Innisfree: A Changed Land That Inspires Still


Last week we did arise to go now, to go to Innisfree. We couldn't put our hands on any clay or wattles, but we brought a picnic lunch, which we intended to have on the lapping shores of Lough Gill where W.B. Yeats found his inspiration. But things didn't work out quite that way.

We got a bit lost on the way because the road to Innisfree is not as clearly marked as, say, the road to Disneyland, and when the signs were flashing by, Fiona was yelling because Danny had taken her bottle or Danny was yelling because Fiona had taken his sword or they both were yelling because Daddy had commandeered both.

Lunch was required long before we found the heathered hills that made noon a purple glow and so we had our picnic in the parking lot of a spanking new Mitsubishi dealership just outside of Sligo. About as far from a bee-loud glade as you can get even in the new Ireland.

Traveling the leafy roads of Yeats country in county Sligo, much is as it was--the sudden vistas of hills patchworked with the famous 70 shades of green, stitched with lines of flaming gorse, the ancient walls hedged in wisteria. But much is not--SUVs come tearing down grassy lanes, their grills whiskered with Queen Anne's lace and buttercups.

At the rock of Dooney, where the poet's fiddler played, signs warned that filming was taking place, and the small car park was filled with white-paneled vans and men and women on cell phones. Danny Mac was outraged when we didn't stop--although he cannot claim any particular affinity toward "The Fiddler of Dooney," he wanted to see what the people with the "talkies" were doing and reiterated his desire to be "a mans who makes the movies, Mama." My husband and I looked at each other in chilled fear and drove on.

As payback, he began kicking the seat, which woke up his drowsing sister who began clamoring for her pacifier, which she immediately threw on the floor. Two things were made instantly clear to me: A. The most significant parental milestone is the moment when a child finally appreciates the concept of scenery and B. This doesn't happen until the child has long outgrown the family vacation.

Perhaps this is why Yeats was so specific about living alone on that lake isle, with his bees and nine bean rows. While he became a loving father, one suspects he was not a particularly participatory one. A visit to his summer home far south of Sligo makes that perfectly clear. A partially restored stone tower, it is very isolated, romantic and certainly conducive to writing. But one look at the damp, slick, circular stone stair was enough for me. Because it's probably safe to assume it was not W.B. going up and down them 50 times a day, carrying the baby and the laundry and making sure the ink pots were filled.

When at last we reached Parke's Castle, a non-Yeatsian landmark on the shores of Lough Gill, Danny and Fiona frolicked, playing knights with no heed to poetic landscape. Then we took a boat onto the lough and soon passed the green hump of Innisfree. A breeze turned up the silver undersides of the leaves so that the island glimmered like the water.

"It's so small," said my husband as the captain of the boat spoke of the poet's unhappiness during the years he worked in Dublin, his thoughts ever turning to the West. I grabbed my son's waistband just as he pitched toward the water and the baby wiggled off my lap for the 97th time, determined to find and consume every cigarette butt and stray bottle cap she saw.

That was the point, I said. "I will have some peace there," I quoted with new appreciation, "for peace comes dropping slow."

Eventually the boat returned and we managed to disembark without losing a child, although we had to go back for one of Fiona's shoes. Before getting back in the car, we loitered a moment. Danny threw rocks in the water, and Fiona pointed to a pair of swans. Surrounding us was indeed a poet's idyll, a tapestry of cloud and water and living green.

Not for the first time in this land, I longed to roll it up as one does a carpet, carry it with me wherever I went. Fiona laughed as one of the swans flapped its wings, and the lake water did lap with low sounds by the shore. Now that I am back on these pavements gray, I too can still hear it, in the deep heart's core.

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