Seamus Heaney’s poetry parachutes into airport

Nobel laureate’s lines now grace tapestry at departure gates in Dublin Airport's T2

Paul Simon speaking at the unveiling of a tapestry tribute to the late poet, Seamus Heaney in Terminal Two of Dublin Airport.


At about 2.45pm yesterday, travellers hurrying through the departure gates at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 would have been surprised by a vibrant tapestry of golden, silver, silk and cotton threads, depicting a tiny creature floating aloft in a blue vastness, clinging precariously to a “parachute” lined with the poetry of Seamus Heaney.

A tapestry, in the words of Bill Shipsey, the lawyer who conceived the idea of dedicating a tapestry to Heaney and hanging it at the airport, that was “conceived in Dalkey, designed in Prague, woven in France, supported by artists and friends in New York and Dublin – and given a magnificent home by the Dublin Airport Authority”.

If they had looked over to the left, they might have caught a glimpse of “arguably the greatest singer-songwriter of the last 50 years”, as Shipsey described him. The legend was Paul Simon, soft-spoken and private, in Ireland at the invitation of Poetry Ireland to perform later at the National Concert Hall, but who, Shipsey noted, had been the first to respond with a very short email – “I am in” – when the request went out last September to support the creation of the €60,000 tapestry.

In the short dedication on behalf of Amnesty and International Art for Amnesty, Simon said: “It’s always a good day when you can give a gift and I think this is particularly lovely because of the magnitude of the gift and because of the recipients who are all the people of the world really, who are passing through Dublin Airport – soon to be renamed Seamus Heaney airport . . .”

Kevin Toland – chief executive of the Dublin Airport Authority, which covered the cost – who reminded guests the family’s loss, only last August, is very recent. “For many of us this is a joyful occasion but we are aware that, for the Heaney family and for all those who knew Seamus Heaney personally, the joy of this event must still be tinged with deep feelings of sorrow and loss.”

It was a low-key ceremony, attended by Fingal’s first citizen, Cllr Kieran Dennison; the ambassador of the Czech Republic to Ireland, Mrs Hana Mottlova; the new French ambassador to Ireland, HE Jean-Pierre Thebault; Cllr Mannix Flynn; poets Paul Muldoon, Peter Fallon and Gerard Smyth; and Michael Farrell of Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac).

It was presided over by Marian Finucane, who described her first meeting with Heaney, when filling in for Mike Murphy on RTÉ. “He said he would read a poem that hadn’t been published and that he hadn’t read before. It started off ‘When all the others were away at Mass, I was all hers as we peeled potatoes’,”

Olivia O’Leary traced the meaning of the lines in the tapestry’s “parachute”, from Lightenings viii , written in 1991.

‘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.

The last deed was the unveiling. For an awkward few moments, the veil refused to budge. “That’s show-business for you,” said Paul Simon.

No doubt, said an observer, Heaney was laughing somewhere out in the marvellous.