Leonard Cohen Transcendent In Sligo
Leonard Cohen and his troupe reliably perform great concerts throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. In Ireland, however, Leonard Cohen offers something more akin to a religious experience.
That was true in 2008 and 2009 at rather ordinary or even sub-par venues; a transcendent event was inevitable when Leonard Cohen performed on the grounds of the legendary Lissadell House in Sligo, Ireland, where Yeats stayed when he visited the Gore-Booth sisters. Cohen, you see, has long professed to being an ardent admirer of Yeats – the foremost poet in a land of poets.
That vertex of artistry and culture has generated similarly poetic responses. Consider the opening of Patrick Comerford’s description of the Lissadell House concert at A night of poetry and song with Leonard Cohen in Lissadell:
There was a Mediterranean atmosphere at Lissadell House last night. Although the rain was eventually coming down in buckets, and the grounds became a mud bath, that took nothing away from the atmosphere, or from the attitude of the 10,000 people who had come to hear Leonard Cohen in concert.
It was a night of poetry and music beneath the slopes of Ben Bulben and on the shores of the Atlantic, and it lasted until midnight.
Later in his essay, Comerford,1 addresses the crux of Cohen’s performance:
But first and foremost, Leonard Cohen is a poet, and a deeply spiritual poet. And all poets, writers and journalists should be humbled and be prepared to be brought to silence by the words of his poem, If it be your will.
Writing in The Independent in May, Barry Egan observed
The last time he [Leonard Cohen] played in Dublin, John Reynolds gave him a present of a signed book by William Butler Yeats. The seed was obviously planted because Reynolds is bringing Cohen to Yeats country in Lissadell House in Sligo. Recalling his youth in Sligo, WB wrote of the times when he “wandered by the sands of Lissadell”: ‘Many a time I think to seek/One or the other out and speak/Of that old Georgian mansion, mix/Pictures of the mind, recall/ That table and the talk of youth,/Two girls in silk kimonos, both/Beautiful, one a gazelle . . .’
If the show at Lissadell House is anything like Cohen’s shows at Royal Hospital Kilmainham in 2008, it will be a visionary experience. Over three nights, the Canuck poet and soothsayer breathed new life and meaning into the songs that we knew so well — ‘Suzanne’, ‘So Long, Marianne’, ‘The Future’ and ‘First We Take Manhattan’ among them – turning them into secular prayers for the Noughties.
Cohen himself has called his songs, “muffled prayers,” adding that “it’s difficult to do the commentary on the prayer. I’m not a Talmudist, I’m more the little Jew who wrote the Bible,” [a reference to a line in ‘The Future’] “I feel it doesn’t serve the enterprise to really examine it from outside the moment.”
Ronan McGreevy, of the Irish Times adds
The mutual appreciation society that is Leonard Cohen and his Irish fans was renewed last night in the beautiful surrounds of Lissadell House in Co Sligo.
Cohen said he was honoured to have such an “historical setting” and delighted the near-capacity crowd of 10,000 by reciting WB Yeats’ poem In memory of Eva Gore Booth and Constance Markiewicz which begins
“The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both,
Beautiful, one a gazelle.”
He said he had learned the poem 50 years ago in his home town of Montreal. “I never knew my steps would take me to this place that I would receive such a welcome sheltered in the spirit of the great master,” he said referring to Yeats.
And there’s more – Eileen Battersby writes, in yesterday’s Irish Times,
People of all ages gathered, carefully corralled, to walk along a path through the woods. They walked towards the light reflecting off the water in the shadow of a great house. They came to hear a poet sing his songs in a place still associated with another, earlier poet, long dead and revered.
And, in his review for the Independent, Eamon Sweeney offers this perspective:
For the third successive summer, we’ve been blessed by the presence of Leonard Cohen. While a little bit of the shock and awe of witnessing his brilliance the first time around diminishes, a repeat viewing also presents an opportunity to fully savour the spectacle.
Cohen has been hosted in a different venue every year, but none have been as beautiful and fitting as this. Even though a large cloud nestles over the board top of Ben Bulben for the show’s duration, there still can’t be a more stunning live backdrop in Ireland.
He’s visibly moved as he takes to the stage greeted by a rapturous reception. “Thank you for inviting me back,” he humbly remarks.
Leonard Cohen and Lissadell House – surely a match made in heaven were the thoughts that crossed my mind many times over the last few months as I waited for what could be the most magical concert I’d ever be lucky enough to attend. Cohen having been a lifelong fan of the work of W.B Yeats relished the thoughts of performing there as much as we the fans relished the thoughts of seeing our hero in possibly the most amazing location possible.
Having seen Cohen live last year and that gig transcending Cohen to a god-like status in my mind I have never before felt so much excitement and impatience in the build up to a gig. Could the tantalising mixture of Cohen and Lissadell really be a recipe for a night we would never forget? The answer to that is a resounding yes. From start to finish this was the most amazing concert I’ve ever been at.
Having possibly the greatest poet of our times performing in the place that inspired his hero added a certain magic that I don’t believe I’ll ever witness again in my lifetime.
Leonard Cohen Performs Anthem, Quotes Yeats
Finally, this video reminds us that, in addition to creating this poetico-spiritual phenomenon, Leonard Cohen also gave a great concert.
Leonard Cohen – Anthem
Lissadell House, Sligo: July 31, 2010
Video from albertnoonan
Credit Due Department: The two photos of the concert were, as indicated by the captions, by Patrick Comerford. The Lissadell House photo © Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
- Or, as he is officially known, Canon Patrick Comerford, Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute [↩]