New centre dedicated to life and work of Seamus Heaney opens in Bellaghy
A NEW arts and literary centre to honour the life and work of Seamus Heaney was officially opened last night in his native Bellaghy.
The £4.25 million building was opened by the Nobel laureate's widow Marie and their children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine.
The Seamus Heaney HomePlace includes two floors of exhibitions about the poet's life and work, a theatre and study rooms.
About 200 guests gathered for the official opening including singer-songwriter Paul Brady and actor Stanley Townsend who read from Heaney's work at the event.
Michael Heaney told The Irish News that the Co Derry village was "the perfect place" for a centre dedicated to his father.
"It makes complete sense. His family was from here, he lived here in his early years and we spent summers here as children. So much of his work was linked to here.
"Any worries I had evaporated as soon as I came in here. It is fantastically laid out. It tells the story of his life and puts his work front and centre. That for me is the most important."
Sean Doran and Liam Browne, who have developed the programme of events at the new centre, said it was a "huge privilege" to have been involved.
They said a number of prominent figures from the world of arts will lead events at the centre in the first three months, including Booker Prize winners Alan Collinghurst and James Kelman and actors Stephen Rea and Fiona Shaw.
Mr Browne said that the poet's work was "so rich and extensive that we believed it would merit a year's programme."
He said: "All the signs are so positive, 15 events on the opening weekend are already sold out.
"We wanted to follow the arc of his life across the year. We wanted a strong Irish presence in the first months to reflect his early life and writings, and then spread it into the international stage to reflect his later work.
"The message we would have is that just because you aren't interested in poetry or Seamus Heaney don't think that you won't get a lot out of these events and this place."
Mr Doran added: "Those behind this centre have decided to place it in a small village in the area where he came from. That is a courageous decision. It might have been thought; let's take it to Belfast or some big city."
Trevor Wilson, chair of Mid-Ulster District Council, said: "We know we are extremely privileged to be part-custodians of the legacy of this man and his work. We hope that all visitors will leave inspired by what they find here.
"He never left Bellaghy. He was a man of the people and to rise to his position as a Nobel Laureate was a great achievement, but it never went to his head."
First and Deputy First ministers Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness paid tribute to the Heaney family and those behind the project.
"Seamus Heaney's contribution to the culture and life of Northern Ireland is immeasurable," Ms Foster said.
Mr McGuinness said Heaney's gift was to make poetry powerful and accessible.
"Seamus Heaney was a much-loved son of Derry, an ordinary man with extraordinary talents and this new arts and literary centre will be a tourism magnet for Mid Ulster," he said.