The purpose of the trip, a sequel to my visit in May of this year, was to revisit a number of the sites associated with the life and work of W B Yeats and to explore further locations. May had proved relentlessly fine and I felt the images I had captured then bordered too much on the purely picturesque. I was hoping that by late November the moodier conditions, so typical of Ireland, would have returned. I was not disappointed.
The following is a day-by-day account of my photographic activity over a week punctuated by some appalling weather, but nonetheless providing ample opportunities for photographing the Irish landscape in constantly changing light.
I used almost exclusively a Leica S medium-format digital camera with a 30-90mm Vario-Elmar lens, both camera and lens fortunately being weather-sealed.
After arriving at Knock Airport in the early afternoon, I drove directly to Hazelwood on the shore of Lough Gill outside Sligo Town. Lough Gill, on which the “lake Isle of Innisfree” (one of the subjects of my previous visit) is situated, has many associations with Yeats; in particular, Hazelwood is the setting for his poem The Song of Wandering Aengus. I was fortunate to arrive in time to capture the last of the light on this Autumn evening:
Monday dawned grey, wet and windy. I drove first to Rosses Point at the entrance to Sligo harbour, where Yeats, together with his brother, Jack B Yeats (1871-1957) a celebrated landscape artist, spent many childhood summers staying at his uncle’s house, Elsinore Place:
Thereafter, I climbed the steep path to the top of Knocknarea, the mountain overlooking Sligo Bay, the site of Queen Maeve’s grave and the setting and inspiration for a number of Yeats’ poems:
Sadly, the weather was not propitious for photography as the following images show:
In the afternoon I drove west to Aughris Head where the Wild Atlantic Way truly lives up to its name:
The day was largely taken up with a lengthy walk in gale conditions in forest land at the base of Ben Bulbin, the mountain dominating much of County Sligo. In accordance with his wishes, Yeats is buried in the churchyard at Drumcliff, “under bare Ben Bulbin’s head”:
Inspired perhaps by the work of Chrystel Lebas, I also captured images of the dense woodland at foot of the mountain:
In the early evening, in improving weather, I drove north to Streedagh Point from where there are views south to Ben Bulbin and the massif of which it forms part:
In atrocious weather, I drove to Glencar where a short break in the rain enabled me to climb up to the waterfall celebrated in Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child:
By late afternoon, the rain had finally eased and I returned to Streedagh Point to witness a spectacular sunset:
The morning was bright, but windy. I drove first to Strandhill, another beach associated both with W B Yeats and his brother, Jack. The onshore wind ensured spectacular white horses:
I then returned to Glencar where I climbed up to the Devil’s Chimney waterfall. The fall was in full spate following the heavy rains, the water at the summit blown upwards and back in the southerly gale:
I then set out for, County Galway, the other area of western Ireland most associated with the poet. My plan was to photograph, in evening light, Thoor Ballylee, the Norman keep which Yeats restored and made his home. Sadly, major work was being undertaken on the structure which was surrounded by construction material, contractors’ vans etc, all of which conspired to frustrate my intentions. These difficulties notwithstanding, I succeeded in capturing a number of images although not necessarily from the angles I had wished:
I had intended to devote the day to photographing the Flaggy Shore in County Clare, on the southern side of Galway Bay, a short stretch of coast of great geological interest. The Flaggy Shore is associated both with Seamus Heaney, who made it the subject of his late poem entitled Postscript, and Yeats who stayed there, at the house known as Mount Vernon, as the guest of his patroness, Lady Gregory.
Gales and driving rain made photography impossible for much of the day, but by evening the weather had improved sufficiently to allow some evocative images of the incoming tide:
I set off early to Coole Park, the former estate of the Gregory family. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, under Lady Gregory’s patronage, Coole House (now demolished) became the centre of the Irish literary revival. Yeats and other writers were frequent visitors. Yeats’ The Wild Swans at Coole is a famous poems of that era:
I then drove north to Ballymullet in the far west of County Mayo, not strictly “Yeats country”, but an area rich in the ancient Irish myths and legends which inform much of the poet’s verse. I spent some time photographing the stone circle at Fallmore known as Deirbhile’s Twist, which despite appearances is the work of a contemporary sculptor:
Shortly before sunset, I climbed to a lookout giving panoramic views over to Achill to the south, a rewarding finale to the week: