Drumcliffe is a village in County Sligo, Ireland, 8 km north of Sligo town on the N15 road on a low gravel ridge between the mountain of Ben Bulben and Drumcliff bay. It is best known as the final resting place of WB Yeats and the monastic site.
Sligo was the inspiration for many of WB Yeats’ poetry. Drumcliffe is featured at the end of one of his final poems:
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!
Under Ben Bulben
St Colmcille founded a monastery in the 6th Century which is the site of three high Crosses and a round tower. This monastery is central to the ‘Battle of the Books’, said to be one of the earliest conflicts over copyright.
According to tradition, Saint Columba copied a manuscript owned by Saint Finnian who then disputed his right to keep the copy. King Diarmait mac Cerbaill gave the judgement, “To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.”
The largest of the three high crosses is located at the edge of the graveyard, next to the car park. This high cross is made of sandstone and stands 3.83 metres high. The cross features depictions from the bible including Presentation in the Temple, the Crucifixion, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Daniel in the Lions’ Den.
The oldest remaining building on the monastic site is the round tower, which was built around 1095, and damaged by lightning in 1396. It is thought that this was a bell tower, originally standing at 30 meters high.