On home ground
An Irishwoman’s Diary: A Derry festival becomes a Heaney tribute
It seemed the right time for me to mention singer/songwriter Paul Simon’s tribute which was published in the New York Times. In it he mentioned being in the audience in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin on June 9th, 1991 as Heaney read from Seeing Things: “and it was a rare opportunity for me”, wrote Simon, “to hear the sound of his words spoken with their true accent”. He commented on the music of Heaney’s writing.
And it is there in the wonderful rhythms of it; in the poetry, the prose writings and even in his literary criticism; Heaney the artist, Heaney the astute reader. Poet Nick Laird, a native of Cookstown, Co Tyrone, read The Sounds of Rain in memoriam Richard Ellmann (from Seeing Things). “An all-night drubbing overflow on boards/On the veranda . . . and then came to/To dripping eaves and light, saying into myself/Proven, weightless sayings of the dead./Things like He’ll be missed . . .” No truer words.
Frank Ormsby read Clearances III from The Haw Lantern, Heaney’s loving memorial to his mother and his privileged position as the first-born. Damian Smyth praised Heaney’s generous support of the Northern Ireland Arts Council and gave a moving reading of Requiem for the Croppies, from Door into the Dark.
Continuous video footage of Heaney showed him as a young man sporting wild sideburns and then as his middle-aged self, with singular white hair and kindly smile, to his more recent self, wise, weary. His presence was there in the faces of his brothers Hugh and Dan and his cousins – sisters Biddy and Pat, quick-witted and friendly. On Saturday evening poet Michael Longley lamenting his friend’s untimely death, echoed the words of Heaney’s brothers, “It’s not fair, it’s not fair” and read The Harvest Bow (from Field Work) a poem inspired by Heaney’s father and also a profound statement on the nature of art.
A few hours later, on a clear night in the churchyard at Bellaghy, the poet’s grave, beneath the spreading branches of a sycamore tree and a neighbouring ash, seems peaceful. Nearby is the family plot with all its history of lives shared and lived. A man appears in the shadows. He is from New York and loves Heaney’s poetry. Even the silence can’t mask the sound of passing traffic. Here lies a world famous poet, a much- loved ordinary local man.