Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Seamus Heaney Homeplace Opening Weekend

               The foyer of the Seamus Heaney Homeplace, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland.

It was with marvellous serendipity that I happened to be in Ireland and able to go to the opening of the Seamus Heaney Homeplace - not far from my sister's home. So we two drove up to Bellaghy for the Saturday of a weekend of great events.

A statue of a man digging is the first thing we noticed as we entered the village (of course a reference to Seamus' most famous poem). The Homeplace is like a vast cattle shed as you approach - appropriate enough though rather ugly, but turning the corner to its front it's not too bad.

Inside is wonderful - a lovely photo of Himself greets you at the entrance to the exhibition and upstairs is more of the exhibition and a theatre/conference hall and cafe. The exhibition is charming - they have his school desk, complete with bench and ink well and his well-worn dufflecoat.  Photos of his family and locals up against relevant poems in large print. You can listen to the soft burr of his voice on an audio 'wand' reading the poems. I was moved to read again the poem, 'Half-Term Break', about Seamus' younger brother, Christopher, who was killed by a car and to see a photo of all the children, including Christopher who has blonde tousled hair and is being restrained by an older sibling as if the child, with the irrepressible energy and restlessness of a 4-year old was about to run off.

Upstairs we watched a video of Seamus at the Nobel Prize ceremony and saw the impressive phallanx of waiters coming down the sweeping stairs with silver platters held aloft, and then Seamus reciting his poem about the silent intimacy with his mum peeling potatoes. What a wonderfully humane and down-to-earth man he was, to read a poem of such simplicity about the most basic and important things in life - the love of mother and son - at such a prestigious ceremony, when a lesser man might have been tempted to recite something pretentious. There were also photos of Seamus in his writing attic with the skylight behind (with the relevant poem nearby) and several portraits.

We heard the poets Tom Paulin and Christopher Reed, the latter also Seamus' editor at Faber, reminisce about Seamus  but did not manage to attend other events - our own family matters, like getting my nephew to his rowing practice, being of uttermost importance. I'm sure Seamus' benevolent eye looking down on us would approve.

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