Belfast Telegraph

Tragic death of brother (4) that inspired Seamus Heaney recalled

Hugh Heaney, the brother of the late Seamus
Hugh Heaney, the brother of the late Seamus

By Gillian Halliday

The brother of Seamus Heaney has spoken publicly for the first time about how he witnessed their youngest brother being fatally injured by a car, which inspired one of the late poet's most famous works.

Mid-Term Break - first published in Heaney's 1966 collection Death Of A Naturalist - recounts the poet returning home from school for the funeral of his four-year-old brother Christopher.

Hugh Heaney (76) emotionally recalled the death in a BBC documentary, Seamus Heaney: The Music Of What Happens, which examines the Poet Laureate's life through interviews with surviving brothers, to be aired on November 30. The dairy farmer said: "Christopher was killed in '53, the 25th of February 1953, a quarter to six in the evening.

"I was with him, so I was. I was there, he started running across the road behind the bus. Just ran out, just ran out. There was two other brothers across the road, he ran across to them."

He added: "You don't forget things like that. It was a long time ago, 65 years ago, but you don't forget it."

The powerful imagery in Mid-Term Break, from the snowdrops soothing the bedside to the heartbreaking line about the size of the coffin - "A foot for every year" - has made it one of his best known poems.

As well as Heaney's brothers - Hugh, Charlie, Colm and Dan - opening up about their shared experiences which shaped many of the poet's finest works, his wife Marie and three children, Michael, Christopher and Catherine, also appear in the programme.

Marie shares the story of how they first met at a dinner at Queen's University, where they both studied on a Tuesday evening and he loaned her a book, which he told her he wanted it back by Thursday. "I had to read it quick," she said.

She added: "We met then on Thursday and although we're both very cautious people I think we knew at that point that we would end up together - and we did for 50 years."

Marie continues: "He was very handsome, unusual looking, and he was a very charming man. So it wasn't hard to fall for him."

Belfast Telegraph


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