Belfast Telegraph

Seamus Heaney: I will never forget meeting my hero

Seamus Heaney, pictured in 1995
Seamus Heaney, pictured in 1995
21/12/2011: Irish Nobel laureate Dr Seamus Heaney with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, today handed over his literary papers to the National Library of Ireland
21/12/2011 Dr Seamus Heaney literary papers to National Library. Irish Nobel laureate Dr Seamus Heaney today handed over his literary papers to the National Library of Ireland
21/12/2011: Irish Nobel laureate Dr Seamus Heaney with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, today handed over his literary papers to the National Library of Ireland
22/06/2013. Kennedy homecoming. Seamus Heaney pictured as a bust of the late Senator Edward Kennedy is unveiled at the Kennedy homestead in Dunganstown Co Wexford
Seamus Heaney - poet / writer
Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley
Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney
16/06/2011. Seamus Heaney receives Ulysses medal. Playwright Brian Friel (left) and poet Seamus Heaney prior to the Bloomsday conferral ceremony where Mr Heaney was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature
16/06/2011. Seamus Heaney receives Ulysses medal. Nobel Laureate, Poet, Seamus Heaney with poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill in the grounds of University College Dublin (UCD) where he was presented with the Ulysses medal
Seamus Heaney pictured on his 70th birthday at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham
File photo dated 20/06/06 of Seamus Heaney who has died aged 74
Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Irish poet, Seamus Heaney as Irish President Mary McAleese, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Dr. Martin McAleese look on before a State Dinner at Dublin Castle, on May 18, 2011 in Dublin
File photo dated 22/06/13 of Seamus Heaney reading a poem in front of a bust of Senator Ted Kennedy
Seamus Heaney (L) talks with Sir Ian McKellen after attending a memorial service for actor Paul Scofield on March 19, 2009 in London
Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney
PACEMAKER Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney guest speaker at the Holocaust Memorial event in the Waterfront Hall. 27/01/04
Seamus Heaney was a past pupil at Annahorish Primary School in Toome
Seamus Heaney Pic: Mark Condren 4/4/08
The University College Dublin Ulysses Medal was awarded to Seamus Heaney in 2011. This is the highest honour that the university can bestow
Seamus Heaney at Sandymount in Dublin, 1995
Seamus Heaney at Sandymount in Dublin, 1995
File Pics Seamus Heaney Had Died Today. Irish Poet Seamus Heaney(M) with Dunnes Stores Workers at a anti apartheid demo. 19/10/1985 Photo: Eamonn Farrell Photocall Ireland
Pacemaker: 10/09/09 Poet Seamus Heaney unveils the key stone on the site of the new Lyric Theatre in Belfast
Pacemaker: Field Day Theatre Company performing "The Cure at Troy" by Seamus Heaney, directed by Stephen Rea
A sculpture, which marks the completion of the Bellaghy Community Regeneration Improvement Special Programme, was unveiled Thursday 2nd April 2009 by the Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney
A sculpture, which marks the completion of the Bellaghy Community Regeneration Improvement Special Programme, was unveiled Thursday 2nd April 2009 by the Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney
A sculpture, which marks the completion of the Bellaghy Community Regeneration Improvement Special Programme, was unveiled Thursday 2nd April 2009 by the Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney
6-07-2010: A new £50m library at Queen's University was officially opened by Seamus Heaney (right), picutred with Vice Chancellor of Queen's, Professor Peter Gregson.
6-07-2010: A new £50m library at Queen's University was officially opened by Seamus Heaney
6-07-2010: A new £50m library at Queen's University was officially opened by Seamus Heaney
10/09/2009: Poet Seamus Heaney at Lyric Threshold Stone unveiling at the widely recognised Lyric Theatre as the unveiling of the threshold stone highlights the progress that has been made with the construction of the new theatre

By Bronagh Gallaher

I will never forget the perfect meeting with my hero, who left me floating and charmed

With beaming pride, I would dig my heels in at school and read Heaney's poems

With great sadness this morning, my father told me that Seamus Heaney had died. With great joy and admiration, my mother would read me his poems as a child.

With beaming pride and a feeling of love and connection, I would dig my heels in as a youngster to read Seamus's poems at school in Derry.

His writings about Ulster, particularly the light, the wildlife, characters in the villages and towns, his understanding of the growing political problems in Derry -- all so familiar to me -- and the beauty, the brilliance and the potency of his language became imbedded in my heart.

What he stood for as an Ulsterman, an Irishman, his talent alone, and the silent dignity and integrity he always radiated would leave me wide-eyed.

I have travelled many places and I have always brought Seamus's books with me.

Whilst performing 'Warhorse' in The National Theatre in London in October 2008, the writer Michael Morpurgo informed me, "I have a very good friend from Co Derry, Seamus Heaney", and after my stunned expression and reply to Michael that Master Heaney was my hero, he kindly vowed to introduce us.

Over the course of the run of 'Warhorse', family and friends came to see it and one night as I pulled on my tracksuit to run for the tube home, my phone rang and it was Cathy Morpurgo to say: "Darling, we are in the bar with Seamus and Marie -- they would love to meet you, will you join us?"

My heart started to pound, I couldn't think of what to say and just tried to breathe deeply and muttered: "I'll be right down Cathy, thank you."

His immediate warmth, his love of the play he had just seen, his tenderness toward his darling wife Marie, who was recently recovering from an illness, the way he listened as I explained my love of his writing without gushing, all further endeared him to me.

That I had only read 'Blackberry Picking' again on BBC Radio Ulster the week before as part of National Poetry week, as 'The Ministry Of Fear' was considered too controversial, pleased him immensely. I was in a presence like never before.

I asked if he could shed some light on where I would find a quote from a letter he had written to the 'Irish Times' about Anglo Irish talks back when the ceasefire was announced in 1994. "Oh yes . . . That's from my version of 'The Cure at Troy' by Sophocles," and he made a small note on the 'Warhorse' programme.

As the perfect meeting came to the perfect end, he informed me "I must take my lovely wife home, Bronagh".

He stood up, as did I, he folded his coat on the chair and took my hands in his hands and said: "Bronagh, the blackberries are in safe hands." I was truly blown off my feet . . . we all hugged and I watched them all leave like a little pilgrim of Holy People.

I floated home and could not sleep properly as I seemed to be hovering on my bed.

A few weeks later, a letter arrived to The National Theatre for me. I didn't recognise the writing, but upon opening it I was completely floored as it was from Seamus.

The beautiful letter saying how much they enjoyed their evening and my company also included the photocopied last verse of 'The Cure Of Troy', with the wonderful quote I had asked him about.

Needless to say the letter is framed and hangs in front of me now. . .

To have the great honour to meet your hero and his lovely family, for it to have been so special and enjoyable, to hold the memory of it so highly and be for ever grateful I got to share such lovely time with them, really is something I will treasure for all of my life . . . a testament to The Master, the great Seamus Heaney.

My love and deepest sympathies to Marie and the Heaney family.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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