Northern Ireland news

Charles praises 'universal voice' of Seamus Heaney during start of visit to Ireland

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall pictured during their visit to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Picture by Hugh Russell

SEAMUS Heaney saw "differences as opportunities for understanding", the Prince of Wales said yesterday as he visited the poet's Co Derry home place.

An admirer of the Nobel prize winner, the royal visitor was beginning a four-day trip to Ireland in Bellaghy where he viewed a £4.25m visitor centre established in his memory.

Prince Charles's presence in the predominantly nationalist village was greeted with a large crowd of well-wishers.

Amid the sunshine and the singing of local school children, the prince and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, met members of the Heaney family including the late poet's widow Marie and children Michael, Christopher and Catherine.

The village's former police station was transformed to become the Seamus Heaney HomePlace following his death in 2013.

At its heart is a permanent exhibition documenting Heaney's life and poems, including many personal artefacts such as his duffle coat and dozens of family photographs.

The royals listened to an audio recording of the internationally acclaimed poet reading one of his most famous works, Digging.

Of particular interest to the prince was the 'Word Hoard' display, a piece of art hanging from the ceiling depicting words used in Heaney's poetry. They also visited the study area and were shown original manuscripts of his work.

Seamus Heaney's widow Marie, right, with children Catherine, Christopher and Michael. Picture by Hugh Russell

The couple then moved into the venue's 189-seater performance space where an excerpt from The Burial at Thebes - a play by Heaney based on the fifth century BC tragedy Antigone by Sophocles - was performed by students from Rainey Endowed School.

A humorous moment came when a crown fell from one actor's head and and rolled in the direction of the future monarch, who stopped it with his foot.

Prince Charles has had a long interest in Heaney's work and met him on a number of occasions.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall pictured during their visit to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Picture by Hugh Russell

He said the visitor centre reciprocated the tremendous pride Bellaghy's favourite son felt for his native soil.

"What is encouraging too is the way this centre, like Seamus Heaney's work itself, reaches out across different communities, across different countries and different nations, finding as he did a universal voice in the accent of a particular place."

He spoke of how they had worked together on a summer school with the hope of fostering that sentiment.

"So often it is the poets who can find the words which identify the essential beyond the superficial, which reveal the sense beyond the slogan, and which can discover beyond the external things which separate us the humanity we share."

Prince Charles said he believed poets help people discover their shared humanity and revealed he had commissioned a musical work in Irish, English and Ulster Scots.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Picture by Hugh Russell

"I hope in some way, therefore, that this work will help show how our varied histories, voices and traditions can create all the greater harmony when they come together," he said.

"After all, it is differences that make harmony possible, even as it is the barriers that have been overcome to make friendship all the stronger."

He also alluded to Northern Ireland's emergence from conflict.

"This part of the world has seen more than its fair share of rain, in every sense. I can only pray that the songs which follow will be all the sweeter for that."

He said that was in the spirit of Heaney, whose work they were celebrating.

"One who saw differences as opportunities for understanding and exchange, one who learned in Bellaghy what it means to belong and who, with grace and generosity, extended that belonging to the world."

Later the couple travelled to Derry to meet cancer patients from both sides of the border at a treatment unit at Altnagelvin Hospital hailed as a shining example of north-south co-operation.

Today they will open a memorial garden dedicated to members of the PSNI who were killed while on duty before beginning an official visit in the Republic, at the request of the British government, where they will meet President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

They will visit Kilkenny Castle, where they will see some traditional music and watch a hurling demonstration, and attend ceremonies at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin to commemorate those who died in the First World War and during the Easter Rising.

The Prince of Wales pictured during his visit to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Picture by Hugh Russell

Seamus Heaney's widow Marie and the Prince of Wales at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Picture by Hugh Russell

Seamus Heaney's widow Marie and the Prince of Wales at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Picture by Hugh Russell

The Prince of Wales. Picture by Hugh Russell

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Picture by Hugh Russell

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