Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Heaney bid farewell at funeral

Irish President Michael D Higgins attends the funeral of Irish poet Seamus Heaney at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin
Irish President Michael D Higgins attends the funeral of Irish poet Seamus Heaney at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny attends the funeral of Irish poet Seamus Heaney during a funeral mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook
Irish singer Shane MacGowan attends the funeral mass of Irish poet Seamus Heaney at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin, Ireland
Family members comfort each other as the coffin of Irish poet Seamus Heaney leaves the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, left, and Gerry Adams attend the funeral of Irish poet Seamus Heaney at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin

Seamus Heaney filled the world with poetry and prose, but said his goodbye with the simplest of lullabies.

Tearful tributes from a lifelong friend and a loving son recalled the person behind the poet - a modest man who could "sweep us all into his arms".

But the heavy sadness of the funeral service was pierced with sweetness and light when a string rendition of Brahms' Lullaby rang out.

His mourners - a mix of family, rock stars and the political elite - joined in a hushed and quiet humming of the dreamy children's tune, chosen by Heaney as his own farewell to the world.

His contemporary and friend of more than 40 years Paul Muldoon gave the packed church a rare and true insight into the family man - playfully known among his children as "head the ball".

He recalled Heaney's football skills - or lack thereof - and compared him to Usain Bolt when describing the speeds he could reach in running to his children if ever they were hurt.

"When he heard Catherine Ann falling in the yard, he positively sprinted," Mr Muldoon said in a heartfelt tribute to the Nobel laureate.

"He swept her up in his arms and brought her to a safe place. It was Seamus' capacity to sweep us all into his arms that we remember today."

Heaney, he said, could make everyone feel connected - his family, his friends and his legions of admirers around the world.

"He was never a man who took himself too seriously. Certainly not with his family and friends," Mr Muldoon said.

He remembered Heaney joked "blessed are the pacemakers" after he was fitted with an electronic device to monitor his heart.

And recalled how he repurposed WB Yeats' description of a bronze chariot, referring to his own Mercedes as a "brazen car".

"However the Seamus Heaney we are here to remember today might be described, brazen is not the word," Mr Muldoon said.

"Anything that smacks of ostentation would be inappropriate."

A small posy of flowers from Heaney's nearby garden and a copy of his last collection of poems - Human Chain - were offered as gifts in the service.

Heads hung low as musician Neil Martin played Brahms' Lullaby and Liam O'Flynn performed Port na bPucai - music loved by Heaney, a man of simple pleasures.

As a youngster, Heaney's son Michael was often responsible for the "head the ball" teasing.

He also laughed at his father's friends - the "movers and shakers", and famous faces visiting the family home.

One of those friends in high places was President and poet Michael D Higgins, whose sadness during the service left none in doubt of Heaney's impact.

Speaking on behalf of his mother Marie, his siblings Christopher and Catherine Ann, and the extended Heaney family, a grown-up Michael was solemn and dignified.

He praised his father's "inspiration and generosity of spirit", and revealed the last words he uttered.

There was no poetry or prose, and no lengthy monologue.

Just a simple text message containing two short words in Latin: "noli timere", meaning "do not be afraid".

The poet's final remarks - words to encourage and comfort his widow Marie - were to be simple and plain.

Much like those he had once suggested for his epitaph, when asked during a documentary what his choice would be.

A man quick to smile, he laughed and remembered a translation from Oedipus at Colonus - a response from a messenger following the murder of the old king.

"Wherever that man went, he went gratefully. Something like that," Heaney said.

"That's not an epitaph for the graveyard but it's the kind of epitaph that would work, would do."

As Heaney made his final departure from his beloved Dublin, bound for the Co Derry countryside that gave birth to much of his poetry, he left countless heartbroken in his wake.

President Higgins shed a tear as he emerged from Donnybrook's Church of the Sacred Heart.

Like countless others, he clutched the white paper programme of the poignant funeral service - a personal memento of the man who left his legacy on paper.

Musicians and broadcasters, politicians and poets - all said their final farewell with a touch of the coffin.

Passers-by on the busy road in the capital city craned their necks to see the Taoiseach chat with mourners, and artists mingle with friends.

One man saw the wooden box and flowers, bowed his head and quietly said: "Goodbye Seamus."

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