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Poignant tribute as Heaney's widow unveils portrait of poet at Stormont

By Laura Abernethy

Published 25/11/2015

Marie Heaney with the portrait of her husband
Marie Heaney with the portrait of her husband
The portraits of Heaney and CS Lewis

Seamus Heaney's widow has told how unveiling a portrait of her late husband at Stormont yesterday was all the more touching because he was not there to see it.

The painting was revealed alongside one of CS Lewis as politicians honoured two of our greatest literary figures.

Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin said the portraits were very different to the Assembly's existing art collection in that they were not of politicians.

Bellaghy-born Heaney died in August 2013 after an illness, and yesterday his family, friends and politicians paid tribute to the Nobel laureate.

His widow Marie said: "My feelings are ones of pleasure and happiness that he is being honoured here in Stormont, but there is, as always, a real poignancy that he's not here to share it. He would have been a little shy, but he would have been so pleased.

"I think the portrait is terrific. It's done him justice and emphasised his benign side."

The piece, by local artist Ross Wilson, features a quotation by the poet: "Believe that a further shore is reachable from here."

The painting was proposed in 2013 by MLA Patsy McGlone, who yesterday said: "It is a privilege to be associated with this portrait. It was tinged with sadness but it was also a great honour to be able to propose an event such as this."

The portrait of Lewis was unveiled by the Reverend Roy Taylor from Millise, who attended lectures by Lewis at Cambridge.

He said: "He was very concerned for his students. There was a time when I was writing a thesis, so I wrote to him and he wrote back. Later on I needed some more information, so I wrote to him again and again he wrote back. I still have those two letters.

"I was surprised to be asked to unveil the painting, but it was a joy to be here. He would have been very surprised that all this fuss was going on 52 years after his death."

Lewis, who was born in Belfast in 1898, is best known for his Chronicles Of Narnia series, which have sold 100 million-plus copies in 47 languages. He also held academic positions at Oxford and Cambridge until his death in 1963.

His portrait was proposed by Sammy Douglas MLA, and carries a quote reading: "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

Mr Douglas said: "We are celebrating two of Northern Ireland's most famous and beloved sons. They are renowned figures in the world of literature. I'm delighted that they will be celebrated with these works of art."

Artist Wilson, who also worked on the CS Lewis centenary sculpture in east Belfast, added: "It's a great honour to be here today. Seamus Heaney always encouraged me.

"When you approached him, his hands were always open. He was such a giving person.

"The quotations on the portraits are almost like psalms. They are words of wisdom, and we should take those words to heart. They are words from great men."

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