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Prince Charles hails 'outstanding' Seamus Heaney on visit to Northern Ireland

 

By Donna Deeney

Prince Charles began a two-day visit to Northern Ireland by paying tribute to Seamus Heaney, whom he described as "one of the most outstanding poets of our time".

Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall made their first stop in a busy schedule at the Homeplace arts and literary centre dedicated to the poet laureate in his native Bellaghy, Co Londonderry.

The Prince revealed he had commissioned a musical composition in Irish, English and Ulster Scots by Neil Martin, which was due to be performed in Hillsborough Castle last night.

He added: "I hope in some way, therefore, that this work will help show how our varied histories, voices and traditions can create all the greater harmony when they come together.

"After all, it is differences that make harmony possible, even as it is the barriers that have been overcome to make friendship all the stronger."

A small gathering of local people lined the railings outside the centre and greeted the royal couple as they emerged from their car into the warm sunshine.

Seamus Heaney's widow Marie and children Michael, Chris and Catherine, were on hand to show the Prince and Duchess around the centre, along with the late poet's brothers, Hugh, Colm, Dan and Charlie.

Prince Charles has been a long time admirer of Heaney's work - and recorded his The Shipping Forecast for last year's National Poetry Day, which he then sent to Homeplace.

The royal couple were joined by more than 100 distinguished guests in the Helicon, an intimate 190-seat performance theatre in Homeplace named after a mountain in Greece and designed with a nod to the Greek theatre Heaney loved.

A performance by pupils from Rainey Endowed School, Magherafelt, of an excerpt from Heaney's The Burial At Thebes brought a note of unintentional humour when the crown worn by Oedipus fell off the actor's head and rolled across the floor, landing at the feet of Prince Charles.

Both Charles and Camilla took immense pleasure in the performance of a piece of music by Londonderry-born musical director Frank Gallagher, with both royals tapping their feet in time with the music.

The Prince told the musicians that he "was full of envy" of their talent. He also spoke on his love of the arts and literature and the importance both have to him.

"I had the privilege of meeting Seamus Heaney when, despite his busy schedule, he very generously accepted my invitation to teach at the literature summer school run by my teaching institute.

"It was my conviction then - and it still remains - that art and literature are utterly essential to understanding what it is to be human.

"That is why I am so glad that one of the most outstanding poets of our time and one whose work I admire so greatly was prepared to come and share his vision.

"Despite the praise and the prizes, he never forgot the place that was the centre of his ever-widening circle of friendship and understanding … it was this place, above all else, that was the never-failing source of his vision."

The Prince commended the staff and those behind Homeplace.

"It is clear that you have reciprocated the tremendous pride that your famous son felt for his native soil," he said.

"What is encouraging too is the way in which this centre, like Seamus Heaney's work itself, reached out across different communities, different cultures and different nations finding as he did a universal voice with the accent of a particular place."

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