Family of Seamus Heaney open centre dedicated to late poet
£4.25m Bellaghy facility a permanent exhibition about life and work of Nobel Laureate
Marie Heaney and her children, Michael, Christopher and Catherine, at the official opening of the new arts and literary centre in Bellaghy, Co Derry. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times
Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times
Seamus Heaney’s family gathered “with mixed but generally joyful emotions” in his native Bellaghy, Co Derry, yesterday for the official opening of the new HomePlace dedicated to the memory of the Nobel laureate.
The £4.25 million arts and literary centre was officially opened by Marie Heaney and her children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine, yesterday, with doors opening to the public today.
Some 200 guests including singer-songwriter Paul Brady and actor Stanley Townsend, who read from Heaney’s work, attended last night’s opening. Also in attendance were First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Ms Foster said Heaney’s work spanned 50 years. “Those same 50 years were also profoundly significant to all of us in Northern Ireland, bringing us to where we are now, looking forward with confidence and determination to a positive and energised future,” she said.
Mr McGuinness described Heaney as a “much loved son of Derry, an ordinary man with extraordinary talents, and this new arts and literary centre will be a tourism magnet for Mid Ulster”.
The Seamus Heaney HomePlace is located in Bellaghy on the site of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks. It is based where Heaney spent his formative years and which inspired a considerable body of his work.
A number of arts events under the title of “The Nib Uncapped”, featuring musicians and writers such as Heaney’s friends Michael Longley, John Montague, Tom Paulin and Paul Brady, are taking place at the centre this weekend with a full programme scheduled for the months ahead curated by Seán Doran and Liam Browne.
The core feature of HomePlace is a permanent exhibition about the life and work of Heaney arranged over two floors of the building. There is also a 189-seat performing arts space and a library with a substantial number of books from Heaney’s home donated by his family.
Heaney’s son Michael said the family had seen the site at the start of work and had some “qualms” about how the finished centre might appear. “But as soon as we saw the building all those qualms evaporated,” he said.
Reflecting that it is just three years since his father died, he said the family had “mixed but generally joyful emotions” about the Seamus Heaney HomePlace.
“I may be biased but I think it is a brilliant job,” he said of the 2,000sq m centre which was designed by Coleraine architects W&M Given. He said his mother was “thrilled and delighted” by the centre.
Catherine Heaney hoped that HomePlace would “become a hub for the local community and a destination for visitors from further afield and that, for everyone, it will illuminate the poems and bring them to life”.
The centre is managed by Heaney’s nephew, Brian McCormick, from nearby Lavey. “When you are really young he is just your uncle but as you get slightly older you realise that yes, he is your uncle but he is someone who is quite special. You start to hear about his achievements, you start to realise at school that you are being taught his poetry and he starts to win awards. You get a sense of this man’s reach,” he said.
It was important therefore that the centre properly reflected his achievements. “We have always been very mindful of the fact that we are trying to do this in the right way, subtly and tastefully. I think we have achieved that. I think he would be quietly pleased,” said Mr McCormick.
HomePlace is run and funded by Mid Ulster District Council with the North’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure contributing £980,000. Its target is to attract 35,000 visitors each year.