Family helps launch Open Ground experience across five sites in Co Londonderry
The landscape that shaped the words of Seamus Heaney has been made accessible to the public for the first time with a new visitor experience in the south Co Londonderry countryside that inspired Ireland’s most celebrated modern day poet.
The Open Ground experience, an extension of the Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy which has been attracting visitors since 2016, takes the laureate’s poems into the wild, across five venues which had particular significance for his writing.
Seamus’ wife Marie and family members attended the official opening of the new facilities at The Strand at Lough Beg yesterday, a place which holds “special memories” for the poet.
“The names of the locations that make up Open Ground — Bellaghy, Magherafelt, Toome, Moyola, Lough Beg — are familiar to people from this locale but they have also become familiar to readers of my father’s poetry throughout the world,” said the poet’s son, Christopher Heaney.
“The development of five sites linked to different poems was a great idea from the start and there is something special and genuinely powerful hearing the poems read in their own ‘home places’.
Open Ground — which has been developed by Mid Ulster District Council, which manages the Seamus Heaney Home Place — features on-site listening posts and interpretation panels explaining each location’s connection to Heaney’s poetry.
At the Strand at Lough Beg, a newly constructed boardwalk has facilitated access to a clearing with views across the Lough of what the poet described as “Church Island’s spire, its soft treeline of yew”.
A riverside walk along the Moyola river, where Heaney walked, fished and thought, has also been redeveloped.
A new sculpture at the Eelworks in Toome, Co Antrim, symbolises the twists and turns of eels as they swim, and reflects Heaney’s fascination with both the life cycle of eels and the fishermen who trapped them.
And in neighbouring Magherafelt sculpted silhouettes of people walking towards the town’s bus station — who featured in Heaney’s poetry — have been erected in an alleyway, with the “agitated rooks” from the poem Route 110, named after the number of a local bus, flying above their heads.
An extended and newly-landscaped seating area has also been added to the existing Turfman sculpture in Bellaghy, which commemorates Digging, one of Heaney’s best-known poems.
Speaking at the official opening of the new facilities, the chairman of Mid Ulster District Council, Cathal Mallaghan, said: “This is a truly unique development, which brings Seamus Heaney’s poetry alive in the places which were so much a part of his formative years and had such an influence on the body of work which brought him literature’s highest accolade, the Nobel Prize.
“If you read Seamus Heaney’s speech from the day on which he became a Nobel laureate, you will be left in no doubt about his roots being in south Derry.”