Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Seamus Heaney: United in grief as village prepares to bid farewell to one of their own

Seamus – For digging, thank-you', reads an anonymous card at the gates of Bellaghy Parish cemetery. The sympathy card lay on the grass, beside a small bunch of red carnations, not far from the late poet's family grave.

Signs of Seamus Heaney are all over the south Derry village of his childhood. The cast iron man bending over his spade greets people as they enter, a sculpture inspired by Digging, one of his most famous poems.

Yards down the road, a steady stream of people pulled up to the Old School Centre yesterday to leave their their final words for the late Nobel Laureate.

"You always remembered where you came from," Dolores Mulholland wrote in a book of condolences.

"Thank-you for speaking and writing so beautifully about this lovely townland and for making Bellaghy people so proud of you," Bronagh Currie added in the black book, which was placed under a framed photograph of the poet.

"What a loss for Bellaghy and Ireland. Your legacy will live on for years to come," another couple penned.

Others spoke on a more personal note.

"You will always be remembered in our house and thanks for your help to our family over the years. Be happy in heaven," the McKenna family wrote.

Adrian Diamond remembered Heaney's Hailstones, which mentioned Diamond's grandfather. "True legend," he added.

The same traits were mentioned by people in Bellaghy.

"You were 'the giver'. Remembered with love and gratitude," one villager said.

"He was a gracious, lovely man," Mary, a family friend from Bellaghy, said.

"I was privileged to know him. He was a very gentle man. He was always the same, he never forgot where he came from. He was just gracious and humane.

"I have been struggling to keep back the tears over the last three days and I don't know why. Everybody is so proud of him here.

"You felt you knew him and he knew you."

Another woman from the village, who did not want to be named, said: "We are honoured that he came from Bellaghy and wrote a lot about Bellaghy and all of us read his poems.

"He came to the school I work in for a book signing and he was so down-to-earth and lovely."

Erin Mullan (13) left her poem beside the book of condolences, which reworked Heaney's Digging from his late father's point of view.

"As I turn the soil I wonder about our son, Our Seamus, I wish and pray he will have a life he will enjoy," the Year 9 pupil wrote.

Erin's mother Saoirse said: "I went to Anahorish Primary School (which Heaney attended) and my children did too.

"We all did his poems. It was everything about Seamus. He was a very humble person and his work was about Bellaghy and the outlying areas.

"There was total shock here on Friday, total disbelief."

The poet laureate had been due to attend a poetry weekend in nearby Magherafelt.

He will be buried in his family's plot at St Mary's cemetery in Bellaghy today, following a funeral Mass in Donnybrook, Dublin.

A book of condolences will open at Queen's University this morning.

People gathered at the Heaney family's grave on a gusty September afternoon yesterday.

"He was a gentle man and a great ambassador," a villager said.

"Bellaghy over the years was brought into the news for all the wrong reasons but Seamus brought it into the news for all the right reasons.

"I have travelled the world and people knew about him. I knew a man who worked for the company I worked for – he was from South Carolina but he was Nordic. His son put Seamus' poetry to Nordic rhyme."

He added: "I knew Seamus' father, Paddy. It was no surprise that he turned out the way he has because his father, Paddy, had a great turn of phrase. If something was happening in the area that was a topic of conversation, he could sum it up in a couple of lines."