Ben Bulben (Benbulben) is the iconic table mountain which dominates the Sligo landscape and which captured the imagination of W.B. Yeats. The classic view of Benbulben was visible from the drawing-room in his grandparents’ house, Merville, where he stayed on his annual visits not Sligo until he was about twenty, when they moved to a smaller house.
Throughout his life, Ben Bulben was an important feature in Yeats’s writings, both his prose and poetry. The magnificent limestone mountain with the deep glacial rivets that form its flanks fuelled the poet’s imagination throughout his lifetime.
Yeats was greatly influenced by the mythology and landscape of Ben Bulben. The legend of Diarmaid & Gráinne, faery lore along with his childhood activities ‘fishing with rod and fly’ are all mentioned in his work.
I thought: ‘There is a waterfall
Upon Ben Bulben side
That all my childhood counted dear;
Were I to travel far and wide
I could not find a thing so dear.’
from Towards Break of Day (1921).
Ben Bulben is part of the Dartry Range. It was thought that the countryside around Ben Bulben was one of the few places where faeries could be seen, and Yeats himself was convinced of the existence of a door into the mountain through which these otherworldly creatures would pass.
‘In the middle of the night it swings open, and the unearthly troop rushes out. All night the gay rabble sweep to and fro across the land, invisible to all.’ The Celtic Twilight (1893).
Later in life, Yeats returned to Ben Bulben in his work, and when he began to accept that his life was coming to an end, he left instructions that he be laid to rest at Drumcliffe Graveyard, located barely 4km from the mountain that inspired his work throughout his lifetime.
from Under Ben Bulben (1938-39)
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
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Longitude: 54.362335 Latitude: -8.502346
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