Poetry lovers remember Heaney

One year after the death of poet Seamus Heaney, his home village of Bellaghy is now a place of pilgrimage for literature lovers the world over. Seamus McKinney hears how the anniversary is being marked

THE village of Bellaghy has become a must-visit destination for poetry enthusiasts around the world since the death of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.

Heaney died unexpectedly in a Dublin hospital exactly a year ago today.

The news prompted a wave of mourning for the Co Derry man who captured the respect and admiration of literature lovers at home and abroad.

Like all the greats of poetry, Heaney touched the lives of ordinary people with his words. His last message to his wife, Noli timere - Latin for Do not be afraid - echoed around the world.

His final resting place in St Mary's graveyard in Bellaghy has already become a place of literary pilgrimage and his legacy is being marked by the establishment of a new Seamus Heaney centre on the site of the town's former police station.

The anniversary of Heaney's death was marked this week with the issuing of a stamp in his honour by the Republic's postal service, An Post.

Publishing company Faber also intends printing a poem he wrote for his granddaughter which has never been published before in the UK.

In the past 12 months the poet's grave has attracted some of the greatest writers of verse from around the world, according to Patrick Brennan.

Mr Brennan, who worked with Heaney, archiving his writing, is now helping to develop the poet's legacy.

"Many of the best known poets have been here, including Peter Fallon and Brian Friel, the playwright. There was also a visit by Pura Lopez-Colome, from Mexico, one of the best known South American writers," he said.

Two festivals have been organised to mark the first anniversary of Heaney's death.

Next week, 'On Home Ground' takes place in nearby Magherafelt. However, later today, Saturday, Heaney's own friends and neighbours will pay tribute with a series of commemorative events based around his grave as well as at Bellaghy Bawn.

After talks and tours at the Bawn, there will be a quiet moment of reflection at the poet's grave. Through The Poetry House project, graduates from the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University Belfast will read some of his work.

"A specially commissioned harvest bow will then be laid on the grave, recalling Seamus' elegiac poem The Harvest Bow where he evokes memories of his father

whose hands he recalls weaving corn stalks into bows after the harvest," Mr Brennan said.

There will be a Procession of Celebration through Bellaghy to the Turfman sculpture in Heaney's memory, where his life will be celebrated through song.

Musicians from all over Ireland are also expected to take part in an afternoon of music before Co Down's The Sands family take to the stage at a marquee at the Bawn.

They will be joined by acclaimed Derry musician Gerard McChrystal who will play a specially commissioned piece for saxophone.

First played at St Columb's College, Mid Term Break recalls Heaney's memory of his time at the college and the death of his young brother.

Tomorrow there will then be a 'poetry hooley' (2pm) as well as tours of Seamus Heaney country.

"This event will honour Seamus' ever present generosity through a celebration of his life and creating a legacy in Bellaghy in his honour," Mr Brennan said.

Bellaghy parish priest Fr Andy Dolan also testifies to a stream of visitors to the poet's grave over the past year, including songwriter Ralph McTell, as St Mary's has become a place of pilgrimage for fans of the poet.

"People have been coming from America and England - it's not massive numbers but it's been steady and that might increase in time with the other things that are being organised," Fr Dolan said.

While the poet's grave is currently marked by a simple wooden cross, plans are also in place to erect a headstone.

Full details of all today's events are available at

? Heaney celebration Weekend ? P30,31

* LEGACY: Clockwise from left, some of Seamus Heaney's belongings in the Library at Bellaghy Bawn; Bellaghy Bawn where events will be held this weekend to remember Heaney on the first anniversary of his death; Daisy and Katie at their home in Anahorish, the townland where Heaney went to school and about which he wrote some of his best-known poems; Seamus Heaney; one of Heaney's manuscripts in the Library at Bellaghy Bawn

PICTURES: Margaret McLaughlin



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