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Actor Stephen Rea to attend 'Save Heaney Country' concert

Poet Seamus Heaney
Connla Young

A SPECIAL concert featuring actor Stephen Rea will take place this weekend to highlight the campaign to stop a road passing through an area made famous by poet Seamus Heaney.

Plans to build a new £160m road through an area closely associated with the Bellaghy poet have previously been branded “sacrilegious” by opponents.

News of the ‘Save Heaney Country’ concert comes days after diggers rolled onto part of the site.

The route, linking the main Derry to Belfast road at Toome with the M2, will cut through an area close to Lough Beg and Mossbawn - the poet’s former home near Castledawson.

The house is near the townland of Anahorish and is featured in two of Heaney’s poems bearing its name.

Other poems which were inspired by local places and events including the iconic ‘Digging’.

Some have argued the planned road route will damage Heaney’s 'heritage trail' in south Derry.

Resident Gerry Donnelly remains opposed to the road.

“I am sure that when Seamus Heaney wrote ‘Digging’ he didn’t have a 312 C digger in mind,” he said.

Mr Donnelly, who is a former senior Co Derry GAA official, said the campaign to force a route change has received widespread support from people with an “international profile”.

“They know what we want and what Heaney would have wanted and they are prepared to let the world know that,” he said.

“Hopefully they will evoke more support internationally.”

Some of those taking part in Sunday’s free, but all ticket, concert at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast include poets Medbh McGuckian and Ciaran Carson, who were both taught by the Heaney in the 1960s, and TS Elliot prize-winning poet Sinéad Morrissey are expected to read from a selection of Heaney’s poems.

Music will be provided by pianist Barry Douglas and other musicians.

Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea, who co-founded the Field Day theatre company with Heaney and other literary figures, will also take part.

The planned road is due to be built close to an Area of Special Scientific Interest and a Ramsar site which protects internationally important wetland sites.

Friends of the Earth director James Orr is also expected to speak about the environmental impact of pushing the proposed road through ‘Heaney Country’.

“This is the last great wetland wilderness left in Northern Ireland and if we are to inspire the Seamus Heaney’s of the future we need to start campaigning now to stop this road,” he said.

Event organiser Stephen Connolly, who is a Phd student at the Seamus Heaney centre at Queen’s University, said the event has been organised to “try and bring some attention to the campaign.”

A centre dedicated to the Nobel Laureate will open at the end of the month.

Work on the multi-million pound project is due to begin later this year and is set to reduce travel times between Belfast and Derry at a notorious bottleneck.

Stormont Minister for Infrastructure Chris Hazzard said he was "acutely aware of the importance of the heritage sites relating to Seamus Heaney in his works" and had been "attentive to all objections that have been raised".

In a statement last night he said that other route options would have had a "more detrimental impact" upon the community and still would have affected landscape associated with Seamus Heaney’s work."

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