Monday 17 June 2019

A Poem for Ireland: Seamus Heaney poem chosen as Ireland's favourite of past 100 years

Heaney: The poet is often claimed by the British
Heaney: The poet is often claimed by the British
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Seamus Heaney's sonnet 'When All the Others Were Away at Mass' has been chosen as Ireland's favourite poem of the past 100 years.

The poem made a shortlist of ten poems in the running in RTE's A Poem for Ireland poll, whch invited members of the public to vote.

President Michael D Higgins announced the win during the filming of a special episode of RTE arts show The Works at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

Speaking to RTE, Seamus Heaney's son Mick said: "We are delighted and honoured that my father's sonnet When All the Others Were Away at Mass has been voted by the public as the Poem for Ireland, particularly given the magnificent short-list it was part of."

He continued: "Dad was never happier than when reading or writing poetry, so for his work to be part of a project that shows the sweep of Irish poetry and underlines its crucial part in our culture is a wonderful tribute to his life and work, for which our family are truly grateful."

The special episode of The Works will air this Friday, March 13, at 8:30pm on RTÉ One.


‘When all the others were away at Mass’

[from Clearances in memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984]

by Seamus Heaney

When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.


So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.


The 10 shortlisted poems were:

1) A Christmas Childhood by Patrick Kavanagh

2) A Disused Shed in Co Wexford by Derek Mahon

3) Dublin by Louis MacNeice

4) Easter 1916 by William Butler Yeats

5) Fill Arís by Seán Ó Ríordáin

6) Filleadh ar an gCathair by Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh

7) Making Love Outside Áras an Uachtaráin by Paul Durcan

8) Quarantine by Eavan Boland

9) The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks by Paula Meehan

10) When All the Others Were Away at Mass by Seamus Heaney

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