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Hibernia: Yeats House Saved, But New Apartments to Occupy Grounds

William Butler Yeats.

By Irish America Staff
August / September 2000

Thanks to an intensive campaign by some of Ireland’s leading writers and academics, a stay of execution was obtained on the elegant 18th-century farmhouse in Dublin where poet William Butler Yeats resided until his death in 1939. Located in Rathfarnham, County Dublin, Riversdale was Yeats’ last home after the death of his friend Lady Gregory, and it was there he completed his New Poems and Last Poems and worked on the Oxford Book of Modern Verse.

A Dublin developer applied for planning permission to demolish the house and build 28 apartments on the four-acre site, but after strenuous protests from all over the world, Irish Minister for Arts Sile de Valera (a granddaughter of former president Eamon de Valera) recommended that the planning application be denied. The South Dublin County Council duly issued a protection order on the house in February of this year, but in April the go-ahead was given for 28 two-bedroom apartments to be built on the three-and-a-half-acre site surrounding the house.

Terence Brown, professor of Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin, and one of the 18 leading academics that organized the original protest against the demolition of the house, called the latest decision “deeply upsetting.”

Brown told the Irish Times newspaper: “The fact that the house was saved is something, but I very much regret the minimalist nature of the decision. The grounds are absolutely an integral part of the home that Yeats experienced and was inspired by.”

After Yeats moved to the house with his wife Georgie, daughter Anne and son Michael, he wrote two poems about Riversdale – “An Acre of Grass” and “What Then?” In the second of these, he composed the following lines:

All his happier dreams come true –
A small house, wife, daughter, son.
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
Poets and Wits about him drew;
“What then?” sang Plato’s ghost, “What then?”

Riversdale is also historic in that it was the setting for Yeats’s last meeting with his long-time muse, Maud Gonne. That tête-à-tête took place in the summer of 1938, a year before the poet passed away. ♦

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