Bedford Park's 'Most Talented Irish Family'

Irish Ambassador gives sell-out lecture on the Yeats family's connection with Chiswick


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The early intellectual life of Bedford Park, with “the most talented Irish family to live in England” at its heart, namely the family of William Butler Yeats, was recalled by the Irish Ambassador, Dan Mulhall at a packed lecture in Chiswick this week.

Mr. Mulhall was in Chiswick to give the annual John Betjeman lecture, which is organised by the Bedford Park Society.

Bedford Park's 'Most Talented Irish Family'

Quoting copiously from William Butler Yeats’s poetry, the Ambassador alternately charmed and informed a packed theatre at Arts Educational School. The lecture was a sell-out, with queues waiting hopefully for returned tickets. Most were accommodated, but some had to stand for the lecture

Using no visual aids, Dan Mulhall conjured up the early intellectual life of Bedford Park, with “the most talented Irish family to live in England” at its heart.

The Yeats family travelled frequently between Ireland and London, where they rented 8 Woodstock Road between 1876 and 1881, then 3 Blenheim Road from 1888 to 1902; the latter is commemorated by a Bedford Park Society green plaque.

The most famous family member was poet, occultist, and Irish nationalist sympathiser, W B Yeats (1865-1939). He wrote many of his best-known poems in Bedford Park, including The Lake Isle of Innisfree. And it was in the garden suburb that he met the love of his life, beautiful Irish revolutionary Maude Gonne.

Described by Dan Mulhall as “a glorious failure”, W B’s father, John Butler Yeats (1839-1922), gave up the law to become an artist. His chief skill lay in talking. He became a member of the Calumet discussion club which attracted local characters, ranging from Irish doctor and writer John Todhunter, to Russian anarchist Sergius Stepniak. His son, Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957), was a highly talented illustrator and leading modernist painter.

John Butler Yeats’s two daughters, Susan Mary, known as Lily (1866-1949) and Elizabeth Corbett, known as Lollie (1868-1940), may have been overshadowed by their brothers, but they were often the family’s sole breadwinners. Lily worked with May Morris, daughter of William Morris, in her embroidery shop in Hammersmith, later setting up a craft guild in Dublin.
Lollie taught in Chiswick schools and was also a fine artist who designed books, eventually founding the Cuala Press.

The Society’s Betjeman lectures are held annually in memory of its first patron, with profits going to the CureParkinson’s Trust as Sir John suffered from this disease.

Dan Mulhall also revealed that Betjeman had links with Ireland, having served as British attaché in Dublin during World War II, when he befriended writer and poet Patrick Kavanagh, who was WB’s successor in Dublin’s poetry circles.

Ireland's Ambassador in London since 2013, Daniel Mulhall has a lifelong interest in Irish history and literature, with a special enthusiasm for the work of W B Yeats.

December 2, 2015

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