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June 2019
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2003-05-28 What we could do with this beautiful home

I turned on the Six-One News last Thursday, and to my distress saw that the summer retreat of our country's finest poet and the home of one of Ireland's most passionate patriots - Lissadell House - was up for sale.


Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth points out the increasing unfeasibility for big Irish houses to remain in the hands of their families, and highlights the cultural and historic significance of Lissadell. Its faded grandeur needs further restoration and refurbishment and, for primarily that reason, the family have been left with no option other than to sell up. As the gateway to the north-west, we are all aware of the importance of the tourist industry to our region, and the entire area centres around the towering literary figure of W.B. Yeats. In the heart of Yeats' country, `under bare Benbulben's head' and only a couple of miles from Yeats' final resting place, Lissadell is crying out to become that `flagship tourist attraction' Sligo needs.


The Yeats Memorial Building remains the centre for a successful Summer School, but maybe Lissadell could provide a place for Yeats scholars to study and even eventually reside. What an inspiring and tranquil writers' retreat it could make. In my eyes, it also has great potential as a recital/concert venue. The whole estate of Lissadell could possibly be transformed quite simply into a protected National Park.


I rarely make pleas, however, I implore you to write to your TDs or directly to the Daíl immediately, to fully open our government's eyes letting them make sure this historic landmark does not fall into private hands.


The Gore-Booths have lived near Drumcliffe for over 400 years. The present plain but impressive Georgian edifice was constructed by Sir Robert Gore-Booth in 1832 and is, for the moment anyway, still the home of the Gore-Booth family. Sir Robert toured extensively and the artefacts and pictures are there to prove it. Sir Henry (his son) is said to have rescued an Arctic explorer and was well known for his kind treatment of and generosity to his tenants during the Famine.

Yeats beautifully depicts in a poem "the light of evening, Lissadell, great windows open to the south, two sisters in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle." Yeats first met and befriended the sisters in the 1890s, spent many summers there, and penned his homage to the Gore-Booth ladies in 1927.


Eva was a leading Suffragette of her time. Constance (later Countess Markievicz) was a chief commander in the 1916 Rising. This `society lady' was sentenced to death, though the sentence was later commuted and she was released in 1917. Constance was the first woman elected to the House of Commons, though she never took her seat.


Constance Markievicz (Gore-Booth) was made a Freeman of the Borough of Sligo for her part in helping overthrow British rule. She died in July 1927 ; my Dad was just 3 months old! The niece of the famed sisters was Aideen Gore-Booth who was without question my Granny's closest friend; a friend of our family. My father clearly remembers the farm, carpentry stores and gardens on Lissadell estate. Dad's maternal grandfather, Tom Stevenson (owner of Blackwoods), used to buy produce from the estate for his shop. I remember passing by the old farm buildings en route to different outings (a Sunday-school picnic sticks out in the memory), and once or twice as part of cub scout camps. The walk to Dunfore (John's Port) was one of our regular and favourite dog-walks. On the way home, we would often stop off at `Batty McMorrows' in Carney for a drink and a bag of Tayto.


Lissadell demesne was my mother's favourite spot in Sligo - whether it be the forestry walk (in need of some refurbishment itself) as far as the edge of the barnacle goose sanctuary, or just simply sitting on the grass looking out across the ever-changing beach to Sligo Bay and beyond. When I'm in Lissadell, I know Mum's not far away.


The original home of the Gore-Booths, Ardtarmon Castle, near Raughley, has been lovingly restored, but is privately owned, and not open to the public. Please do not let this be the fate of Lissadell. I realise there will be those who will say the government cannot afford it, and ought to spend the money on the ailing Health Service, but equally, one could argue that with the money spent on one government jet, 20 Lissadells could have been bought! I know where I would prefer to see the money go.


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