Northern Ireland news

Brothers of Seamus Heaney speak of their childhood in new documentary

Seamus Heaney died in 2013 at the age of 74

THE surviving brothers of Seamus Heaney have spoken for the first time of their childhood with the Nobel Prize winner and the experiences that inspired many of his greatest poems.

Six years after his death, a new documentary looks back at the poet's life and work with his family sharing personal memories of the Co Derry writer.

And for the first time his four surviving brothers - Hugh, Charlie, Colm and Dan - talk about their years growing up with Heaney, who was the eldest in a family of nine.

Seamus Heaney: The Music Of What Happens hears one brother describe how he witnessed their youngest sibling being struck by a car, which later inspired one of Heaney's best-known works.

Seamus Heaney's brother Hugh on the family farm. Picture by BBC

Hugh Heaney tells how Christopher (4) died after being knocked down in February 1953.

"I was with him, he just ran across the road behind the bus, he just ran out," he said.

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"There were two other brothers on the other side of the road, he saw them and he just ran across.

"You never forget things like that. It was a long time ago, 65 years ago, but you never forget it."

The tragedy inspired Heaney's poem Mid-Term Break, which recalls the poet returning home from St Columb's College in Derry for the funeral.

Among the powerful imagery in the poem is the line 'A foot for every year', a reference to the size of the coffin.

Marie Heaney, wife of the late poet Seamus. Picture by BBC

Heaney's wife Marie and their children Michael, Christopher and Catherine also feature in the documentary as well as fellow writers such as Michael Longley.

Marie Heaney recalls how it was love at first sight after they met at an event at Queen's University Belfast, with Seamus loaning her a book and telling her he wanted it back in two days.

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"We met then on Thursday and although we're both very cautious people I think we knew at that point that we would end up together - and we did for 50 years," she said.

Seamus Heaney's daughter Catherine. Picture by BBC

Marie added: "He was very handsome, unusual looking and he was a very charming man. So it wasn't hard to fall for him."

Seamus and Marie Heaney. Picture by BBC

During the 90-minute documentary, which was filmed in Belfast, Bellaghy, Boston, Wicklow and Dublin, Heaney's family also read some of his greatest poems as well as providing insights into life with him.

In one emotional scene, Marie becomes tearful as she reads aloud a poem Heaney wrote for her, Tate's Avenue, in tribute to where they lived in Belfast as a young couple.

"I shouldn't have read it, it's a beautiful poem," she said.

"I was his first reader, he would show me a poem, he knew me so well that if I wasn't sure about it."

Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens will be screened on BBC2 on Saturday at 9.45pm.

Seamus Heaney's writing desk. Picture by BBC

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