Crowds flock to Seamus Heaney HomePlace in first year

More than 41,000 people have visited the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy since it opened a year ago
Connla Young

MORE than 40,000 people have visited a centre dedicated to the life and work of poet Seamus Heaney in its first year.

The popularity of the Seamus Heaney HomePlace has exceeded expectations as it celebrates its first anniversary this week.

The complex, which sits on the site of a former police station in Bellaghy, celebrates the Nobel Laureate’s life and literature in an exhibition space filled with personal stories, photographs and artefacts.

Poetry lovers from almost 20 countries, including America, New Zealand and Japan, have flocked to the south Derry centre to pay homage to Heaney, who died in 2013 and is buried in the nearby St Mary's churchyard.

Mid-Ulster District Council, which operates the £4m site, had hoped to attract 35,000 people in the first year but has comfortably passed that figure.

The centre was boosted by an impressive programme events held throughout the year.

In its short life it has also established itself as a magnet for some of the biggest names in the Irish arts scene with actors Adrian Dunbar, Stephen Rea and Fiona Shaw all making their own personal pilgrimage.

Internationally renowned poets and authors have included Michael Longley, Sinead Morrissey and Paul Muldoon, while Phil Coulter, Glen Hansard and Bronagh Gallagher have played to packed audiences in recent months.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla also attended the centre earlier this year, while Tim Wheeler from rock band Ash and Olympic gold medal winner Mary Peters were among others who have dropped in.

Kim Ashton, chair of Mid-Ulster District Council, praised the venue.

“The local, national and international response to Seamus Heaney HomePlace over the past year has been quite remarkable,” she said.

“Whether people come to the centre knowing Seamus Heaney’s work or being unfamiliar with it, the HomePlace experience moves and inspires them and we have hundreds and hundreds of comment cards from visitors of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities who tell us so.”

The DUP representative said visitors to the centre can relate to the poet’s life.

“I believe that HomePlace quite simply tells us a story, but a very personal one, of an ordinary boy from an ordinary rural place who, while he grew up to become one of our greatest writers, never lost the connections with and passion for his roots.

“That is what speaks to people when they visit HomePlace.”

Seamus Heaney, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, died aged 74 in August 2013.

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