Poetry in motion: tapestry tribute to Seamus Heaney

The tribute to Heaney, which was paid for by a group of the poet’s admirers, including Paul Simon and Bono, is bringing colour to Dublin airport

 A detail from the tapestry tribute to Seamus Heaney by Czech artist Peter Sís

A detail from the tapestry tribute to Seamus Heaney by Czech artist Peter Sís

Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 01:00

If there is any substitute for love, it is memory – Jos Brodsky

A s you trudge towards Departures at Terminal 2 next week, dreading the ridiculous barefoot shuffle through security, take a moment to look up.

In a tapestry of silver, silk, cotton and golden threads, a tiny, endearing figure sails along in a shimmering blue vastness of ghostly sea creatures and mysterious objects, clinging precariously to his great parachute of words, bound for an island haven of warmth and love.

It can be anything the viewer wants it to be – a great, luxuriant, vibrant splash of artistry, a riff on the adventure of travel and words perhaps, in the cool, white, clinical surrounds of a modern airport.

Or it can be something more profound. The piece is a homage to Seamus Heaney whose death last August led to an extraordinary national outpouring of sadness and memory. The lines in the “parachute” are from Lightenings viii , his adaptation of a story from the Annals of Clonmacnoise, an imagining of a spaceship coming down to Clonmacnoise :

‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So

They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back

Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

Peter Sís, the Czech-born, world-renowned illustrator, author and film-maker, who conceived the image after innumerable exchanges with Heaney’s family and friends, says he tried to convey something “about the power of books and words, about the writer floating and fighting to keep some control of where he is going . . . He’s not really in charge of the vessel . . . He’s flying on an open book, on his words, through these vast, changing skies and there is that little island, a place that loves him and waits for him and embraces him.”

It seems wholly apt for a poet who was the master of juxtaposing the mundane and the marvellous. The art is distinctively Sís. Flying creatures and objects are a constant theme in his work – a process of working out the memories of growing up in a landlocked, communist-controlled country – and are central to his latest children’s book, a charming illustrated biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince .

The tapestry measures 4.65m high by 4m wide and was crafted by weavers from Atelier Pinton in the French town of Felletin, near Aubusson, over the course of three months. It cost €60,000, donated in six equal amounts by Paul Simon (one of the great poets of modern America, some of us would argue); Bono, Edge, Paul McGuinness and Kathy Gilfillan, Marie and Joe Donnelly, and American couple Kathy and Ed Ludwig, summertime Martha’s Vineyard neighbours of Bill Shipsey, the idea’s begetter and co-ordinator.

Shipsey, a Dalkey resident and busy senior counsel is also a lifelong member of Amnesty and founded Art for Amnesty, Amnesty International’s global artist engagement programme. It was he who persuaded Aung San Suu Kyi’s people to include Ireland in her post-liberation itinerary.

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