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Seamus Heaney's words made him a man for all people

SEAMUS Heaney crossed the sectarian divide in a still-divided Northern Ireland, or the north of Ireland, as he may have preferred. He was unashamedly nationalist, but equally respectful of the unionist tradition.

He represented the pluralism and inclusion of John Hewitt and others who refused to be simply labelled and he spurned being used by either side.

Thirty-four years ago, when I was 27, giving a series of lectures on the northern conflict at Harvard, he spoke at my final class and did what he was superb at – reciting his poetry.

We met several times during that 1978-79 year, when he had taken the chair of poetry.

We respected one another's political views, because we were tolerant and respectful of the 'other' community, which we hoped would share a common friendship in the future.

Seamus was Irish first, a northerner second. I was a northerner first, and, equally, British and Irish.

He eschewed pressure to take political stances and rightly so. He let his poetry speak for him.

I treasure still my rare signed and annotated copy of Seamus's elegy to Robert Lowell, also taken from us at a too-early age. I had plied him with one too many Bushmills that day in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He wrote: "Thanks for the hospitality, or should I say, the 'dose'!"

Seamus was a man for all seasons. He is a loss to north and south and universally.


Washington DC, USA

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