Friday 13 December 2019

Literary greats join President in paying respects to author

Greg Harkin

LITERARY giants and the President mingled with farmers and neighbours as two communities of Ireland came together to say farewell to writer Dermot Healy.

They sat side by side in St Patrick’s Church in Maugherow in a part of north county Sligo where Healy had made his home for the past three decades.

Pat McCabe, Brian Leydon, Neil Jordan, Michael Longley, Ciaran Carson, Theo Dorgan, Margaretta D’Arcy and Mary O’Malley queued to pay their respects to the writer’s widow Helen on the normally quiet country road outside the chapel.

Renowned photographer Mike Bunn arrived early, to place a large black and white picture of Healy on the altar.

He was followed into the church soon afterwards by President Michael D Higgins.

The writer passed away at his home in nearby Ballyconnell at the weekend, a few months after being hurt in a car crash in Leitrim. He was 66.

Mourners heard Fr Michael Donnelly pay tribute to the Irish master of literature, a Westmeath native who grew up in Cavan and who had settled in Co Sligo after working as a labourer in London.

His son Dallan and his daughter Einear (correct) listened as the parish priest say that their father would often sit on a chair in his shed surrounded by dictionaries but had once written: “I know writing is what I do but I still don’t see myself as one.”

He said the words from his book ‘Sudden Times’ which dealt with death had “echoed” around the country when news of Dermot’s death had been announced last Sunday.

Quoting from ‘Bend For Home’ Fr Donnelly said the writer had dealt with the death of his mother and the ritual of preparing the corpse and a window opened to let the soul escape.

“Well the door was opened and the window and the window was open on Sunday evening in Ballyconnell and our prayer today is that Dermot’s soul returned to the Creator who gifted him with such a literary talent,” said the priest.

For a man with such a master control of language he would sometimes forget words, said Fr Donnelly.

“Dallan his son tells me that one day he was stuck,” said the priest.

“He couldn’t remember ‘long johns’ and said to Dallan ‘ye know those things you wear when you’re slithering down a mountainside’.”

Neighbours and friends, he said, had taken Healy to their hearts and they would come together to bury him in nearby Carrigans graveyard where – quoting the writer again – “the shovels work like oars, rowing the dead man from this world to the next.”

Traditional music by local players reverberated through the church in a last and final melody for the writer before President Higgins passed on personal sympathies before going up to the altar and laying his hands on the coffin.

Then the writers, artists and locals followed the hearse to Carrigans for the burial.

Among them was a local and a writer, Sligo native Keith Hopper, a lecturer in English at Oxford.

Keith had been meeting Dermot Healy, an American publisher wanting to republish many of his works.

But Healy fans can also look forward to something special.

“We have found 13 unpublished plays, a Healy treasure trove and we’re really looking forward to publishing those,” he said.

As he spoke a local man told him there was another unpublished novel “somewhere”.

It was, he said, given the title: “Life in Rosses Point as seen through the eyes of a dog.”

Mr Hopper, scribbling into a small black book, took note.

“That sounds like a great read,” he laughed.

Irish Independent

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