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Mourners gather for Heaney funeral

Family and friends of Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney will join dignitaries and literary figures today as Ireland bids farewell to one its most famous sons at a funeral service in Dublin.

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

His funeral will be held at the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook in the south of Dublin - a city the Northern Ireland born poet made his home.

He will be buried later this evening in his native Bellaghy in Co Londonderry - a village that inspired so much of his work.

Heaney's body was taken to the church last night for a removal mass. His widow Marie led mourners at the hour long service.

Outside as the late evening sun bathed the grand 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 Belfast's Lyric theatre 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.

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

The 1995 Nobel prize-winner was born in April 1939, the eldest of nine children, on a small farm called Mossbawn near Bellaghy and his upbringing often played out in the poetry he wrote in later years.

The citation for the award praised Heaney "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past".

As well as his widow Marie, Heaney is survived by his three children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.

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