I first met Seamus Heaney in 1979 at a party after a reading he gave in UCC. The venue was less than glamorous: a student house near Turners Cross nicknamed Sewage View – it looked out on a city waste processing plant.
We were students, thrilled and excited to be there, and he was as affable and as generous and warm towards us then as he has been over the years towards everyone.
He's taught not only in Irish schools but in schools and universities across the world. Pupils respond to the huge emotional charge of Mid-Term Break, "When all the others were away at Mass", and also to The Tollund Man and Tate's Avenue, two of 13 poems on next year's Leaving Cert. Heaney said that poetry, in general, "strengthens your inwardness", so does his own poetry.
In 1985 in Wesley College, he gave a memorable reading to a packed auditorium and he wrote a thank you letter. On being asked, he responded immediately and wrote a wonderful introduction to the Lifelines anthology and he was a great supporter of the nationwide Poetry Aloud. He was forever giving.
I interviewed him last April for the National Library and in response to my question "You've had lunch in Buckingham Palace, you've met presidents and celebrities, you've travelled the world, there are huge demands on you, how do you stay sane?" he answered with characteristic humility. He spoke of a brother who drove a furniture van, another who worked for the creamery and said "they come with me wherever I go".