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Ireland shrugs off French riddle over Nobel laureate W.B. Yeats remains
Photographic portrait of William Butler Yeats by Alice Broughton. Platinum print.

By: Conor Barrins

DUBLIN (AFP).- A trove of documents from a French chateau has cast doubt on the remains of beloved Irish poet W.B. Yeats but fans have shrugged off the controversy and said there is no doubt as to his spiritual home.

The Nobel laureate died in southern France in 1939 but because of legal issues and the outbreak of World War II it wasn't until 1948 before a coffin said to carry his remains was repatriated to Ireland.

For over six decades, the site of the poet's grave in a picturesque country churchyard in Drumcliffe in northwest Ireland has been a literary landmark in Ireland, attracting thousands of tourists every year.

Yeats had strong family connections to the area and a simple grey headstone over his grave contains some of the Nobel-winning poet's verses as an epitaph: "Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death/ Horseman, pass by."

Senator Susan O’Keefe, who chairs the Yeats 2015 celebrations for the 150th anniversary of his birth, said the newly uncovered documents confirm a long-held uncertainty about "the provenance of the bones."

But, like many Yeats enthusiasts in Ireland, she said she was against further examination of the remains.

"I personally would leave it," she told AFP, adding: "In a sense that's where his soul is."

'Impossible' to return remains
Yeats died at the age of 73 in a hotel in what is now Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in southern France, an idyllic town on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean.

According to an official document in the correspondence, which was first published in the Irish Times this month, Yeats was initially buried in a mass grave for unexplained reasons.

The remains were then exhumed after World War II in 1946 and mixed with other bones in an ossuary.

A French foreign ministry official who was tasked with investigating the location of Yeats' remains wrote in his 1948 report that "it is impossible to return the full and authentic remains of Mr Yeats."

The documents were held by Jacques Camille Paris, a famous French diplomat who went on to become the first secretary general of the Council of Europe.

They were found in a trunk in the family chateau by his son Daniel Paris who presented them to the Irish embassy in Paris last month and they have since been authenticated by the French foreign ministry.

"Historians should compare the documents to what was already known. It is not for the embassy to comment on their contents," an embassy spokeswoman said.

They have reignited a decades-long controversy about the poet's final resting place, which Yeats' children Anne and Michael dismissed in a 1988 letter.

"There is indeed nothing to discuss since we are satisfied beyond doubt that our father's body is indeed buried in Drumcliffe Cemetery," they wrote.

'Not really in there' 
Yeats, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, is a national icon in Ireland, particularly in County Sligo where Drumcliffe is located and which played a pivotal role in much of his work.

In the county, where many of the anniversary events are taking place this year, local enthusiasts have been unperturbed by the latest reports.

"My reaction was not one of complete surprise," said Michael Carty, organiser of an annual Yeats festival named "Tread Softly" which begins later this month. 

"The reality is that county Sligo is the spiritual home of W.B. Yeats. It always has been and always will be," he said.

Stella Mew, a former head of the Yeats Society, said the reports were "casting something of a shadow" over anniversary celebrations.

"Drumcliffe is where he wanted to be commemorated and that's where he is commemorated. Nothing changes.

"The spirit of Yeats is what matters and that's just as vibrant as it ever was."

Illustrator Annie West, who lives close to Drumcliffe graveyard and once worked as a warden of the church, said the mystery made Yeats more interesting.

"It kind of makes the whole thing very spicy and international and mysterious," said West, who last year published a book taking a wry look at Yeats' unrequited love for Irish patriot Maud Gonne.

"I used to have an enormous amount of fun with tours because I'd sneak up behind the visitors at the grave and say: 'You know he's not really in there.'"

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

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