Sunday, August 9, 2009

Yeats Summer School - David Fitzpatrick

Attended two lectures at the Yeats Summer School last Wednesday. The first was by historian David Fitzpatrick (right) who was my PhD supervisor ten or so years ago in Trinity. He is one of Ireland's most distinguished historians with acclaimed publications on Ireland 1914 - 1921, emigration, the Great Famine, labour history, Australian history and much else. A member of the Royal Irish Academy, he is currently researching the Orange Order in its international context.

His next book is to be a biography of the poet Louis MacNeice's father, in which the personal impact of the war on a pacifist clergyman is a major theme. It also apparently will challenge the widely held portrayal of the father as a tolerant if puritanical Southerner, courageously opposing all forms of sectarianism and violence, abhorring both revolutionary republicanism and Ulster Unionism, and supporting Home Rule.

His lecture was entitled Yeats and Sligo which might sound like a gentle stroll through the various parts of the county name checked by the great poet ending up "under bare Ben Bulben's head" but it was anything but. Fitzpatrick questioned the extent to which Sligo actually played a significant part in the Yeats' family history in W B's own youth. He discussed the various families, the Pollexfens, the Middletons, the Yeats themselves and their status in Sligo society. As might be expected from such a historian he was strong on facts and figures and his lecture emphasised the extent to which Yeats constructed Sligo as a land of imagination. His research on the Orange Order and the involvement of Yeats' Sligo relatives in the Sligo branch led him to surmise that the young Yeats was more familiar with the rituals of the Order than he revealed.

He wondered at the poet's choice of Drumcliff as a final resting place since most of his relatives are buried in St John's in Sligo town. He proposed that it was to distance himself from the commercial and merchantile connotations of these families that he chose the churchyard where "an ancestor was rector there long years ago".

A most interesting lecture which was well received.

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