Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Seamus Heaney: They sit, read his poems and take time to reflect

Seamus Heaney, pictured in 1995
Seamus Heaney, pictured in 1995
21/12/2011: Irish Nobel laureate Dr Seamus Heaney with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, today handed over his literary papers to the National Library of Ireland
21/12/2011: Irish Nobel laureate Dr Seamus Heaney with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, today handed over his literary papers to the National Library of Ireland
10/09/2009: Poet Seamus Heaney at Lyric Threshold Stone unveiling at the widely recognised Lyric Theatre as the unveiling of the threshold stone highlights the progress that has been made with the construction of the new theatre
10/09/2009: Poet Seamus Heaney at Lyric Threshold Stone unveiling at the widely recognised Lyric Theatre as the unveiling of the threshold stone highlights the progress that has been made with the construction of the new theatre

A fortnight ago Bellaghy was a quiet country village much like any other, but just a week after the sad passing of its most famous son there are signs that country life here will never be the same.

In the graveyard beside St Mary's church tucked neatly beside a dry stone wall and sheltered by the branches of a large sycamore tree is the final resting place of Seamus Heaney.

It was his wish that he was buried near his family plot and it is here that a steady stream of people come all day and into the night to pay their respects to this man recognised the word over as one of the greatest Irish poets.

They come and stand to pay their respects, say a prayer and take time to read the note on his grave written by Marie Burns who was to play her harp for Seamus in Belfast's Linenhall Library on September 8.

It reads:

"We will cross worlds

Not cross words

Catriona Morran and her daughter Hannah at Seamus Heaney's graveside
A tribute bottle of 'Writers Tears' in Bellaghy
Nuala Quinn from Portstewart recites the Seamus Heaney poem Digging

We will say that the bell

Means beautiful

And Bellaghy is the field

So now you are in

A beautiful field

Indeed with my dictionary

It may be clay

You are back

From whence you came

Your feet in clay

Your words set in stone."

A tiny bottle of whiskey with the label 'Writer's Tears' rests between the wreaths while the sides are festooned with bouquets and bunches of carnations, lillies and roses.

A freshly crafted St Brigid's cross is at his head and a blessed candle flickers.

Day and night people come to the graveside from far and near.

They sit, read their favourite poem, play music and take time to reflect just what Seamus Heaney meant to them.

Nuala Quinn and Maureen Roddy came to do just that.

Nuala had a copy of the textbook of Seamus Heaney's poems that she used for her O-Level English exams.

It is faded and marked but she read aloud from the book over the author's grave.

Among those gathering yesterday was Peter Dynes from Coalisland who said: "I was travelling nearby and made the detour because I just wanted to pay my respects to this great man.

"I wasn't a great poetry man but Seamus Heaney was special and what made him special was his ordinariness.

"He was a man of the country like myself."

Graham Elliot arrived in Ireland from his home in Germany and he came to Bellaghy for two reasons.

He wanted to pay his own respects but he was here on behalf of his friend who lives in Chicago.

Mr Ellitot said: "My friends teaches Irish literature so I thought it would be a good thing for me to come here and take some photographs until he can get here himself.

"I like that people are coming here. I think that it will comfort the family and I think that it won't be just a tourist thing," he said.

"I think people genuinely care."

Caoimhe Kennedy lives on the same road where Seamus grew up in Anahorish and attended the same primary school. Like so many of the people of Bellaghy who were also at the grave, she is pleased people are visiting.

She said: "I was at Yeats' grave in Sligo not so long ago and I suppose this grave will be the same now. It is happening already but I hope that whatever way it is handled the essence of how things are is not lost.

"The grave is simplistic, not ornate or fussy and that was Seamus Heaney and I think it would be fitting if that remained."

Perhaps there is no better tribute on Seamus Heaney's grave than the panel of turf that runs central to the grass echoing one of his best loved poems, Digging.

PJ Rea was the man tasked with this digging last Sunday, a job he described as a "privilege and an honour".

He said: "I was here last Sunday when I dug the grave for Seamus and I have been here every day since. I have to say I'm a bit surprised by the crowds, they are here non-stop.

"I came here at eight o'clock on Thursday morning thinking I would get the grave tended but there were already seven people at his grave.

"I don't know what Seamus would have made of it but I think he might be pleased enough."

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