The funerals of W. B. Yeats, 1939 and 1948

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WB YeatsWilliam Butler Yeats (1865-1939), poet and dramatist, senator of the Irish Free State, Nobel Prize laureate, founder of the Abbey Theatre and guiding light of the Irish literary revival, died at Rocquebrune, in the hills above Monaco, in the South of France on 28 January 1939. Yeats was a delicate child, and as an adult he suffered from a series of complaints; on medical advice his spent many of his winters in Italy and the South of France from 1927 onwards. In the winter of 1938 he left Ireland for the Riviera as his health was failing, and his death occurred the following January. His funeral and burial took place at Rocquebrune.

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WB Yeats . Yeats Funeral

After the Second World War it was decided to repatriate Yeats's remains and in September 1948 a government corvette, Macha, was sent to return his body to Ireland. On 17 September the casket containing the body of W.B. Yeats was landed at Galway and driven in procession to Sligo. People lined the roadways to bid a last farewell to the poet. Yeats was given a state funeral and he is buried in Sligo, in the churchyard of Drumcliffe, where his great-grandfather was rector, and where he spent his childhood summers with his grandparents, 'under bare Ben Bulben's head'. His gravestone is inscribed with his own words:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

The newspaper coverage paints a vivid pen picture of the funeral procession through the countryside from Galway to Sligo. The photograph shows the lying-in-state in the hearse outside Sligo County Hallwith a military guard of honour and the Mayor of Sligo officiating at the ceremony. William's brother, Jack B. Yeats, can be seen on the steps carrying a wreath of flowers.

Irish Times 1948Irish Independent 1948

Read the newspaper accounts in the Reading Room at Dublin City Library & Archive.

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