The arts festival in Galway has a series of talks and discussions on the subject of ‘home’. Here, three of the participants offertheir thoughts.
This is a new thing that has crept up on us. Life — the text of people’s days, the way they engage with the world around them — has fundamentally changed.
Our consciousness is really made up of our attention. The things to which you give your attention are a huge part of who you are. That’s changed in revolutionary ways in the last decade.
If you’re in Mumbai, for example, or Lagos or Co Cork, you’ll see people walking past you on their phones with their heads somewhere else.
Their head is not where they are. That’s happened everywhere in the world simultaneously. It’s the scale and speed of it that makes it something new.
There is this place my family goes on holidays during the summer in France, in the south in Provence. The village near us is called Bonnieux.
I just happened to see [earlier in July] that one of the richest men in China died in Bonnieux because he fell off a 10m wall that he’d jumped up on to take a selfie photograph.
It’s a massive deal because he leaves behind this huge Chinese conglomerate that’s going through difficult times. Apart from the fall of the Chinese dragon, there’s something about the idea of a tycoon getting up on a wall to get a better selfie and falling over the edge.
If you tried to explain it to someone in 2008, they’d say ‘Stop, wait, what? Say that again.’
Once upon a time a broadcaster was something quite specific. They were gatekeepers over who got to project a version of themselves. Now anyone can, from anywhere all the time, and at the same time, be connected instantly to everyone else in the world.
We don’t know where this is going to end up. We don’t know what effect that is having on our nheads or on the world around us.
Seamus had a great gift for friendship and honesty and for feeling very essential in your life. Once you’d met Seamus, and he’d taken to you, you knew that you had someone powerful on your side.
It was felt in the raw when you were actually with Seamus. He performed that unmatchable trick ofmaking you
better at being yourself.
It is a holy gift. You always came away from a trip with Seamus having laughed your guts off. You’d drank your share, and you had been better at yourself than would otherwise have been the case. We went to Inis Oírr, one of the Aran Islands, once.
That was a trip never to be forgotten. I have a perfectly formed memory of the day. Sometimes you’re in a situation that you know yourself is loaded with a kind of memorial evidence. It was one of those days. Even on the boat over I noticed that Seamus was just enraptured by the view, looking over the lip of the boat into the water and the approaching land.
He said very little. He was completely in a state of meditation. I almost shrank from interrupting him.
We stepped onto a horse and cart and went off around the island. The man who was in charge of this vehicle had a perfect face. His face looked like it had been exposed to all weathers at once. He had this slender
whip and it went through the air and lightly touched the horse’s back.
It was like a fly fisherman at work. This man would cast his light whip in the direction of the horse to get it to giddy on a bit.
Seamus turned to us and he said, “Look at the lazy, light touch."
When All Is Ruin Once Again
It was the first and in a sense the only house WB Yeats owned. All his other properties were rented and insecure.
It was in a part of the country which was sacred to him, from the 1890s, because of its connection with the poet Raftery and also its proximity to Lady Gregory’s Coole Park.
It’s generally thought he bought it for his new wife George Hyde-Lees but he didn’t. He was negotiating for it well before he married, but he didn’t take possession of it until 1917.
He bought it for £35 from the government. It had been lived in by a local until about 20 years before but had fallen into disrepair.
He had a thing about towers, as many poets have. It relates to Milton and Shelley and the idea of the poet in his lonely tower writing inspirationally, and it became his inspiration.
His most famous collection of poems is called The Tower, and has a beautiful illustration of Ballylee on the cover.
His next collection is called The Winding Stair, which is based on the winding stair in one of the corners of the tower.
He spent summers there. I talked to his children about it and their memory of it was having to wash out mud and worms every time they came down to it in summer because it flooded every winter. It wasn’t practical but it was inspirational.
It’s very atmospheric. It’s one of those places you go to when you’re foot-stepping an author, which doesn’t disappoint.
One of his greatest sequences, ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, is very much written about living in the tower as the Irish Civil War breaks out around him.
It occupies a very central place in his greatest poetry of the 1920s and ’30s. In a letter to Ezra Pound, he writes that George has just called to him. She had been fishing out a window of the tower into the river below and that she had caught a small trout. It’s so perfect that I can hardly believe it, but it’s there in the record.