Poet laid to rest under shadow of sycamore trees

Priest says Bellaghy honoured that Heaney had chosen to be interred in his home town

A piper leading the funeral of Seamus Heaney through Bellaghy yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

A piper leading the funeral of Seamus Heaney through Bellaghy yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Seamus Heaney was laid to rest yesterday evening in a country churchyard in south Derry under the shade of sycamore and ash trees.

“May the green sods of Bellaghy rest gently upon him,” said Rev Andrew Dolan, the local parish priest who officiated at the simple ceremony before the extended Heaney family and hundreds of mourners.

He said Bellaghy was honoured that Heaney had chosen to be interred in his home town, in a newly opened grave just yards from the Heaney plot where seven members of his family are buried, including his young brother Christopher, celebrated in the poem Mid-Term Break.

Fr Dolan greeted the chief mourners, the poet’s wife Marie, their children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann, brothers Hugh, Pat, Charlie, Colm and Dan and the wider Heaney family. The name of Seamus Heaney would be “for ever intertwined” with Bellaghy and its people, said Fr Dolan.

‘Strong influence’
Fr Dolan said Heaney would continue to exercise a “strong influence” on the lives of countless people for generations to come.

Minutes earlier, as he stood in the yard of St Mary’s church waiting for the cortege, Fr Dolan spoke of the importance of the poet for his home town, at the same time recalling the Troubles.

“When Bellaghy had bad days Seamus Heaney was always good news,” he said.

The people of Bellaghy lined the streets as the cortege led by a lone kilted piper arrived from Dublin about 5pm. Throughout yesterday afternoon in pleasant late summer sunshine people started arriving at the churchyard, one of the earliest was his friend from the 1960s, Dr Maurice Hayes, a Co Down man and former public servant to people on both sides of the Border.

He described Heaney as “huge in every way”, a poet who “never lost the run of himself”, and who gave a “voice to the people of the North”.

“He made poetry that people could grasp onto. But he gave too much of himself, he was hugely generous,” he added. “I remember Marie saying, ‘you know he signed so many copies of his books that in future days the valuable copies will be those that are unsigned’.” And Dr Hayes recalled the poet bringing a handwritten poem dedicated to his daughter Margaret at her christening. “I said I must put that away because by the time she is getting married he will have the Nobel prize. I put it away so carefully that I couldn’t find it again and I don’t think my wife Joan or Margaret have ever quite forgiven me.”

Many artists
Among the many artists present were his two good friends, Brian Friel and Seamus Deane. Also there was Eileen Hammond, widow of another great friend and musician David Hammond.

Several poets, writers, musicians and broadcasters joined local people at the graveside. They included Francis Harvey, Michael Coady, Paul Muldoon, Dermot Healy, Gerry Smyth, John Banville, Theo Dorgan, Paula Meehan, John Kelly, Pat Boran, and the incoming director of Poetry Ireland Maureen Kennelly. Musicians present included Paul Brady, Tommy and Colm Sands and Brian Coll.