Belfast Telegraph

Poet Heaney celebrated in tribute

Seamus Heaney often joked that TS Eliot was the "head office" of the poetry world, a packed London audience was told.

The life and work of the late poet was celebrated in A Tribute To Seamus Heaney at the Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall.

The 1995 Nobel prize-winner would have been "embarrassed" by the evening - "but secretly pleased", host and friend writer Andrew O'Hagan said.

Mr O'Hagan also joked that Heaney might think the event was "excessive...but not enough".

Heaney, originally from Co Derry, died in hospital in Dublin in August this year at 74.

The evening of poetry and music opened with a recording of Heaney reading his famous poem Digging.

A number of Heaney's contemporaries - including Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Paul Muldoon, Michael Longley and Edna O'Brien - took to the stage to read some of his much-loved work.

The audience heard Death of a Naturalist, Mid-Term Break and Blackberry-Picking among others.

In between the poems, The Chieftains livened up the crowd with a few reels - bringing the music of Heaney's Irish homeland to the metropolitan setting of the English capital.

The audience were treated to anecdotes courtesy of Mr O'Hagan, and one they particularly enjoyed was in relation to Heaney's fellow heavyweight poet TS Eliot.

Mr O'Hagan said that due to Welsh poet Vernon Watkins and Eliot both having worked in the Bank of England, Heaney joked that Watkins was like a branch manager, while Eliot was "very much head office" in poetry circles.

Speaking more seriously about Heaney, Mr O'Hagan said: "His poems, from the very beginning, were reports from the heart."

Edna O'Brien, famous for The Country Girls trilogy, said Heaney would have been "thrilled" with the event.

Mark Durkan, MP for Foyle in Derry - Heaney's home county - said it was a "wonderful" evening.

He said it was "so evocative" and represented his "work, style and character" perfectly.

"You just felt the charm of the man," he said.

Mr Durkan said Heaney's wife Marie and daughter Catherine Ann were in the House of Commons today and were presented with the early day motion about Heaney which was signed by more than 130 MPs.

He said the motion read: "This House mourns the passing of Seamus Heaney."

Mr Durkan said it is one of the most signed motions in this session and said the clerk of the Commons joked that it was "the most poetic motion tabled".

Also at the event were former Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens and singer PJ Harvey.

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

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