Odes to Seamus Heaney: readers pay tribute in verse

In recent days, dozens of Irish Times readers – from practised scribes to amateur versemakers – have written and submitted poems remembering the late Seamus Heaney. Here is a selection of their contributions

Seamus Heaney. Photograph: Neil Drabble/Camera Press

Seamus Heaney. Photograph: Neil Drabble/Camera Press

Thu, Sep 5, 2013, 10:07


A long time ago I read Seamus Heaney’s poem
About Gallarus Oratory, then I thought I’d find
My way there when I was living at Dingle.

The “core of dark” which Heaney had spoken of,
Lying within its windowless pile of stones,
Somehow held the promise of illumination.

After a windswept, cliff-edged graveyard
(Which Brendan Behan had once joked
Was “the healthiest graveyard in Ireland”),
There rose a diminutive chapel with room
For few to do much in the way of orating.

This was Séipéilín Ghallarais,
‘The Church of the Place of the Foreigners’.
A tiny smudge on the horizon at Ard na Caithne,
Swelling up from the turf to a sharp point.

I entered, and I felt this black glow.
A few holy snatches came to mind.
I found myself testing the air with them,
For there was no one for miles around.

The stones’ structure held an empowering space.
A fruitful limbo that hovered between life and death.
It seemed a place where goodness could happen,
And also somewhere you could hear an inner voice
Getting louder, and resonating within the chamber
Until you had to apologize for talking to yourself
To a nebulous presence known to the cold air –
To the something that imbued this pile of stones,
And marinated them in prayer and reflection.

The Oratory has stood there since the sixth century.
It offers nothing: no food, no drink,
No mind-expanding chemicals,
Yet it feeds those entering its realm.

Heaney spoke of his being in it alone,
And of having the sense “of dropping
To the heart of the globe.”

That felt about right: a dark-age diving suit
In which to sink down, past the beaten earth floor
And then, reinforced, to ascend just as easily
To where the pointed roof indicated, and beyond.

I felt that Gallarus was there to teach silence,
And to offer the subversive reassurance
That there’s still something that’s not for sale.

– Heathcote Williams (The UK)

SEAMUS HEANEY, 1939-2013

Only memory can hold you now
That blood in fated stroke has shut the word-house
Down, poem-furrows left untilled, as plough
And flesh’s bone-house stilled can never rouse
The winged word, the thought on fire, or dream’s
Midwifery, poet’s ally hidden
Residual, the casual deeper than it seems.
Ireland north or south could not define
Your territories, the mind your wing spread,
World your only province. Who can confine
The eagle with lure of sky gone to its head,
To dig with quill and ink your sole intent
Your father’s spade, your pen, one instrument?

– Eugene Mahon, New York


(Seamus Heaney was a Latin scholar with a keen respect for and knowledge of the works of Horace, writes Seán Mc Cool, who has translated the ode from the Odes of Horace. “I find, in its words, an apt description of the perennial appeal that lies in store for the poetry of Seamus Heaney as well as the fame that works of Horace continue to enjoy,” he writes.)

I have built a monument
More lasting than bronze
And loftier than the regal peak
Of a Pharaoh’s pyramid,
I have erected a memorial,
Which neither lashing rains,
Nor violent North winds can erase,
Nor the fleeting sequence of countless generations destroy;
I shall not altogether die –
A great part of me shall cheat
The goddess of death, Libitina . . .

As long as the High Priest, with vestal silence,
Climbs the steps of the Capitol
My fame shall survive with posterity’s praise . . .

I shall be spoken of as one who,
From humble beginnings . . .

Pioneered the adaptation of Greek verse to Latin rhythms.

– Translated by Seán Mc Cool (Derrybeg, Co Donegal)


So this is how the news arrives,
a colleague’s quiet knock on a classroom door,
the beep-beep of a daughter’s text,
the corridor empty and silent
then the bell knelling classes to a close.

– Gerard Hanberry


Upon the eve of the darkening hue
While the greens deepen and the deprived insects rustle,
There is now a figure featureless set against a slanted sky.
I noted a steady breeze as it was thread through the horizon-less cloud and the

air transmuted to a single voice.
A nervous quality borne of surprise
Knowing there is no silence rich enough.
The shoreline rests upon an empty seabed
We will fill the space with the right words,
Before returning to the interrupted paths he knew well.
the sweep of thorns,
When daily toil brushed up against eternal question.
A shifting landscape stands still in a soft dusky ardour over the wordsmith,

gone on ahead. We peer in from outside immortality.

– Emmet O’Brien
(Wilton, Co Cork)


A sad time for Earth
with Seamus from Derry gone
to rhyme for Heaven.

– Michael O’Grady
(Shankill, Dublin)


They carried us here and there,
They smoked cigarettes
Whose brands have faded
But the outriders are mostly gone.

They jaunted us in cars between stone walls
Gorse, ragwort, the cocks of hay we saved,
The empty floats we hitched a ride on.
Water where we played burst through

Under Moloney’s Bridge and caught
The sun by its gills; dark bog-water
Turns bronze over the mottled stones,
But the outriders are mostly gone.

– Patrick Kehoe


Today we say farewell to you,
‘God speed you on your way’
So many hearts are filled with sadness,
Unlike you, we can’t find the words we need to say
Simply, you were one of us.
You graced the world stage with eloquence
And all the while stayed true
To the people and the place you came from
Yes, you were one of us.

And though, at times, some said you’d left,
No matter where you went,
This little part of Derry
Was forever in your heart.
As you journey one last time
Turning, after Toome, along the road
That runs past Anahorish school
And then on to Bellaghy,
You will be at peace,
Always and forever, in that little part of Derry
You held so dearly in your heart.
And though we’re broken-hearted
And we know the world mourns too
We owe a debt of gratitude
For you opened a window on our little part of Derry
And let the light shine through.

– Kathleen O’Doherty
(Bray, Co Wicklow; originally south Derry)


The house awoke to sunrise
Over Sandymount Strand
But today was no ordinary day.
The pen that lay on the desk
In the sun-filled attic study,
Overlooking the world and its movements,
Was not to be stirred from its horizontal slumber.

That pen will stir no more,
Sitting forlornly on the desk,
Reposing on the arena of past triumphs,
But confident in the knowledge that
It had participated in some epic adventures,
Guided by a true colossus.

Never again will it experience the surprise
Of new words describing the ordinary;
Of extra-ordinary concepts
Conveyed with everyday words.
The pen, like its master, at last can rest,
Having served the world, the country
And most significantly, the beloved flock,
Of ordinary people who felt to know him intimately.
He addressed them with a warmth and caring
For he understood their human condition,
He recognised the importance of the normal
The complexity of the simple bits and pieces.
The enforced silence will roar loudly on the horizon
As the pen acclimatises to the tranquility of redundancy
While the master proceeds to join his peers in another place:
The bond, which endured a lifetime, finally broken?

– Dave Fleming
(Donnybrook, Dublin)


What forests we have!
even half-invisible
they still cover our Earth
and breathe dangerously

like Theseus
whose living breath
all of us
A Great Oak has fallen
This great linchpin of Life-lived
this huge hub
of forest chatter
where ancestries stop and listen still
in wild structures
leaves a huge tracery
of light captured
Not a stillness, but still a living being

so soulful it is
always new
and with all
of us
growing still

– G
B O’Laoi (Sandycove, Dublin)


He’s left us!
Left this world,
Gone to another
Now an inbetweener,
Neither here nor there!
In a liminal light and shadow.
Tall white haired figure
His presence
A worthiness.
His wordiness
Unique Remains.
A space blown Wide Open!

– Martina Langan
(Kilnamanagh, Dublin)


Our most humble titan
Cleaved with pen, through dreams and

To mark his time, counsel the next
And bid us write.

– Joseph Cummins
(Warsaw, Poland)

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