In a Word...Good Friday

Seamus Heaney was born on Thursday, April 13th, 1939. ‘Thursday’s child has far to go.’

Many distinguished people were born on this date, April 13th: Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, my niece Mary (happy birthday, Mary). Beckett, like Mary, was born on Good Friday, April 13th – bless my queasy soul. Indeed, I had the good fortune of being the third person to see Mary, after her mother and father, that April day shortly after her dignified debut at Sligo Hospital. Such calm arrivals are not usually associated with redheads. It has remained so with Mary, whatever the occasion.

Seamus Heaney, however, was born on Thursday, April 13th, 1939. “Thursday’s child has far to go.” He could hardly have gone further than the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature. I had that odd privilege of reporting on his funeral in 2013, and then writing a piece to mark the first anniversary of his death from Bellaghy where he lies, humbly, against a wall in a corner of St Mary’s churchyard under ash and sycamore trees, his headstone reading, simply, “walk on air against your better judgement”.

It’s from his poem “The Gravel Walks” and was, he said, about “being on the earth and of the heavens. I think that’s where poetry should dwell.”

Then there’s poor oul’ bleak Beckett. Did the despair and absurdity that so dominates his writing arise from his being born on a Good Friday, a day when all hope died for the followers of Jesus. Big bould Sam was not averse to exploiting his birthdate either. In his semi-autobiographical 1980 novella “Company”, he wrote “You were born on an Easter Friday after long labour...” and “You first saw the light and cried at the close of the day when in darkness Christ at the ninth hour cried and died”.


He even claimed to have memories from the womb. In a 1970 interview, when he was 64, he said “I have a clear memory of my own foetal existence. It was an existence where no voice, no possible movement could free me from the agony and darkness I was subjected to.”

It may explain the atmosphere of some of his work, though productions abroad generally miss the hilarious humour, born of an over-wrought reverence. Bless their dull souls.

Good Friday. Good from Old English gōd, for `holy’, and Friday from Old English frigedæg, Frigga’s day, after Frigg, Germanic goddess of married love.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times