Writers unite to stop Heaney’s birthplace being paved over

Bookmarks: The poet himself protested the Derry moterway route nine years ago

The late Seamus Heaney at his old primary school in Anahorish, Bellaghy, Co Derry in spring 1996. Photograph: Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives/John J Burns Library/Boston College

The late Seamus Heaney at his old primary school in Anahorish, Bellaghy, Co Derry in spring 1996. Photograph: Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives/John J Burns Library/Boston College

 

Many of Ireland’s leading writers have signed a petition calling on a Sinn Féin Minister in Stormont, Chris Hazzard, to reconsider plans to route a new motorway through Anahorish, Co Derry, the birthplace and childhood home of the late Seamus Heaney.

The Nobel Prize-winning poet, who died in 2013, protested against the motorway plans in 2007, writing to the then secretary of state, Peter Hain:

“I had few ecological concerns when I was a lad, but given the actual condition I couldn’t help respond. More recently I did become more commonly aware of the actual beauty of the landscape and the wetlands. My feeling was that when I saw the possible direction of the motorway I thought there was an alternative possibility to take it though an old aerodrome where there is an industrial estate and so on, which wouldn’t be as much of a wound on the ecology.”

The new road will bisect Heaney’s townland, which inspired many of his most famous poems, including Anahorish, Broagh, Mossbawn, Death of a Naturalist, Blackberry-Picking and Mid-term Break. Readers who wish to add their voices to the petition should contact sconnolly22@qub.ac.uk

A Heaney home

On a more positive note, the family of Seamus Heaney will perform the official opening of the new arts and literary centre dedicated to the life and literature of the late poet and Nobel Laureate. The Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, Co Derry is launched on Thursday, September 29th, followed by 15 events spanning music, theatre, poetry, song, reading and talks will take place from September 30th-October 3rd.

The programme includes Michael Longley, Sinéad Morrissey, Tom Paulin, Gerald Dawe and John Montague; a Tron Theatre production of Heaney’s version of Beowulf, directed by Lynne Parker; music from Paul Brady, cellist Christina Poltéra and The Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney; and readings from All Through the Night, a new anthology of night-time poems and lullabies edited by Marie Heaney. seamusheaneyhome.com

Kiely tribute weekend

The 15th Benedict Kiely Weekend takes place this weekend in Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, Co Tyrone, featuring Frank Ormsby, Thomas Kilroy, Martina Devlin, John Quinn, Paul Clements, Sara Baume and Little John Nee. Kiely, from nearby Dromore, grew up in Omagh and was buried there after a distinguished literary carer in Dublin. struleartscentre.co.uk

Boyne chooses best short fiction

The winner of this year’s €3,000 Moth Short Story Prize is the Australian writer Nikki McWatters for Yellow Belly, chosen by John Boyne “for its careful juxtaposition of childhood innocence with the darker sides of family life”. “The language and descriptive powers of the author suggest a great talent,” said Boyne, the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

McWatters’s writing career took off when her memoir, One Way or Another: The Girl Who Loved Rock Stars, was shortlisted for a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award. Her new young adult novel, set in Europe during the witch hunts, will be released in November. She is now writing a novel set in Ireland.

“It came as a very welcome surprise to learn that I’d won,” said McWatters. “I have a deep respect for John Boyne’s work, so it was an extra honour to have had my story chosen by him.”

The second prize, a week at Circle of Misse writers’ retreat in France, went to Sheila Armstrong for Puddles. Armstrong is from the west of Ireland but now lives in Dublin. She has been nominated for a Hennessy Award and contributed to the New Island anthology Young Irelanders.

The €1,000 third prize goes to Kelly McCaughrain’s The Hummingbirds. McCaughrain, who lives in Belfast, was shortlisted for the Times/Chickenhouse Children’s Fiction Prize and her first young adult novel, Flying Tips for Flightless Birds, will be published by Walker Books next year.

All three stories appear in the autumn issue of The Moth (themothmagazine.com).

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