3. W.B. Yeats may be regarded as one of Ireland’s literary greats, but the way he used his talents to pen marching songs for fascists will forever taint his legacy.
William Butler Yeats, often known as W.B. Yeats, was one of the giants of 20th century literature. The Irishman was one of his country’s greatest poets, with a keen interest in his country’s rich past as well as in the occult. Yeats was also a deeply political figure. He was a lifelong Irish Nationalist, writing prose supporting independence during the 1920s. During the 1930s, however, Yeats became increasingly authoritarian in his politics. For him, the ‘people’ could not be trusted. Democracy was for the weak, and a strong arm was needed. Unsurprisingly, then, Yeats was attracted by far-right movements springing up across Europe, including in his native Ireland.
Yeats was a vocal supporter of the far-right Blueshirts movement that emerged in the Irish Free State at the start of the decade. The poet saw in the movement’s leader Eoin O’Duffy the strongman the newly-independent Ireland needed, a homegrown Mussolini capable of keeping Ireland Catholic, well-ordered and free from Communism. Though no street fighter himself, Yeats helped the only way he could, by writing marching songs for the Blueshirts. Within a few years, however, he had become disillusioned, and publicly denounced the group as amateurish. Even then, however, Yeats maintained his distrust of democracy right up until his death in 1939.