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Nobel Laureate's supporters petition against road through land of his birth

Published 07/09/2016

Marie Heaney the widow of poet laureate Seamus Heaney, with a bust of her late husband
Marie Heaney the widow of poet laureate Seamus Heaney, with a bust of her late husband

An online petition which claims that plans to build a dual carriageway through the land of Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney's birth will "annihilate" the area has gathered nearly 300 signatures.

The landscape inspired the seminal Digging by the famous poet as well as other masterpieces.

Now the authorities in Northern Ireland want to build a road through Anahorish and Mossbawn - setting for some of his best-known work - as part of improved transport links between the country's two main cities.

The petition said: "Carrying 22,000 vehicles per day, the huge motorway construction stands to utterly annihilate the pastoral features and recurring place names of Heaney's writing."

The poet died in Dublin in 2013 and is buried in his home village in the area, Bellaghy.

Chris Hazzard, the minister at Stormont's powersharing Executive overseeing the project, has said the chosen road alignment minimised the impact on the local community.

The intention is to cut journey times on the arterial route between Belfast and Londonderry and eliminate a major bottleneck. Mr Hazzard said more than 18,000 drivers used the road every day.

According to campaigners it passes within 100 metres of the Heaney home, Mossbawn, setting for countless poems, and opponents claimed it will permanently destroy the scenic landscape surrounding it.

Places immortalised in Heaney's poetry include Anahorish, the Broagh, Hillhead, Lagan's Road and the Strand at Lough Beg.

The petition author claimed they could be permanently altered and "brutalised".

Digging, the early poem by Heaney, would go on to become one of his best-known early works.

He recounted a memory of his father digging potatoes in the family farmland of Mossbawn.

Reflecting on the proposed development a decade ago, Heaney said an alternative possibility to take the new road through an old aerodrome where there is an industrial estate would not be as much of a wound on the ecology.

Mr Hazzard said his Infrastructure Department was acutely aware of the importance of the heritage sites relating to Heaney and paid attention to all objections raised.

He added: "The new dual carriageway is a fair and reasonable balance of engineering, environmental and economic considerations, showing respect for the historic landscape."

The decision was endorsed by an independent inspection nearly a decade ago.

The minister said: "I remain open to new ways in which we can move forward on this issue.

"However, over 18,000 drivers use the road on a daily basis and the A6 development is an essential and regionally balanced way forward for the North West.

"The chosen alignment minimises the impact of severance upon the local community through which it passes.

"Other route options would have had a more detrimental impact upon this community and still would have affected landscape associated with Seamus Heaney's work."

The Seamus Heaney HomePlace visitors centre in Bellaghy is due to open at the end of the month.

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