Written by Bob Geldof and historian and Yeats scholar Roy Foster, this landmark two-part documentary examines WB Yeats’ life and work in the context of the cultural revolution that preceded 1916.
“One hundred years ago, a handful of Irishmen and women rose up against the British Empire. A six-day rebellion that ended in their execution and elevation to near-sainthood. But are they Ireland’s greatest heroes? Is the GPO Ireland’s most sacred place? To me, it represents the birth of a pious, bitter and narrow-minded version of Ireland I couldn’t wait to escape.
But there was another version of Ireland, dreamt up by a poet… His vision was mythical, romantic, truly heroic and beautiful. That was the Ireland I could never leave behind.”
In this two-part documentary – commissioned by RTÉ as part of a season of documentaries marking the role that artists played in reinventing Ireland in the decades before the Rising – Bob Geldof traces how W.B. Yeats led the way in imagining a new, proud, strong Ireland into being after the Famine – and how, after centuries of colonial oppression, he gave the people of Ireland back a story they could believe in and fight for.
“As Gogarty said, ‘there is no Free State without Yeats. By which he meant that Ireland doesn’t exist without the poet.”
Geldof traces W.B. Yeats’ life, from his earliest family trips to Rosses’ Point in Sligo – which awakened a lifelong love of fairy tales and folklore – via international fame as the poet laureate of an emerging Ireland, to his Nobel Prize and role as Senator in the new Free State.
Controversially, he contends that Yeats deserves a place ahead of the martyrs of 1916 – because, he argues, rather than sacrifice his life for Ireland, Yeats stayed alive to fight for a secular, just and truly inclusive Ireland.
Through performances of some of Yeats’ most iconic poems by leading Irish and British cultural figures, Geldof reveals how Yeats and others built the scaffolding of a new independent Ireland decades before the Rising – but how Yeats’ vision for a modern, pluralist, inclusive Ireland was pushed aside by the narrow-minded Catholic élite of the new Free State: the “Banana Republic” that Geldof in turn rebelled against half a century later.
A Fanatic Heart is a captivating tale of mythology, nation-building, insurgency and disillusion – and how one man dreamed an entire country out of the ravages of famine and into a new dawn.
With performances of Yeats’ poems by Sting, Noel Gallagher, Edna O’Brien, Bono, Van Morrison, Olivia O’Leary, Liam Neeson, Stephen Fry, Dominic West, Richard E. Grant, Bill Nighy, Anne Enright, Colin Farrell, Ardal O’Hanlon, Shane MacGowan and more.