THEY came in their thousands to bury one of their own as the people of Bellaghy said a final farewell to Seamus Heaney.
They stood six-deep in the hot sunshine on the pavements of the Co Derry village which inspired Seamus Heaney's greatest poems, as the hearse slowly passed through with people blessing themselves as the coffin eased by.
A lone piper led the way, out of the village to St Mary's Catholic church, blackberries ripening on the hedges as mourners walked by.
After the farewells of Dublin, this was a parish affair.
This was Heaney's neighbours saying goodbye – the Cassidys, the Diamonds, the Toners, the Hughes.
Hundreds of people had gathered around the graveside several hours earlier, including those who had travelled from around the globe. Poetry buffs and Heaney fans mingled with farmers and labourers.
Seamus's wife Marie, children Michael, Christopher, Catherine and their families followed, sobbing into the graveyard and clearly taken aback by the sheer numbers there to welcome Seamus home.
Former Derry Bishop Edward Daly stood at the entrance as the hearse arrived.
Parish priest Fr Andy Dolan's voice shook with emotion as he spoke at the grave, nestled between two trees, an ash and a sycamore.
"We are welcoming Seamus home," said the priest, a close friend.
"We are honoured that Seamus Heaney chose to be buried here. The name of Seamus Heaney and this place will be forever entwined.
"We are privileged to fulfil his wish that he be buried here in the place he never left and among the people who influenced him so much and made him who he was and influenced what he said."
He added: "May the green sod of Bellaghy rest gently upon him."
Piper Liam Og O'Flynn played a lament to the poet, the end of which was greeted by a spontaneous round of applause by the 2,000 people who were in attendance.
Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh Eamonn Martin, a former president of St Columb's College, then sang – in Heaney's beloved Latin – the hymn 'Salve Regina'.
"He would have appreciated that," Dr Martin said afterwards.
"It's a hymn boarders at St Columb's would have sung each evening. It was a very sad occasion for everyone, particularly for the people of Bellaghy."
All day people from the parish had gathered in the village and at the graveyard.
Afterwards they gathered in huddles in the parish hall as the local GAA club guided them to tea and sandwiches and to talk of Seamus.
"Seamus will live forever," said Seamus McCloy, a Bellaghy native and friend of the poet.
"His poetry will go on and will live forever in this place and around the world."