The exhibition, Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats, which has been described in The Irish Times as “one of the most important literary exhibitions yet staged internationally,” opened to unanimous acclaim on May 25, 2006.
Since then, over 70,000 people of all ages and nationalities have delighted in exploring the multimedia rich experience, each year. On Monday 17 July, we had the pleasure of exploring the exhibition ourselves with members of the An Síol Cabra art class and University of the Third Age Ballymun as well as some of our regular Culture Clubbers from around Dublin. Bríd O’Sullivan, Education & Outreach in the National Library of Ireland led us on a fascinating tour of one of the great poets of the twentieth century.
Yeats was a man of many interests – Ireland, literature, folklore, theatre, politics, the occult – and a significant influence on modern Irish cultural identity. A common feature of Culture Club, but also a very special one, is that the group are treated to the knowledge and insight by a member of staff from local cultural venues followed by a Tea & Chats session. Bríd enthralled the group with tales’ of Yeats’ unrequited love for Maud Gonne (including at least five rejected proposals – we should all be so lucky!) and his fascination with the spirit world through occult researches and practices that informed much of what he did and wrote. The National Library of Ireland is an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures belonging to the poet, including manuscripts, paintings, passports and photo albums. Our group were only too happy to get lost within the cave with Bríd for an hour and explore the traditions and cultural identity Yeats tried to tie himself to in the search for a ‘modern’ Ireland.
During our Tea & Chats, cultural identity was just one of the many themes that the group spoke about. We talked about what culture meant to us, with many in the group speaking about ‘tradition’ and ‘nostalgia’.
One participant mentioned that ‘We only have our memories to look back on’ and that ‘we don’t even know our own Dublin’ but that by exploring the work and lives of those that have come before us, such as that of W.B. Yeats and our local museums and libraries, then it is possible to ’embrace’ and ‘connect’ with our culture.
So was the day in the NLI with our group of Culture Clubbers a success? Well the proof was in the pudding…or in this case the cups of tea and biscuits shared at the end. With happy shouts of ‘It made me want to go back in’, ‘we find we know him [Yeats] personally’, and ‘It’s no longer a building, it’s ours’ then we like to think so. The whole experience allowed those who have never had a chance to explore the treasures of their city, to do so with their peers, in a friendly and relaxed environment. And with a cuppa, biscuit and chat to top it all off (along with a special screening of the film Around the Table) we still can’t believe we get to call this ‘work’…
Culture Club connects people to museums, galleries, libraries and other cultural venues in a fun and easy way. For the next few months we’ll be developing Culture Club 2017, inviting people from all over Dublin to get involved. If you would like to find out more about Culture Club email us at firstname.lastname@example.org