Thoor Ballylee

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Coordinates: 53°06′11.4″N08°46′29.2″W / 53.103167°N 8.774778°W / 53.103167; -8.774778

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Thoor Ballylee
Thoor Ballylee002(js).jpg
Ireland adm location map.svg
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Location within Ireland
General information
Architectural style Hiberno-Norman tower house
Location County Galway, Ireland
Coordinates 53°06′11″N8°46′30″W / 53.103°N 8.775°W / 53.103; -8.775
Construction started 15th (or 16th) century
Completed 15th (or 16th) century
Owner Earls of Clanrickarde, The Septs de Burgo, William Butler Yeats
Design and construction
Architect The Septs de Burgo
Other designers William Butler Yeats, William A. Scott

Thoor Ballylee Castle (Irish Túr Bhaile Uí Laí) is a fortified, 15th (or 16th) century Hiberno-Norman tower house built by the septs de Burgo, or Burke, near the town of Gort in County Galway, Ireland. It is also known as Yeats' Tower because it was once owned and inhabited by the poet William Butler Yeats.

Irish language Goidelic (Gaelic) language spoken in Ireland and by Irish people

Irish is a Goidelic (Gaelic) language originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is spoken as a first language in substantial areas of counties Galway, Kerry, Cork and Donegal, smaller areas of Waterford, Mayo and Meath, and a few other locations, and as a second language by a larger group of non-habitual speakers across the country.

Tower houses in Britain and Ireland group of castles in Britain and Ireland

The tower house appeared in the British Isles, starting from the High Middle Ages. Such buildings were constructed in the wilder parts of Great Britain and Ireland, particularly in Scotland, and throughout Ireland, until at least up to the 17th century. The remains of such structures are dotted around the Irish and Scottish countryside, with a particular concentration in the Scottish Borders where they include peel towers and bastle houses. Some are still intact and even inhabited today, while others stand as ruined shells.

A sept is an English word for a division of a family, especially of a Scottish or Irish family. The word may derive from the Latin saeptum, meaning "enclosure" or "fold", or via an alteration of "sect". The term is used in both Ireland and Scotland, where it may be translated as sliocht, meaning "progeny" or "seed", which may indicate the descendants of a person.


The castle was built in the 15th (or possibly 16th) century and originally formed part of the huge estates of the Earls of Clanricarde, from the de Burgo or Burke family.

Earl of Clanricarde

Earl of Clanricarde is a title that has been created twice in the Peerage of Ireland, first in 1543 and again in 1800. The former creation became extinct in 1916 while the 1800 creation is extant and held by the Marquess of Sligo since 1916.

House of Burke Irish branch of ancient Anglo-Norman noble family

The House of Burke is the Irish branch of the Anglo-Norman noble family known as de Burgh.

The nearby four-arched bridge dates to around 1825. [1] In 1837, the Carrig family was recorded as living in the castle. At the time of Griffith's Valuation (1857), Patrick Carrick was leasing a herd's house, castle and land at Ballylee, barony of Kiltartan, from William Henry Gregory. At the time, the property was valued at £5. [2]

Griffith's Valuation was a boundary and land valuation survey of Ireland completed in 1868.

William Henry Gregory Anglo-Irish writer and politician

Sir William Henry Gregory PC (Ire) KCMG was an Anglo-Irish writer and politician, who is now less remembered than his wife Augusta, Lady Gregory, the playwright, co-founder and Director of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, literary hostess and folklorist.

In the early 1900s, the castle/tower was still owned by the Gregory family and became part of nearby Coole Estate, home of Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats’ lifelong friend. [3] On the estate, Coole House, where Lady Gregory lived, was the centre for meetings for the Irish literary group, a group composed of a great number of preeminent figures of the day. Near this tower, in Coole Park, began the Irish Literary Revival. [4]

Coole Park nature reserve, former estate of Gregory family

Coole Park is a nature reserve of approximately 1,000 acres (4 km2) located a few miles west of Gort, County Galway, Ireland. It is managed by the Irish National Parks & Wildlife Service, part of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The park is in a low–lying karstic limestone area characterised by seasonal lakes, known as turloughs, which are almost unique to Ireland. It has extensive woodlands. There are 6 kilometres of signposted nature trails plus a formal late 18th century walled garden.

The Irish Literary Revival was a flowering of Irish literary talent in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Thoor Ballylee is also known today as Yeats’ Tower, because in 1916 (or 1917) Yeats purchased the property for the nominal sum of £35 because he was so enchanted with it and especially as it was located in a rural area. [5] From 1921 to 1929, [6] [7] Yeats and his family lived there as it was his monument and symbol: In both aspects, it satisfied his desire for a rooted place in the countryside. [8] The tower retained its original windows in the upper part. Yeats and his architect, Professor William A. Scott, restored the tower for the next two years and installed larger windows in the lower floors. [9] [10]

As he had an affinity for the Irish language, Yeats dropped the term "castle" in naming the property and replaced it with "Thoor" (Túr), the Irish word for "tower"; thus, the place has been known as Thoor Ballylee. For twelve years, Thoor Ballylee was Yeats’ summer home as it was his country retreat. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, "Everything is so beautiful that to go elsewhere is to leave beauty behind." Consequently, it is no wonder that Yeats was inspired and compelled to create literary works at Ballylee such as poems like The Tower and Coole Park and Ballylee. [11]

In 1929, Ballylee was abandoned as the Yeats family moved out and it fell to disuse and ruin. [12]

In 1951, a scene of John Ford's The Quiet Man in which John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara cross a river was shot next to Thoor Ballylee.

Mary Hanley (1914-1979) was the founder of the Kiltartan Society. A native of Carron, County Clare, Hanley founded the society in 1961 to foster interest in the literary history of the district, especially that of Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn and W.B. Yeats. She was responsible for the restoration of Thoor Ballylee (with the aid of Bord Fáilte and the Yeats family). At the time, the Office of Public Works was owner of the property. Hanley persuaded the poet Padraic Colum to open the castle on Sunday 20 June 1965, the centenary of Yeats’s birth, as Yeats Tower to appear as it was when he lived there and refitted as a Yeats museum containing a collection of first editions and items of furniture. [13] The adjoining miller's cottage became a tea room and shop. This was later expanded by a newly constructed building in the back.


Due to its proximity to the Streamstown River, Thoor Ballylee is subject to sporadic flooding. This occurred notably in 1995 and in 2009/2010. In 2009, Thoor Ballylee was extensively damaged by flooding. [14] [15] For a while it appeared that due to the financial problems of the Irish government, no money would be available to repair it. [16]

Thus only in February 2012 did work by Fáilte Ireland on restoring the tower begin, although no opening date was envisaged at the time. [17] One of the forces behind the decision to repair the tower had been East Galway senator Lorraine Higgins, who argued that a reopened Yeats' Tower would be a boon to local tourism. [18]

By February 2013 the tower had still not reopened. However, a private group — in cooperation with Fáilte Ireland — had engaged the services of Galway Rural Development, a make-work-scheme, for the maintenance work. [19]

In 2014, a local community group the "Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society" leased Thoor Ballylee from Fáilte Ireland to develop it into a culture and education centre, in time for the Yeats 150th Anniversary in June 2015. The Society is cooperating with the National Yeats Steering Committee and the Yeats Society to ensure that Thoor Ballylee is an integrated part of the Yeats 2015 celebrations. [20]

In early December 2015, Storm 'Desmond' devastated parts of Ireland with flooding rain and damaging winds. Thoor Ballylee, and the adjacent cottage, were both damaged by several feet of flood water.


Inscription on tower composed by WB Yeats. Inscription at Thoor Ballylee - - 948487.jpg
Inscription on tower composed by WB Yeats.

With four floors, the tower consists of one room on each floor that is connected by a spiral stone stairway built into the seven-foot thickness of the massive outer wall. Each floor has a window that overlooks the Streamstown River that flows alongside the tower. There is a small thatch cottage attached.

Yeats described the ground-floor chamber as "the pleasantest room I have yet seen, a great wide window opening over the river and a round arched door leading to the thatched hall". He also admired the mural stair, symbolically declaring "This winding, gyring, spiring treadmill of a stair is my ancestral stair; That Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burke have traveled there." [21] [22]

There is a tablet on the wall that commemorates Yeats' sojourn: [23]

I, the poet William Yeats,

With old mill boards and sea-green slates,

And smithy work from the Gort forge,

Restored this tower for my wife George.

And may these characters remain

When all is ruin once again.

See also

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  1. "National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: Ballylee Bridge". Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  2. "Landed estates database: Ballylee Castle". NUI Galway. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  3. "It satisfied his desire for a rooted place in a known countryside, not far from Coole and his life-long friend Lady Gregory. To live in a Tower complemented, perhaps, his alignment with a tradation of cultivated aristocracy which he had envied and a leisured peace which he had enjoyed." Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  4. "In County Galway near the town of Gort, lies a 16th-century Norman castle with a small cottage attached. The Irish Literary Revival began near this castle - in Coole Park, an estate owned by Lady Gregory where she hosted the likes of George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats and J. M. Synge. It was a haven - a place of retreat for William Butler Yeats." Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  5. "When Yeats purchased the tower in 1917 for the sum of £35 it was in a state of considerable dilapidation and he spent the next two years restoring it as a family home." Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  6. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  7. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  8. "...who lived there from 1921 to 1929." Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  9. "It stands four-storeys high and its original windows still survive in the upper part, though Yeats and his architect Professor William A. Scott installed larger windows in the lower floors." Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  10. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  11. 'In naming the property Yeats dropped the term "castle" and replaced it with "Thoor" - the Irish word for tower, and the place became known as Thoor Ballylee. Yeats and his wife and their children enjoyed this country retreat, and used it as their summer home for 12 years. He is quoted in a letter to friend regarding Thoor Ballylee "everything is so beautiful that to go elsewhere is to leave beauty behind."' Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  12. "Ballylee was abandoned and started to fall into ruin in the early 1930s. For the centenary of Yeats' birth in 1965, the place was fully restored to appear as it was when he lived there. It now also housed an interpretative centre on his life and works." Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  13. "This 16C fortified house, used by William Butler Yeats for eleven years as a summer residence, is a common symbol in his poetic works, to which an inscription on the wall across the road bears witness. He spent most of the summer months converting the four floors of the tower, before being forced to abandon it in 1928. In 1964, the Kiltartan Society undertook restoration work on the building, together with the adjoining miller's cottage and the mill wheel." Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  14. "Thoor Ballylee, official website" . Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  15. Corless, Nicola. "Thoor Ballylee closed for the 'foreseeable future'". The Clare Champion. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  17. Corless, Nicola (16 February 2012). "No reopening date for Thoor Ballylee". The Clare Champion. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  18. "Lorraine Higgins, official website" . Retrieved 5 August 2016.
  19. Andrews, Kernan (14 February 2013). "Thoor Ballylee to get much needed clean up". Galway Advertiser. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  21. Retrieved 28 July L2011
  22. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  23. "National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: Yeats' Tower". Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Retrieved 19 March 2013.