Why Drumcliff? Not a lot there. A small cafe and antique shop (actually pretty impressive, some amazing things, out in the middle of nowhere- sadly nothing that was ever going to fit in hand luggage) down the road, but it was the parish church I came to see.
I'm not normally one of those people who wanders the graves of the famous departed- although I suppose that's going to sound hollow when I visit Glasnevin in Dublin next week... But this was William Yeats- the man who perhaps inspired my interest in Irish History, back in Year 12 3 U English, when the fantastic Mr. Reid (sorry about going into History teaching, Mr. Reid- English and drama were great though) had us study Yeats. It was 'Easter, 1916' that started it all, I suppose.
Yeats is an interesting character- he's highly respected by the Irish and a whole Yeats industry revolves around his memory. His family connections are also interesting- an artist brother, to begin with. He proposed twice to the somewhat wild and spirited Maud Gonne, who twice rejected him, then to her daughter, who clearly thought better of marrying a man old enough to be her father. Maud's second husband, of course, and father of her son Sean (later to become Chief of Staff for the IRA and a minister in the Irish government), was Thomas MacBride, who was to be executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.
All this brings me to Drumcliff. There in the parish church, where the air is so cold it snatches your breath, Yeats sleeps eternal. Or someone does- the debate as to whether it is the remains of the poet rages on. Passing on in France in 1939, his request to be buried in Drumcliff was not surprisingly a lesser priority for the French government, with the inconvenience of WW2 going on. Although Yeat's wife (the medium Georgie Hyde Lees) did all within her power to have the remains repatriated, it didn't happen until 1948. Debate about WHO is buried at Drumcliff continues.
The etching upon the grave is from one of the poet's own works-
"Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by"
And I admit that in the smoky, icy air of the parish church, this was more than a little eerie. So I prefer to offer, instead, some of the poem that encapsulated the failed Rising.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse--
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.