Seamus Heaney and the Gibraltar killings


A chara, – Dr Adam Hanna has to be congratulated for his investigative research uncovering the significance of an obscure poetic segment by Seamus Heaney relating to the killing of my sister, Mairead, and her two comrades, Sean Savage and Dan McCann (“Notes in Seamus Heaney archive suggest Gibraltar shootings influenced his work”, December 17th) in Gibraltar in March 1988. It shows that Heaney acknowledged the horror of the killings, but refused to play any part in highlighting this injustice.

As Adam Hanna points out, I had written to Seamus Heaney seeking his endorsement of Jack Mitchell’s epic poem, Gib: A Modest Exposure, on those deadly events. Although he abhorred the illegal killings – evidenced by Dr Hanna’s analysis – as well as the artistic worth of the poem, he refused our request.

It is said Heaney did not wish to be explicitly political. One wonders was a factor the ostracism endured by Thomas Kinsella for writing Butcher’s Dozen, which excoriated the British for the 14 murders on Derry’s Bloody Sunday in January 1972? The Irish establishment and its pro-British media made Thomas Kinsella an outcast for speaking the truth. Heaney, many believe, preferred to be fawned over by our betters and so kept silent. It was certainly a good career move, but one wonders will history be as kind as the Irish and British establishments have been?

It is interesting to recall that Heaney’s only political outing was on the side of the establishment and against Irish democracy. He was overtly part of the second Lisbon referendum campaign to bully the Irish people into voting in favour of the militaristic and neoliberal EU treaty.

Another Derry poet, Seamus Deane, was made of sterner stuff and did write an introduction to the poem. Gib: A Modest Exposure is a significant literary work. It is deliberately written in an accessible style echoing not only Kinsella’s Butcher’s Dozen, but also Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy. And it is no coincidence that the title of Jack Mitchell’s poem, A Modest Exposure alludes to the anti-colonial message in Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. – Is mise,



Co Galway.