IT WAS Ireland at its best – at its very, very best. We somehow got things right, in the way we said our final goodbyes to the glorious wordsmith who embraced our collective heartbeat in those countless poems he wrote for us all.
As so often happens, it was not until his final crossing over that we fully appreciated just how much Seamus Heaney meant to a country ever anxious to express its imaginative identity. And perhaps it is only now we are beginning to realise how much we will miss "having him around the place".
Heaney's presence, whether on radio, television, or at a book festival, and of course his poems, provided a vague but constant backdrop for the Irish consciousness.
We felt that, in a way, his intelligence and perception were there to keep us grounded.
As they used to say down the country in previous times, Heaney was the kind of man "who could see things".
The calm reassurance of that steady Derry accent, the strong-boned features, which changed with the years from dark-haired youthful vigour, to tousled grey and a much-lived-in face, remained somewhere in the backbeat of our lives.
For the majority of the population, his was an image that would be called on only for fleeting moments – usually when he read a poem on some radio or TV programme. But sometimes he would unwittingly make us stop and think.
The word pictures he painted lulled, or shocked, us into paying attention, knocking us off our stride.
Poetry is a minority art form, and for most people it is only during secondary school they have any direct involvement with it.
But the unintended populism of Heaney – and his genius for the common touch – meant he had a connection unique among the international intelligentsia.
However, it is also clear there is residual appreciation for this particular mode of literary expression in the Irish folk memory. Only a few years ago, the Leaving Cert poetry anthology 'Soundings', first published in 1969, was reissued, complete with its old school cover design.
It had been a standard text for over a quarter of a century, and the newly published edition for the mass market became an unlikely bestseller.
Thousands of Irish people of varying ages bought it, trying to rediscover some of the memories and emotions of their teenage years, which can uniquely resonate through poetic form.
And so the continuum goes on. The course for the 2014 Leaving Cert contains all the old favourites, with no less than 13 poems by Heaney. He is right up there with WB Yeats in the sheer range of his work on offer.
But swotting for a high-stakes exam like the Leaving inevitably takes some of the intrinsic joy out of tasks like reading poetry.
All those technical terms such as iambic pentameter, metaphors, similes, personification, assonance, onomatopoeia, must be waded through to try to get a high exam grade.
However, put-upon students should remember the return for all this technical effort will be repaid many times over, long after the Leaving and its tribulations have drifted into memory.
Most leave the second-level sector with at least a few favourite lines lodged somewhere deep in the memory bank. It could be WB Yeats aching for his great lost love, Maud Gonne, as he extols her enduring allure:
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this
And what of Heaney himself? His poem 'Mid Term Break', commemorating his young brother Christopher, who died in a road accident, seems to have had special resonance for many people, especially the haunting melody of the final two lines:
A four foot box,
A foot for every year
But his poem 'Postscript' is also simple, rhythmic, and powerful. It begins:
And some time make the time to drive out west
into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
And it ends:
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open
Perhaps the message for our current crop of school students is to allow Heaney's legacy to "catch the heart off guard and blow it open" when they swot up on their poetry for the Leaving Cert.