Love of Yeats’ poetry may have drawn Leonard Cohen to Lissadell

A 60-year love for the poetry of WB Yeats may have been the lure for Leonard Cohen to visit Lissadell House in Co Sligo six years ago.
Love of Yeats’ poetry may have drawn Leonard Cohen to Lissadell

Cohen played two concerts at the childhood home of Constance Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth across the August bank holiday weekend in 2010. WB Yeats, who was friendly with the two sisters, regularly visited Lissadell.

Co-owner Eddie Walsh described the weekend of concerts as one of the proudest moments at Lissadell. During one of his performances, Cohen recited the opening lines of Yeats’ poem In Memory of Eva Gore- Booth and Con Markievicz.

“The light of evening, Lissadell, Great windows open to the south, Two girls in silk kimonos, both Beautiful, one a gazelle...”

“He went on to say that he had learned that poem some 60 years before, in his hometown of Montreal,” Mr Walsh said. “And how little he knew at that time, when he learnt it first, that his steps would ultimately lead to him to the place where he would receive such a welcome, sheltered in the spirit of the great master; the great master being WB Yeats.”

Cohen played two of his longest-ever concerts over the course of that weekend, Mr Walsh told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“I think anyone who was there over those two nights remembers and knows how magical it was. We even had a rainbow over Benbulben on one of the evenings.

“The next evening, we had a West of Ireland mist covering the crowd as he came to an end. He was just so, I suppose, blown away by Lissadell itself and I think the audience was so blown away by Leonard, who was really sublime on both occasions.”

When Cohen agreed to play at Lissadell, Mr Walsh created a special green room for the singer-songwriter.

“We set about creating two things. One was a very special green room for him which was his relaxation room within the coach house, where I put in two William the Fourth bookcases, full of all the first- edition Irish poetry books that I could lay my hands on.

“From Seamus Heaney to Brendan Kennelly, down to the older poets like Thomas McDonagh, Pearse — everybody that I could try and have so he could be surrounded by Irish poetry and all the poetry of Eva Gore-Booth.”

During Cohen’s visit, Mr Walsh also organised a Yeats exhibition. “I tried to see whether or not I could get Leonard to open it. I got on to his agent to say it would be a great privilege if Mr Cohen could open it.”

However, the agent turned down the offer as the singer did not typically open events or exhibitions, Mr Walsh said.

“But I’d left all the doors open, leading from the green room to the exhibition. He wandered through, apparently. He looked at the exhibition and then I got a phone call from his agent saying: ‘Mr Cohen would be honoured if he could be permitted to open this exhibition, dedicated to WB Yeats’.

“It had to be a very small occasion, with one newspaper photographer, one personal photographer, and 12 people maximum.”

After the exhibition, Mr Walsh and the other attendees were invited back to Cohen’s green room for refreshments. “In the middle of the afternoon, on what was going to be a couple of very busy days, he proceeded to pour us the finest of red wine. He himself didn’t partake — he stayed with a ginger tea with honey.

“We sat and chatted with him and his crew for about an hour, where he talked about his amazement of Lissadell, how he was so delighted to be there, how it was so magical.

“He was just a man who was dedicated to art, dedicated to professionalism — incredible, sublime.”

  • Two hours of Nova on RTÉ Lyric FM will be dedicated to Leonard Cohen tomorrow at 8pm.

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