Friday 24 November 2017

Heaney's parting words revealed

The coffin of poet Seamus Heaney is carried into the Church of the Scared Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin.
The coffin of poet Seamus Heaney is carried into the Church of the Scared Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin.

Nobel laureate and poet Seamus Heaney's last words to his wife were "do not be afraid", one of his sons has revealed at his funeral.

Michael Heaney told hundreds of mourners at the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, south Dublin his father's parting advice to his mother Marie.

"His last few words in a text message he wrote to my mother minutes before he passed away were in his beloved Latin and they read - 'noli timere' ('don't be afraid')," he said.

The Heaney family, including the couple's two other children Christopher and Catherine Ann, were joined by relatives and friends, contemporaries and dignitaries to pay last respects to Ireland's greatest poet since William Butler Yeats.

The internationally acclaimed 74-year-old writer died unexpectedly in hospital on Friday after a short illness.

Chief celebrant of the Mass and family friend, Monsignor Brendan Devlin, said it was not his place to embark on an undue eulogy or praise but went on to describe Heaney as a brilliant literary critic and articulator of years of pain in Northern Ireland.

He summed up why the poet was held in such high regard by people from all walks of life.

"He could speak to the King of Sweden, an Oxford don or a south Derry neighbour with the directness of a common and shared humanity," Fr Devlin said.

He told the mourners that the island of Ireland feels the deprivation of the loss of Heaney but also quipped that his friend would have been happy to have his funeral celebrated with a Northern accent.

Irish president MIchael D Higgins, himself a published poet, attended along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and former president Mary McAleese and her husband Martin.

U2 stars Bono - with his wife Ali Hewson - Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton topped a list of names from the world of music, arts and entertainment which also included John Sheahan of The Dubliners, Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains and actor Stephen Rea.

Other mourners included former hostage in Lebanon Brian Keenan, f riend and poetry contemporary Michael Longley and musician Paul Brady.

Following the funeral, Heaney's body was taken the 125 miles north for a burial in his native Bellaghy in Co Derry - a village that inspired so much of his work.

He will be laid to rest beside his brother Christopher, killed aged just four in a road accident. His death, while Heaney was a boarder at St Columb's College in Derry, would later form the basis for one of his poems, Mid-Term Break.

The family first made their home in Wicklow and later in south Dublin while Heaney spent periods teaching in Oxford University and at Harvard in the US.

Outside the church, near the Heaney home in Sandymount, friend, poet and teacher Paul Muldoon, who gave a witty eulogy during the service, said he would miss the poetry but also "having the chat".

"In some profound sense, if the afterlife applies to any one of us at all it applies to him. There are those who would say he created his own afterlife in his art and I suppose I'd be one who would say that," he say.

Muldoon knew Heaney for 45 years after meeting him as a teenager when the poet was giving a reading in Armagh in 1968. He was honoured and humbled to have been asked by the family to speak.

"I hope it's not inappropriate for me to say, he was a father to me. My own father was a father to me but not in the way Seamus was. There was a very special relationship between us, I miss him dearly," he said.

The Mass was ended with a reading of one of Heaney's poems, The Given Note, from his second published collection.

Books of condolences were open throughout the day in Derry, Belfast and Dublin.

Politicians who attended the service also included Eamon Gilmore, Ireland's deputy prime minister, senior Sinn Fein figures Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, and the leader of the opposition in Ireland, Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin.

Former US president Bill Clinton has been among those paying tribute since Friday, describing Heaney as "our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives" and a "powerful voice for peace".

A hastily arranged celebration of the poet's life in Belfast's Lyric theatre on Saturday night was packed to capacity as the audience was treated to poignant recitals of his best known works.

The 1995 Nobel prize-winner was born in April 1939, the eldest of nine children, on a small farm called Mossbawn near Bellaghy, and his upbringing often played out in the poetry he wrote in later years.

The citation for the award praised Heaney "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past".

Press Association

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