Belfast Telegraph

Seamus Heaney: I will never forget meeting my hero

By Bronagh Gallaher

I will never forget the perfect meeting with my hero, who left me floating and charmed

With beaming pride, I would dig my heels in at school and read Heaney's poems

With great sadness this morning, my father told me that Seamus Heaney had died. With great joy and admiration, my mother would read me his poems as a child.

With beaming pride and a feeling of love and connection, I would dig my heels in as a youngster to read Seamus's poems at school in Derry.

His writings about Ulster, particularly the light, the wildlife, characters in the villages and towns, his understanding of the growing political problems in Derry -- all so familiar to me -- and the beauty, the brilliance and the potency of his language became imbedded in my heart.

What he stood for as an Ulsterman, an Irishman, his talent alone, and the silent dignity and integrity he always radiated would leave me wide-eyed.

I have travelled many places and I have always brought Seamus's books with me.

Whilst performing 'Warhorse' in The National Theatre in London in October 2008, the writer Michael Morpurgo informed me, "I have a very good friend from Co Derry, Seamus Heaney", and after my stunned expression and reply to Michael that Master Heaney was my hero, he kindly vowed to introduce us.

Over the course of the run of 'Warhorse', family and friends came to see it and one night as I pulled on my tracksuit to run for the tube home, my phone rang and it was Cathy Morpurgo to say: "Darling, we are in the bar with Seamus and Marie -- they would love to meet you, will you join us?"

My heart started to pound, I couldn't think of what to say and just tried to breathe deeply and muttered: "I'll be right down Cathy, thank you."

His immediate warmth, his love of the play he had just seen, his tenderness toward his darling wife Marie, who was recently recovering from an illness, the way he listened as I explained my love of his writing without gushing, all further endeared him to me.

That I had only read 'Blackberry Picking' again on BBC Radio Ulster the week before as part of National Poetry week, as 'The Ministry Of Fear' was considered too controversial, pleased him immensely. I was in a presence like never before.

I asked if he could shed some light on where I would find a quote from a letter he had written to the 'Irish Times' about Anglo Irish talks back when the ceasefire was announced in 1994. "Oh yes . . . That's from my version of 'The Cure at Troy' by Sophocles," and he made a small note on the 'Warhorse' programme.

As the perfect meeting came to the perfect end, he informed me "I must take my lovely wife home, Bronagh".

He stood up, as did I, he folded his coat on the chair and took my hands in his hands and said: "Bronagh, the blackberries are in safe hands." I was truly blown off my feet . . . we all hugged and I watched them all leave like a little pilgrim of Holy People.

I floated home and could not sleep properly as I seemed to be hovering on my bed.

A few weeks later, a letter arrived to The National Theatre for me. I didn't recognise the writing, but upon opening it I was completely floored as it was from Seamus.

The beautiful letter saying how much they enjoyed their evening and my company also included the photocopied last verse of 'The Cure Of Troy', with the wonderful quote I had asked him about.

Needless to say the letter is framed and hangs in front of me now. . .

To have the great honour to meet your hero and his lovely family, for it to have been so special and enjoyable, to hold the memory of it so highly and be for ever grateful I got to share such lovely time with them, really is something I will treasure for all of my life . . . a testament to The Master, the great Seamus Heaney.

My love and deepest sympathies to Marie and the Heaney family.

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