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Annual Joe Hassett Yeats Lecture marks the Nobel Prize 100th anniversary

The National Library of Ireland will host the annual Joseph Hassett Yeats Lecture on Tuesday, 13th June at 7pm.

Tuesday, 13 June 2023
 Margaret Kelleher delivering a lecture at the NLI

The lecture, delivered by Prof. Margaret Kelleher marks the 100th anniversary of Yeats receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, and is entitled “Ireland's Interpreter and Europe's Welcome: WB Yeats and the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1923”. It will also be livestreamed.

Each year, with the support of lawyer, literary scholar and philanthropist Joseph Hassett, the National Library offers a keynote lecture marking the birth of WB Yeats on 13th June 1865. The lecture is inspired by the National Library’s long-running exhibition The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats, which showcases the largest collection of Yeats material in the world, including his Nobel Prize medal.

In November 1923, via a phone message from The Irish Times, WB Yeats received the news of his Nobel Prize in Literature award, to be conferred in Sweden a month later. In his citation, the Nobel Prize chair described Yeats as 'the interpreter of his country' while Yeats described the prize as 'Europe's welcome to the Free State'. One hundred years on, Chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at University College Dublin, Professor Margaret Kelleher will discuss the significance of Yeats' Nobel Prize, the reactions it generated and its longer-term legacy.

Commenting ahead of the event, Director of the National Library of Ireland, Dr Audrey Whitty said: “The National Library of Ireland holds the world’s largest collection of material relating to WB Yeats. Our stunning permanent exhibition allows visitors to explore Yeats’ many interests, including Ireland, literature, folklore, theatre, politics, mysticism, and the occult. Exhibition highlights include his Nobel Prize medal, as well as manuscripts of many of his most beloved poems, including “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “Easter, 1916”. It also includes personal artefacts and remarkable photographs of him with his family and friends.  Yeats was, of course, also a frequent visitor to the National Library of Ireland, so we are always exploring new ways to share his work.

“This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of WB Yeats’ work being recognised by the Nobel Academy. This accolade came at a time of great turmoil in Ireland – a nascent State that had endured a tumultuous number of years and was just emerging from a civil war.  This lecture will share the story of how WB Yeats’ cultural achievements assisted Ireland’s new identity in the world.”

Professor Kelleher added: “In his last will and testament in 1895, scientist and inventor Alfred Nobel decreed that the bulk of his estate - worth an equivalent of over €200m today - be divided into five parts, to be used for prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. In 1923, WB Yeats was awarded that prize ‘for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation’. On what would have been Yeats’ 158th birthday, we will explore this renowned prize - from the stipulations (some of which are controversial) in Alfred Nobel’s will, to the nomination process, to the other candidates in 1922, reaction to Yeats’ success in 1923, and its long-term significance.”

Tickets for this lecture are free and can be booked here. The event will also be livestreamed. Details of how to register for the livestream can be found here.

The Yeats’ exhibition The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats is housed at the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street, Dublin 2. Attendance is free and visitors are welcome to drop in during opening hours. Check www.nli.ie for further details.



A video recording of the 2023 lecture is available here.