Wednesday 26 November 2014

Village's famous son will rest beside little brother

Greg Harkin Bellaghy, Co Derry

Published 31/08/2013 | 05:00

Blacksmith Barney Devlin (95) in his home in Castledawson, Co Derry, with a painting of him and Seamus Heaney at the forge that inspired the poet to write the poem of that name.

SEAMUS Heaney will be laid to rest in the same graveyard as a toddler brother immortalised in one of his greatest poems.

In the Co Derry village of Bellaghy, the news of the death of its most famous son was greeted with shock, tears and grief.

Fr Andy Dolan scrolled through parish records and pointed to a page marked '1952'. Seven columns down is the name of Christopher Heaney, aged three-and-a-half.

"A foot for every year," says Fr Dolan, quoting Heaney's poem 'Mid-Term Break' in which the poet tells of returning home from boarding school for his little brother's wake.

"They will be bringing Seamus home on Monday," sighed Fr Dolan, a personal friend.

"The world has lost a huge talent and we have lost a wonderful friend."

Fr Dolan pointed to a corner of the graveyard at St Mary's Parish Church. "That's where he wanted to be buried, in the same graveyard as Christopher," he said.

Former blacksmith Barney Devlin was the inspiration for the poem 'The Forge', penned in 1969.

The 95-year-old said: "I was shocked to hear of Seamus's death. He was only a young man – compared to me anyway. It's certainly a big loss for the area."

PROUD

In Mr Devlin's living room, a painting of him and the poet at the "dark door" of the old forge hangs above a handwritten copy of the highly acclaimed work. It is signed off with the note, "Hammer on Barney".

The village and the surrounding area is fiercely proud of Heaney – as he was of them.

Many of his works are held at Bellaghy Bawn, a 15th Century house, unfortunately now closed due to lack of funding.

A statue of 'The Turf Man', unveiled by Heaney four years ago, sits at the entrance to the village – marking his most famous poem 'Digging'.

Just up the road is Anahorish Primary School where Heaney began his life in education and which he also wrote about in a poem. A copy of the poem, written on parchment by Heaney and signed by him, takes pride of place in the school office.

Heaney's face is engraved in a plaque at the entrance to commemorate their greatest past pupil.

Principal Danny Quinn admitted he was in a "complete state of shock". He added: "He never forgot his roots and people here are all the sadder for his passing."

On Monday, Seamus Heaney will come back to this place he called home for the final time.

Irish Independent

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