone with the inscription: W.B. Yeats 1865-1939. His friends Edith Heald, Edmund Dulac and Helen Beauclerk discovered the lack of a grave in 1947 and they erected a stone against the wall of the ossuary. The ossuary is situated at the far end of the graveyard near the north entrance. The Yeats gravestone is reached by using the main (south) entrance. Go up the steps and turn left at Carré C. The stone is at the end of the plot before Carré O on the west side of the graveyard, just before the steps going to Carré O.

            Anne Butler Yeats 1919-2001 was the daughter ofyeats anne.jpg (46007 bytes) W.B. who wrote A Prayer for My Daughter in 1919. She was assistant designer and then chief designer at the Abbey 1940-46. She began painting in 1947 and had a number of one-person shows as well as taking part in group shows in many different countries. She is buried in grave number 154, St Helen’s Section, Row B9, Shanganagh Cemetery, County Dublin.

Further information, location and directions to the grave are to be found in "The End - An Illustrated Guide to the Graves of Irish Writers".  Click here to order a copy of this book