When All The Others Were Away at Mass tops favourite poem poll

Public vote Seamus Heaney sonnet as best loved Irish poem of the past century

The poem When All The Others Were Away at Mass [from Clearances III - In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984] by Seamus Heaney has been named Ireland's favourite poem of the last 100 years.

The poem, which recalls a morning shared between the young author and his mother, peeling potatoes, topped an RTÉ poll to identify the best loved Irish poem of the past century.

Heaney’s son, Mick, said it was an honour for the poem to have been chosen as Ireland’s favourite.

"We are delighted and honoured that my father's sonnet When All the Others Were Away at Mass has been voted by the public as the Poem For Ireland, particularly given the magnificent shortlist it was part of."


Other works on the shortlist included A Christmas Childhood by Patrick Kavanagh, A Disused Shed in Co Wexford by Derek Mahon and Dublin by Louis MacNeice.

Managing director of RTÉ television Glen Killane said: “RTÉ’s A Poem For Ireland project was all about celebrating one of the things we do best as a nation. The thousands of thoughtful and considered responses from the public to the initial call for nominations and to the ten shortlisted poems is clear evidence of just how much poetry means to us as a people.”

President Michael D Higgins on Wednesday announced that Heaney's poem had topped the poll. It was revealed in front of a live audience during a special filming of The Works which will be aired on Friday at 8.30pm on RTÉ One.

‘When all the others were away at Mass’

[from Clearances in memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984]

by Seamus Heaney

When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

From New Selected Poems 1966-1987, Faber and Faber Ltd.

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin is an Irish Times journalist