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Smithy that forged some of Heaney's finest work will play host to readings of his poetry

By Ivan Little

Published 15/11/2016

Blacksmith Barney Devlin at his forge at Hill Head Road near Castledawson
Blacksmith Barney Devlin at his forge at Hill Head Road near Castledawson
Heaney, who was inspired by his friend’s work

A tiny Bellaghy forge which has been made world famous by the late poet Seamus Heaney is to play host to wordsmiths instead of blacksmiths this weekend as part of a tribute to the Nobel Laureate.

Writers and actors are to read Heaney's poetry along with new specially-commissioned pieces at six shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, when the audiences will be restricted to just 15 at each performance inside the small forge.

They'll also see Barry Devlin, a grandson of the late blacksmith Barney Devlin, giving a demonstration of the smithy's craft in the forge which has been a major attraction for Heaney's aficionados from around the world.

Heaney used to pass Barney Devlin's forge on the Hillhead Road near Bellaghy every morning on his way to school and the sights and sounds coming from it fascinated him - so much so that he wrote a poem called The Forge which contains the line 'All I know is a door into the dark' and the last four words were the title of a collection of Heaney's poems in 1969.

Nearly 40 years later, Heaney penned another poem inspired by the forge.

Midnight Anvil was published in his 2006 collection District and Circle and told of how Barney Devlin rang in the millennial New Year by hitting his anvil 12 times as his nephew in Canada listened to the clangs over a mobile phone.

Mr Devlin died aged 96 earlier this year at his home, where a painting of the blacksmith and the poet at the forge door took pride of place alongside a handwritten copy of the poem which had a message from Heaney that read "Hammer on Barney".

The poet pre-deceased Mr Devlin by three years in August 2013, when it was revealed that Heaney had always called to see him if he was in Bellaghy.

Mr Devlin described his friend's death as "a very sad day indeed".

As well as welcoming thousands of visitors to the recently-opened Seamus Heaney Home Place, officials have also been organising a series of tours, talks and readings at their centre, housed is what was once Bellaghy's police station.

But now they're striking out to one of Heaney's most iconic landmarks, Barney Devlin's forge.

The blacksmith's family have applauded the move. His son Barry said: "Barney was a huge admirer of Seamus Heaney, but more importantly he was his friend.

"He always had the forge open to the public, both as a nod to its working past and to the poems that it inspired, and it is the family's wish to carry on this tradition."

Not only will some of Heaney's poems be read, the Home Place team have also invited Irish and British writers including Paula Meehan, Deborah Levy and Geoff Dyer to devise a number of new works on the theme of Sparks Flying.

A spokesman for the Home Place said: "They're just short, five minute pieces and we've been given permission by the Devlin family to have actors read them in the forge itself.

"It's a very small space but there will be a wonderful resonance of having new pieces of writing read there, in a space that so excited Seamus' imagination."

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