Friday 24 May 2019

President and Taoiseach lead tributes to the late Seamus Heaney

Tributes paid to the Nobel Laureate who died this morning at the age of 74

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny have led tributes to the late poet and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney.

Heaney’s death was announced by his family earlier today.

“The death has taken place of Seamus Heaney.  The poet and Nobel Laureate died in hospital in Dublin this morning after a short illness,” the statement read.

Friend and fellow poet, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to a man whose “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense”.

"Once in a lifetime the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme." - Seamus Heaney

Speaking on RTE Radio One, President Higgins added: “He dissolved the Atlantic as his following in the States is enormous.

“What enabled his poems to be the successes they were was that he had the intellectual capacity to draw from a range of literature in different forms.

“Friendship was terribly important to him.

Seamus Heaney at the opening of Queen's University Belfast's McClay Library, July 6 2010.
Seamus Heaney at the opening of Queen's University Belfast's McClay Library, July 6 2010.
Seamus Heaney with Bill Clinton.
Seamus Heaney, center, displaying his Nobel literature prize medal, surrounded by his family, from left: his son Michael, daughter Catherine, his wife Marie and son Christopher,
Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. Photo: Getty Images
Seamus Heaney pictured in June reading a poem in front of a bust of Senator Ted Kennedy.
Seamus Heaney shakes hands with Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Ireland in 2011. Also in the picture are the then President Mary McAleese, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Dr. Martin McAleese
Seamus Heaney pictured in 2006
Seamus Heaney
A young Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney at Yeats Summer School at Hawk's Well, July 30th, 2001

“All of us will miss the extraordinary personality. For Marie [his wife] and his children – theirs is the greatest loss,” President Higgins added.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the poet’s death brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.

“He is mourned - and deeply - wherever poetry and the world of the spirit are cherished and celebrated.

“For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people."

U2 frontman Bono described Heaney as "a great, great poet" who "changed my life".

He added: "In so many things he was a gentle genius, whose words challenged us with the grit and beauty of life as much as they gave us solace. He wrote with a brevity that strangely spilled to the brim.

"We all envied how he made that most complicated of things, the balancing of work and family, appear so simple. In Marie he found his other whole. And it is a joy to be around his kids... Michael, Chris and Catherine Ann. They have all of his humility in their sharpness."

The star revealed he carried Heaney's poetry with him, including on a recent trip to Liberia, adding: "I am bewildered to think Seamus is no longer with us. Because his words will be around forever, it seemed so would he."

Former US president Bill Clinton praised Seamus Heaney as "our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives" and a "powerful voice for peace" in a tribute tonight.

Mr Clinton and his wife Hillary said they were saddened to learn of the death of their "friend".

"Both his stunning work and his life were a gift to the world. His mind, heart, and his uniquely Irish gift for language made him our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives and a powerful voice for peace. And he was a good and true friend," the Clintons said.

"We loved him and we will miss him. More than a brilliant artist, Seamus was, from the first day we met him, a joy to be with and a warm and caring friend - in short, a true son of Northern Ireland.

"His wonderful work, like that of his fellow Irish Nobel Prize winners Shaw, Yeats, and Beckett, will be a lasting gift for all the world."

Recognised by many as the best Irish poet since WB Yeats, Heaney was a teacher before embarking on a career in poetry which led to him winning the Nobel prize for literature in 1995.

Numerous prizes and honours were bestowed upon Heaney and his literary work over the years.

The poet was born near Toomebridge, Northern Ireland, but as a child moved to Bellaghy, Co Derry.

The Nobel Laureate suffered a stroke some years ago, which led to health problems in recent times.

Heaney is survived by his wife, Marie, and their children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.

The Nobel prize-winner was born in April 1939, the eldest of nine children, on a small farm called Mossbawn near Bellaghy in Co Derry, Northern Ireland, and his upbringing often played out in the poetry he wrote in later years.

He was educated at St Columb's College, Derry, a Catholic boarding school, and later at Queen's University Belfast, before making his home in Dublin, with periods of teaching in the US.

Heaney was an honorary fellow at Trinity College Dublin and last year was bestowed with the Seamus Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing at the university, which he described as a great honour.

His world renowned poetry first came to public attention in the mid-1960s with his first major collection,Death Of A Naturalist, published in 1966.

As the Troubles took hold later that decade, his experiences were seen through the darkened mood of his work.

Two years ago, he was awarded the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards.

Unable to contain his joy as he greeted his friend Michael D Higgins, who had just been elected President of Ireland, he remarked how great it was to be able to call a poet 'President'.

Former US President Bill Clinton appeared by video link on the night and delighted the audience by telling them he loved Heaney's poetry so much he called his dog 'Seamus'.

Clinton tweeted a pictured of himself and Heaney this afternoon along with the quote:

"Once in a lifetime the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme."

Tributes are continuing to pour in for the Laureate.

Fellow poet and friend Peter Sirr expressed his shock at the Derry man’s death, saying he thought Heaney had left the world too soon.

“I know he wasn’t well and he was quite frail after his stroke,” the Waterford poet said on Radio One this morning, “but he died too soon.

“There was always a notion that Seamus was a permanent presence in the world both as a man and a poet, I never thought I’d wake up and he’d be gone.

“This is a global event but first of all it’s a family event.”

Dublin poet Thomas Kinsella said he was in a state of shock.

“It is just such a powerful presence taken from us,” Kinsella said.

“My memory of his very earliest poems... we just knew we were dealing with the real thing.

“God rest him and God help us.”

Fellow poet John Montague said the sad news had comes as no surprise.

“I’m not surprised – I knew he was in bad health,” Mr Montague said.

He added that he had been speaking to a relative of Heaney’s recently who told him he was “not in good shape”.

Irish literary writer Colum McCann said Heaney brought “incredible joy” to the world.

“It’s hard to say what I think.

“Seamus brought incredible joy to us... to scholars, lovers, poets and intellectuals.

“He helped us negotiate a sense of ourselves, especially during the Peace Process.”

Trinity College Dublin Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast paid tribute saying "Seamus Heaney was a literary and cultural ambassador for Ireland, defining our artistic sensibility through the depth and scope of his poetry."

"He will take his place among other great Irish writers of his generation and before, and inspire the minds of those who want to capture with words the ordinary in extraordinary ways."

The Heritage Council said they were deeply saddened by Heaney's death.

" From Derry to Dublin, and across the world, this humble and deeply honest man has inspired and captured the imagination of millions of people."

"His articulation and deep rooted understanding of the common heritages that live on our own small Island helped us all to build many bridges. His legacy will remain and benefit us all for generations to come."

Minister for Tourism & Heritage Jimmy Deenihan told the Irish Independent that he had recently met with Heaney and his wife Marie.

“Just a few weeks ago I spent a very enjoyable evening with him in Paris with his wife Marie and we stayed together in the Ambassador’s residence and he performed there to a huge audience of about 1,000 people outdoors.

“You could just sense the respect that people had for him."

“He was just a very humble, modest man."

“Anywhere I ever travelled in the world, on the subject of poetry, the name of Seamus Heaney came up immediately.”

“He was a huge figure internationally. He was just a great ambassador for literature.”

Meanwhile, Kieran McLoughlin, President and CEO of the Worldwide Ireland Funds described Heaney as a great friend of the fund, often making himself available to promote Irish culture and arts across the world.

“We had the privilege of recognising Seamus with our Literary Award in 1973. He helped us select the subsequent honoree every year since. 

“On the 40th anniversary of the Award in 2012, and in the presence of his good friend and admirer, President Bill Clinton, we presented Seamus with a Lifetime Achievement Award,” Mr McLoughlin said.

“He was a force in the world of philanthropy as well as poetry.  So many established and emerging Irish writers and artists are indebted to Seamus for his encouragement and example,” he added.

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