Arresting sights in Seamus Heaney country as rural Derry remembers its most famous son
Ivan Little joins hundreds of the poet's admirers for a celebration marking the first anniversary of his death
Hundreds of Seamus Heaney's friends and family members gathered in the poet's home village of Bellaghy over the weekend to mark the first anniversary of his death with two days of sorrowful reflection and uplifting celebration of his life.
But long after the hordes of the writer's aficionados had gone home, Heaney's brother Dan cut a solitary figure yesterday as he slipped into St Mary's churchyard where the Nobel Laureate is buried to pay his own respects, quietly and without fuss.
Mr Heaney later took time to thank the Bellaghy-based organisers of the weekend's poetry readings, concerts and tours for their "deeply moving" homage to his brother.
"Everything was very appropriate" he said. "And it was marvellous that my brother's poetry was central to it all."
Mr Heaney and his brothers Hugh and Colm were among 200 people who attended a memorial concert by the Sands Family in Bellaghy Bawn on Saturday night.
Mr Heaney said the family had been touched by a reading of his brother's famous poem Mid-Term Break by local girl Roma Boyle, accompanied by a specially composed saxophone piece of the same name by Derry musician Gerard McChrystal.
It had been commissioned in the poet's honour for the City of Culture year in Londonderry but the Nobel Laureate passed away before he could hear it. A message was read out at the concert from the poet's wife Marie Heaney and her children in Dublin.
"They wanted to remember the anniversary in their own way but they appreciated what Bellaghy did for Seamus," said Dan Heaney.
The weekend's tribute had started at the poet's final resting place in St Mary's churchyard.
A wreath fashioned in the form of a harvest bow which Heaney wrote about in a poem about his father was laid by local schoolchildren on the grave which has a simple wooden cross on it.
Afterwards, Heaney's admirers walked in a 'procession of celebration' behind a piper and a drummer to a statue in Bellaghy, The Turfman, an interpretation of one of the poet's most popular works, Digging.
One of the festival organisers, Fergal Kearney, said: "The procession was a symbolic shift from the sombre sadness of the commemoration of Heaney's life to a celebration of the man."
After Saturday's concert, hundreds of people went to an event at what Heaney once said was his favourite place in the world – Church Island on Lough Beg. The crowd ignored the driving rain to watch boatmen rowing a catamaran up the lough with a beacon on board to illuminate the island and the ruins of an old church.
Heaney's poem The Strand at Lough Beg was written in memory of his cousin Colm McCartney, a 22-year-old Catholic man shot dead by the UVF in August 1975.
Yesterday Seamus Heaney devotees from all over Northern Ireland joined a bus tour around the Bellaghy landmarks that evoked much of his poetry. As the bus wound its way, Fergal Kearney pointed out the places that most of the visitors knew by name, like Toner's Bog, but not by sight.
One of the first stops was the farm at Mossbawn where Heaney was born in 1939. The outhouses and the rusting farm machinery were exactly the way they were in the poet's day on a typical Ulster farmyard whose ordinariness had been made extraordinary by Heaney's genius.
We drove along what Heaney called Lagan's Road which inspired many of his poems from his days walking from Mossbawn to Anahorish Primary School. And we pulled up into the yard of Heaney's second home near Castledawson which was the scene of a tragedy in the poet's life.
For it was on the road outside that his three-year-old brother Christopher was killed by a car in 1953.
Fergal recited part of Mid-Term Break: "No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. A four foot box, a foot for every year".
Further down the road – a photo-stop outside Barney Devlin's forge which for Heaney was a world of mystery, a door into the dark he called it.
Organisers say they hope the event will run annually. But in the meantime their efforts are focused on pushing ahead with a Seamus Heaney centre on the site of Bellaghy's old police station.