Belfast Telegraph

Humble Seamus Heaney delivered goods for Dublin display of poet's life work

By Lisa Smyth

Seamus Heaney hand-delivered his collection of manuscripts, letters and unpublished works to the Dublin museum where they are to go on display this week, it has emerged.

The family of the celebrated Bellaghy poet revealed that he carried the boxes containing his life's work into the National Library of Ireland himself after transporting them in the back of the family car.

The documents will make up part of an exhibition providing a unique insight into Heaney and his work.

It opens at the museum on Friday, and coincides with the publication of an anthology of poems chosen and introduced by the Heaney family.

Speaking to The Guardian, the poet's son Michael said: "I think the director of the library presumed there'd be a van and minions. But there was dad carrying the boxes. He'd put them in the back of the family car and brought them round himself.

"It was all done very casually, but there was also a weird sense of momentousness, so much so that it felt right for us to have a drink to mark the occasion with my brother Christopher afterwards."

This humble display by Heaney - who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995 - belied the remarkable effect of his poetry.

His widow Marie said they were overwhelmed at the global reaction to his sudden death in August 2013. "I was utterly taken aback by the response," she said.

"And I wondered whether he would have been, too. But there he was, above the fold on the front page of the New York Times, with a story about Obama and Syria down the side.

"It was something extraordinary to experience alongside our shock and our grief."

In the weeks and months after his passing they were also inundated with cards and letters from wellwishers who wanted them to know how much they had been touched by Heaney's writing.

Daughter Catherine said: "They all had some personal connection that they wanted to share. People still come up and tell me stories about meeting him and how much it meant to them."

Shortly before his death at the age of 74, Heaney met Faber poetry editor Matthew Hollis and told him he would like to prepare a personal selection - 75 poems to mark his 75th birthday - from across the entire arc of his poetry to be gathered together in an anthology. Tragically, he passed away before he had the chance to complete the task.

And while the project stalled temporarily following his death, his family subsequently came together to fulfil his wish - the result being 100 Poems, which will allow readers to enjoy the most loved and celebrated poems, as well as discovering new favourites.

Marie said: "I cannot tell you how many readings I attended, and while he never gave exactly the same one, there was certainly a core of poems that he returned to."

Among the sections included in the exhibition is one on conscience, which sets Heaney against the backdrop of the Troubles and Marie revealed the challenges faced by her husband as a result of the political turmoil.

She said he "really was torn a lot of the time" and said: "He was a nationalist by birth and by inclination, but that nationalism was being hijacked in a way he detested. He got stick from both sides, and was threatened."

Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again opens at the new Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre at College Green in Dublin on Friday and will run for three years.

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