When Dylan Thomas took to the poitín in Donegal

Dylan Thomas in 1946. The poet and playwright died seven years later, aged 39. Photograph: Francis Reiss/Getty Images

Dylan Thomas in 1946. The poet and playwright died seven years later, aged 39. Photograph: Francis Reiss/Getty Images

THE centenary of the birth of Wales’ most famous literary son Dylan Thomas, was celebrated across the world on Monday, without mention of his time spent in Donegal.

He was born on October 27, 1914 in Swansea, and died on November 9, 1953, after reportedly drinking himself to death in New York.


The anniversary of his birth was not marked here, despite the poet spending the summer of 1935 near Glencolmcille, “recuperating” from the ravages of drink.

“Ten miles from the nearest human being…and as lonely as Christ,” he wrote of his experience.

He was brought from the bright lights of London to the isolated Glen Lough, a two hour walk from the nearest road, by his agent Geoffrey Grigson.

However, little did Grigson realise that Glen Lough, a lonely valley overlooking the Atlantic, was also “the capital of poitín making” in Donegal.

Termon school teacher, Mr Christy Gillespie, is somewhat of an expert on Glen Lough – he has been researching a book on the area for the past eight years.

During Thomas’ time there, Mr Gillespie explained, he rented an old cow barn which had been converted by the famous American artist, Rockwell Kent, in 1926.

The barn was located at the home of Dan and Rose Ward. One of Kent’s most famous paintings is the iconic ‘Dan Ward’s Stack.’


Mr Gillespie, who was interviewed by BBC Wales about Thomas this week, spoke to the Donegal News on Wednesday about what he discovered about the young poet’s time in south west Donegal.

He explained that Thomas moved from Swansea to London to further his writing career, however, he hit the bottle there, so Grigson decided to bring him somewhere with less temptations.

“According to his letters, Grigson said he was going to take Thomas away somewhere new, ‘maybe Ireland’,” he said.

“They travelled to the train’s end which was Killybegs, then on to Glencolmcille where they lodged in what is now known as Roarty’s Bar in Cashel village. While drinking in the bar, locals told them of Glen Lough and how Rockwell Kent had spent some time there. They travelled to Glen Lough where Dan and Rose Ward offered to rent them Kent’s converted cow shed.

“Grigson’s intention was to get Thomas away from the bright lights of London for a recuperation holiday, but little did he know that he had brought him to the poitín making capital of Donegal.”

For full report, see this Friday’s print edition of the Donegal News.


Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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