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Controversial new A6 will brutalise Heaney country, says petition

By Ivan Little

Published 07/09/2016

Celebrated: Poet Seamus Heaney
Celebrated: Poet Seamus Heaney

A campaign has been launched to force the Northern Ireland Executive to re-think its plans for the controversial new A6 road in Co Derry, with protesters claiming it will devastate huge swathes of land that inspired Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney to write some of his most famous works.

Work on the £160m dual carriageway between Randalstown and Castledawson is due to start next month, but Heaney enthusiasts have claimed that it will ruin large areas of cultural significance not only for Northern Ireland, but also for the literary world.

Part of the new road, which has been approved by Sinn Fein Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard, will be built just 100 metres from Heaney's first family home at Mossbawn, which features in many of the works of the Bellaghy-born poet, who died three years ago.

Campaigners also say that other locations whose names appear in Heaney's poems will also be permanently altered "and brutalised".

They include Anahorish, a small area named in the titles of two of Heaney's poems, the Broagh, the Hillhead, Lagan's Road, the Sluggan and the Strand at Lough Beg, which the writer said was one of his favourite views in the world.

A petition which was started by poet Stephen Connolly, a PhD student at the Seamus Heaney centre for poetry at the Queen's University, Belfast, has already attracted hundreds of signatures from academics and writers across the world, including from prominent Irish author Colm Toibin.

Campaigners have also protested that the 14.7km road will come within a short distance of protected sites at Lough Beg's wetlands, where a number of rare species will be threatened.

Heaney himself had called the proposal "a desecration" before he died.

Campaigners agreed that the road could have taken other routes, and in their statement they added: "The NI Government have blindly proceeded to railroad through these plans in one of the most culturally and environmentally devastating acts of institutionalised vandalism -upon a piece of cultural heritage cherished globally".

Copies of the petition are being sent to Mr Hazzard, Communities Minister Paul Givan and Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen.

The row comes weeks before the new Seamus Heaney Home Place centre opens in Bellaghy to celebrate the life of the poet. Sinn Fein have already heralded it as a major boost for tourism.

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