I met Seamus Heaney a number of times down the years but I didn’t know him.
I didn’t feel he wanted to know me. Regardless, I had an unbridled passion for his poetry.
I heard him read in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre last year. I was saddened to observe how he had lost a lot of that Heaney jizz.
He was competent, courteous and respectful as always but one knew the ravages of time and illness were gnawing at him.
He didn’t stop laughing, laughing at life either, in the run to his end.
One of his final duties was to the memory of his late painter friend TP Flanagan. He agreed to write the introduction to Dr Brian Kennedy’s tome on the Fermanagh painter.
Heaney loved craic.
His life long circle of friends included the late David Hammond, Basil Blackshaw and playwright Brian Friel.
Another colleague close to that circle declared to me once “they’re all foxes – you couldn’t be up to them.” Heaney would like that appellation… men putting the world to right with a wink and a nod.
Michael Longley knew Heaney for over half a century.
When I spoke to Mr Longley – within half an hour of learning of the death of his poet friend – he was a broken man, diminished by the heartbreaking news. He said:
“He was a great great poet, a dear friend and I am in shock…
“He wrote some of the best nature poems in the language. I was very pleased that a few months ago I was able to tell him that I was reading his early poems, the poems he wrote as a young man, and that they struck me as miracles, and he joked, he says ‘well they came from Bellaghy. They’d have to have been miracles’ and he continued to produce miracles right the way through his life, and there are miraculous poems in his last book ‘Human Chain.’
“I am one of thousands of people who will feel personally bereaved, I feel as though I have lost a brother.
“I just feel an emptiness that this great presence is no longer among us.”
Colin Davidson and Seamus Heaney
Heaney recently sat for Irish artist, Colin Davidson who made a portrait of him (above).
Davidson who had a window into Heaney’s soul, into which few ever had a chance to gaze, said the following:
“It is with immense personal sadness that I acknowledge the passing of Seamus Heaney. Way above the awe of his genius, it will be the memories of his generosity, warmth and encouragement that will stay with me.
‘From everywhere and nowhere.”
David Ervine and Seamus Heaney
Though living in the south of Ireland, Heaney remained anchored in the north and events impacted on him deeply as manifested in some of his writing. On the death of PUP leader David Ervine, Heaney wrote:
“Education according to the poet Robert Frost changes the plane of regard and David Ervine would have agreed. He was an exemplary man of our place and our peace, somebody who believed that where there was a right word there was a right way and acted accordingly”.
Ar lámh dheis Dé go raibh anam Shéamus Heaney.
Eamonn – Heaney wrote those words on David Ervine to be auctioned at a Foundation memorial event in 2009. Then PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde gave the memorial lecture and the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Tom Hartley attended. It was an event to remember a loyalist political leader and one-time UVF prisoner, who Heaney described as “an exemplary man of our place and our peace…somebody who believed that where there was a right word there was a right way.” I read those words again today in a political period characterised by the wrong words and the wrong ways. Those tasked with making the future should reflect on that Heaney thought about the right word being the path to the right way. I wonder who will best find and write the right words to remember this man.
Eamonn, See a piece from 2010 when I introduced Seamus Heaney at a Feile event – http://www.dannymorrison.com/?p=1655