Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

A slow lament played and a swallow dived as Bellaghy's honoured son came home

The funeral cortege is led through Bellaghy by a piper
The funeral cortege is led through Bellaghy by a piper

Bellaghy's favourite son has come home again. The late poet laureate was welcomed to the place where his roots lie for the last time by hundreds of villagers, friends and lifelong followers, who lined the streets or packed into the cemetery of the south Derry village.

From late afternoon onwards, school children in their uniforms and mothers with their prams waited at the village's Diamond for the poet's funeral procession to pass their way.

Life continued as normal until shortly after 4pm, when shops shut and people gathered solemnly on doorsteps or perched on walls, and children lined the streets outside the local primary schools.

Mourners standing among the headstones in the cemetery stopped their subdued chatting as a lone piper appeared at the brow of the hill, leading the funeral procession.

Seamus Heaney's burial could have been a scene from one of his poems.

In the country graveyard of St Mary's Church, on a golden September afternoon, people watched the late poet's sons carry his coffin, followed by his widow Marie, daughter Catherine Ann and his brothers.

Parish priest Fr Andrew Dolan told mourners the poet who "never really left Bellaghy" had come home.

"The parish is honoured that Seamus Heaney chose to be buried here. The name Seamus Heaney and this place will be forever entwined," he said.

"Today we proudly and warmly welcome him back home in south Derry. We are privileged to be able to fulfil this right of burial, Seamus's deepest wish, that he be buried here, in the place that he never left, really, and among the people who influenced him so much."

People travelled miles to pay their final respects to Heaney.

Friends joined literary, music and political figures, including playwright Brian Friel, singer-songwriter Paul Brady, former SDLP leader John Hume, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan.

"May the green sod of Bellaghy rest gently upon him," Fr Dolan told mourners.

"May he continue to exercise a strong influence in all our lives now and the lives of countless people for generations to come. I'm sure many will come here in prayer, in tribute and in study as well."

A sense of symmetry ran through yesterday's burial ceremony.

As Seamus Heaney was laid to rest beside his late parents, musicians played the slow Co Kerry air Port Na bPucai.

The musicians were Neil Martin, an old friend of Heaney's, and Liam Og O'Flynn, who joined Heaney for The Poet And The Piper in one of the poet's last public performances last month.

A swallow circled and swooped overhead as the haunting tune lingered, a detail which would not have been lost on the late poet.

People left floral tributes on his grave – as well as a green bottle with a message inside.

Among the mourners was Peter Gallagher, a contemporary of Heaney's who was one of the few to accompany him through school at St Columb's College, their university course and later training.

"Sixty-two years ago to this day we started school together," Mr Gallagher recalled.

The pair stayed friends and Heaney later wrote a poem set in the Gaeltacht which mentioned Peter's wife.

"It was a lovely service and a glorious rustic setting; just so much in keeping with so much of Seamus Heaney's own work," Mark Durkan said.

The Foyle MP quoted lines from Heaney's poem The Road To Derry in the House of Commons three years ago, on publication of the Saville report into Bloody Sunday.

"I noticed when Liam Og started to play, a swallow came out and hovered and swooped and then went off, and I remember thinking, 'what would Seamus Heaney have done with that?'" he added.

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