Heaney lights up Yeats summer school
Nobel laureate’s reading marks halfway point of festival
Seamus Heaney: “Brian Friel once said about Eugene O’Neill, ‘I like O’Neill because he has the courage of his own boredom.’” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
If there was a theme, it was probably family, as Seamus Heaney packed out the Hawk’s Well Theatre for what was always going to be the highlight of this year’s “Tread Softly” festival in Sligo
There were inevitable reminders of time passing, but the Nobel laureate had them chuckling from the off, as he corrected himself saying his first offering was not from “my last book” but rather, as someone in the front row prompted, from “my latest collection”.
The only murmur of dissent came before he took the stage when Meg Harper director of this year’s International Yeats Summer School warned that the Nobel laureate would not be signing books at the end of the reading. It marked the halfway point of the school which continues to August 9th.
Chatted with fans
Many had come with pockets and handbags bulging. Last year they had been told one book only and no conversation, a rule the poet himself had seemed happy to break as he chatted with fans.
Thanking Harper for the “elevated – and accurate” introduction Heaney conceded that she was right, that schoolchildren were indeed now being “forced” to read his work.
He has joked that his 2006 stroke gave him a new theme. The poet walked on stage slowly and remarked: “I’ll get scolded for this when I get home” as he shuffled papers while the audience waited for him to find a poem. But his fans were captivated throughout. Noting that he had written an entire sequence of poems for his first grandchild, he explained that when Aibhin, granddaughter number two, came along, “it quickly became evident that that something was required” . And so A Kite for Aibhin was created.
He spoke of old friends like Derek Hill, now no longer around, and others like Brian Friel, very much here. “Brian Friel once said about Eugene O’Neill, ‘I like O’Neill because he has the courage of his own boredom’,” he recalled.
And at a time when there is much talk about centenary commemorations Heaney recited his In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge, explaining that he was dedicated to the memory of the the soldier poet about whom he wrote, “I think of you in your Tommy’s uniform, A haunted Catholic face, pallid and brave.”
Heaney described as one of the school’s “firmest friends” is clearly the star attraction in a town where people will literally climb mountains for a literary experience. The local Blue Raincoat theatre company is presenting dramatised readings of 10 years of plays throughout the festival.