Belfast Telegraph

Joy as ex-student' reunited with letter Seamus Heaney wrote 40 years ago

By Mark Bain

A letter penned by Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney has finally found its way back to its original recipient over 40 years after it was lost - thanks to the power of social media.

The letter was discovered by Twitter user Stewart Law inside a second-hand book eight years ago.

Stewart then thought it had gone missing during a house move, but he found it again on Tuesday while sorting out books for a charity donation.

And just half-an-hour after putting out an appeal on Twitter, he tracked down its original recipient.

In Stewart's original tweet he wrote: "Don't often ask for retweets but hoping Irish Twitter will do its thing.

"Years ago I found this letter from Seamus Heaney inside a 2nd hand book I bought in Belfast.

"I wonder if the owner would like it back?"

This prompted a response from Dr Sophia Hillan, a former student of the late poet, who wrote she was "pleased and touched that the finder thought to contact me" and that "Seamus was a kind and loyal friend until his untimely death".

In the 1973 letter Heaney apologises for not responding sooner to a request for a reference and told his former student: "If you ever want to use my name just go ahead and I'll do what I can."

Stewart, who now lives in Morpeth, Northumberland, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I can remember buying the book at a charity shop near the end of the Lisburn Road.

"It was only when I got home that the letter fell out.

"That was eight years ago, but the internet wasn't the same place then as it is today.

"I didn't do anything about it and actually thought I'd lost it as I've moved house a couple of times since.

"But I was going through some old books to take to a charity shop and there it was again.

"I thought I'd at least try to find if the original owner was out there and if they would like it back.

"It's lovely to put social media to good use.

"There is so much out there that's poisonous and it was nice to be of assistance to someone who turned out to be a lovely lady, who was so grateful that I took the time to try to find her."

The news comes following the launch of the Seamus Heaney: Listen Now exhibition in Dublin yesterday, which will explore his life and works.

Dr Hillan was finishing her postgraduate studies when she had contacted her former tutor for a reference.

"I don't know how I missed it," she said.

"It would have been usual for me to keep those things."

Heaney described his relationship with Hillan as "colleagues in our time and friends for a lifetime".

After re-reading it, Dr Hillan said it was "almost like time travel - to hear the voice of a friend that had been silent for five years".

Heaney died in August 2013 following a short illness.

The Seamus Heaney HomePlace dedicated to his life and work opened in his home village of Bellaghy in 2016.

The poet, playwright and translator received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.

He has been recognised as one of the principal contributors to the field of poetry during his lifetime.

Belfast Telegraph

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