Diggin' the late Seamus Heaney.

Posted by Simon Plant on Saturday, August 31, 2013 Under: Nick Hennegan

Seamus Heaney died yesterday. It's a loss in so many ways. Probably the finest Irish poet since Yeats, he was sometimes known as "Famous Seamus" because unlike many poets and writers, he wasn't particularly shy and retiring. He was something of a celebrity from an early age and was prepared to stick his head over the parapet to make a comment.

But I identify with Heaney the farm-boy. My folks are from the peat-bogs of Co. Mayo - he was from a Mossbawn farmhouse in County Derry, although he resided in Dublin until his death. He was a translator, most recently of Beowulf and in 1995 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The farm-boy was a very bright-boy and won a scholarship at an early age.

But to my thinking, he never lost his farm-boy sensibilities or morality. He was in some ways a literary John Lennon. He was Catholic and a staunch Irish republican concerned about his people, yet a man who understood the suffering of all the communities in Northern Ireland and who could never be persuaded by either side to condone the violence of the troubles. I get it. I've heard it said that for any grand cause, People Have To Die. Heaney, didn't agree with that. With the current politics and violence in Syria very much a hot topic at the moment, his loss is possibly more keenly felt. But his work will last. Not Vox Populi, but accessible and of the people.

Frank McGuinness, the Irish playwright, said: "During the darkest days of the Northern Ireland conflict he was our conscience: a conscience that was accurate and precise in how it articulated what was happening.  His poems are a brilliant record of what Ireland went through, and to produce it he must have gone through many trials. He carried enormous burdens for us and he helped us. He was a great ally for the light … he was the greatest Irishman of my generation: he had no rivals."

Politicians from both sides of the border have also praised the poet. Michael D Higgins, the president of the Irish Republic, said: "The presence of Seamus was a warm one, full of humour, care and courtesy – a courtesy that enabled him to carry with such wry Northern Irish dignity so many well-deserved honours from all over the world." 

The Taioseach, Enda Kenny, said that his death "brings great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature".

Heaney was a strong supporter of the peace process in Northern Ireland, memorably paying tribute to the architects of the Good Friday agreement, the then leaders of nationalism and unionism John Hume (whom he dubbed "the hedgehog") and David Trimble ("the fox").

Other writers who knew him have paid tribute tribute to his sheer human warmth. 

"Seamus never had a sour moment, neither in person nor on paper," said the playwright Tom Stoppard. "You couldn't help loving him any more than you could help reading on from the first line."

Isn’t that nice to hear.

In his first collection of poems, called 'Death of a Naturalist', Seamus included a poem called Digging – a manifesto, of sorts, for the poet who was also the scion of farmers. 

He makes reference to his farming traditions - his father dug peat as did his father before him.

"I've no spade to follow men like them," he wrote. But the poem goes on, with the kind of dogged ferocity that all great writers share: 

"Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.  

I'll dig with it."

You dug. We dug you. Literature will never quite be the same again. RIP Seamus.

In : Nick Hennegan 

Tags: "seamus heaney"  taioseach  "tom stoppard"  ireland  syria  "northern ireland"  dublin  "frank mcguinness"  politics  obituary  poets  writers  poems  farming. 
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Nick Hennegan Hello. I'm Nick Hennegan and I started the London Literary Pub Crawl. Most of the blogs on here will be by me. I've always written but my first theatrical success was an adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Henry V' (www.HenryVPlay.com) I founded Maverick Theatre in 1994. (www.Maverick-Theatre.com) This pub crawl is really more a promenade theatre performance than a tour and I'm running it with a bunch of enthusiastic local actors and writers. I love sharing my passion for the area and the artists. I also present a radio show on Resonance 104.4fm - London's Arts Station and a podcast on our site. If you haven't visited us in London yet, I hope you'll come soon. And feel free to leave comments or email me at nick @ LondonLiteraryPubCrawl.com - I reply to them all and I love to hear from you.


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