Mourners told of Heaney’s ‘greatness and graciousness’
Archbishop says poet was always a man of kindness and humility
The removal of Seamus Heaney at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, Dublin, yesterday evening. Photograph: Eric Luke
Marie Heaney (second from left), Catherine Ann Heaney (centre) and other members of Seamus Heaney’s family at the poet’s removal at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, Dublin, yesterday evening. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Publisher Peter Fallon (left) and poet Theo Dorgan at the removal of Seamus Heaney at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, Dublin, yesterday evening. Photograph: Eric Luke
There were a few minutes last night outside the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook when it seemed time had gone backwards, and that the location of Seamus Heaney’s removal was not in a suburb of our capital city, but in a small rural town.
His wife Marie, daughter Catherine Ann and daughters-in-law Emer and Jenny stood at one side of the church door; a tight quartet of dignified grief. Heaney’s sons, Michael and Christopher, his brothers and brothers-in-law, stood shoulder to braced shoulder at the other side of the door, waiting for the coffin to be removed from the hearse.
It was briefly reminiscent of an era that Heaney would have witnessed; when in country parishes, men occupied one half of the church and women the other.
There was just one spray of flowers on top of the coffin; a cascade of bone-white roses and lilies.
Heaney’s sons, brothers and brother-in-law took up the coffin and bore it into the church like a boat bound on a final voyage. They guided it tenderly through the assembled crowds that even in death continued to follow the great poet, and laid it sorrowfully on the bier in front of the altar.
The prayers were led by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. “Seamus Heaney was a great man, yet always a man of kindness and humility and a seeker of what is deepest in our common humanity,” he told the congregation. “Greatness and graciousness belonged together in him.”
The homily was given by Fr Kevin Doran. “It strikes me that the hermit and the poet probably have much in common: the need for solitude; the deep-down awareness of things and the self-discipline to spend hours in contemplation,” he said.
“The body of Seamus is at the heart of our gathering this evening and, in that sense, he is the focus of our gathering. In another sense, however, the funeral is all about the family. You have had your time for laughing and your time for embracing – and you will have them again. But this is your time for mourning. Our prayers this evening are for you Marie, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.”
As he spoke, the family linked hands together in the front pew. Their linked hands briefly made a kind of human chain; that human chain that is the title of what we now know was to be Seamus Heaney’s final collection of poems, published in 2010.
“This evening we give thanks to God for the gift of poetry which was so rich in Seamus and which he richly shared with us,” Fr Doran said.