Belfast Telegraph

Seamus Heaney: Long journey home begins for a true poet of the people

Tributes flow as bard's family and friends gather before funeral

BY SOPHIE GORMAN

Family and friends gathered in grief as the body of Seamus Heaney was removed last night to the church where his funeral will be held.

The internationally acclaimed 74-year-old writer died unexpectedly in a Dublin hospital last Friday after a short illness.

He will be buried in his native Bellaghy in Co Londonderry.

Outside the church last night as the late summer sun bathed the exterior, family and friends hugged and exchanged stories about a poet already hailed as the best Ireland has produced since William Butler Yeats.

Former US President Bill Clinton has been among those paying tribute, describing Heaney as "our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives" and a "powerful voice for peace".

A hastily arranged celebration of the poet's life in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast on Saturday night was packed to capacity as the audience was treated to poignant recitals of his best known works.

Books of condolences are being opened in Derry, Belfast and Dublin.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said it would take Heaney himself to describe the depth of loss Ireland felt over his death.

"He is mourned – and deeply –wherever poetry and the world of the spirit are cherished and celebrated," he said.

There was a deep sense of disbelief among mourners in attendance last night that the rectangular wooden coffin in the nave of the church could contain Ireland's cultural backbone.

For many decades, Seamus Heaney was at the tiller, guiding Irish culture, shaping it and shaping its place in the world.

The coffin was carried into Donnybrook's Sacred Heart Church in south Dublin in advance of his funeral by the poet's two sons, Michael and Christopher, by his brother-in-law Barry Devlin and by two of Seamus's five brothers who were all in attendance, Colm, Charlie, Pat, Dan and Hugh.

Co-celebrant Archbishop Diarmuid Martin placed a copy of the bible on top of the coffin, saying it was fitting for Seamus to have these words with him now as "his life was built around words".

There were many familiar faces among the crowd, but this was not a celebrity gathering, the raw emotion very real, the distraught palpable.

The connections Heaney built crossed all cultural divisions.

There were poets and more poets – close friends Peter Fallon, Theo Dorgan, Pat Boran, Brendan Kennelly, Michael O'Loughlin, and Paul Muldoon, and from afar Thomas Lynch who had worked with Heaney in Michigan and flown over when he heard the news.

Father Kevin Doran, who gave the homily, remembered the first time he met Heaney seven years ago at Glendalough when Heaney came to read his poem St Kevin and the Blackbird.

Fr Doran recited the first section of the poem, the legend of how a blackbird built its nest in St Kevin's hand and then St Kevin had to keep his arm outstretched until the eggs were hatched.

Fr Doran remembered Heaney's bold humour, how in the second part of the poem Heaney questioned if any of this really happened, but being Heaney also made universal points about suffering, enduring and nurturing.

Heaney created such a sense of belonging that he seemed to belong to this land, to belong to all of us, our Seamus, and that sense of a devastated community coming together was most powerful at his removal.

Of course, in truth he belonged not to us all but to his incredibly close loving family, to his wife Marie, his sons Michael and Christopher, and his daughter Catherine Ann.

For as much as this was a public mourning, it was also the most private personal grief.

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