Friday 19 April 2019

Gadget sounds ruin great man's funeral

Camera phones, iPads pinging and mobiles ringing during the eulogy almost destroyed Seamus Heaney's last goodbye, writes Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

It was the moment mourners silently remembered. Heads bowed in reverence, stillness filled the air as the congregation at Seamus Heaney's funeral silently recalled his life. And then – the ear-splitting drone of a mobile phone.

It rang and rang, over and over, until members of the congregation began angrily shuffling on their pews, pushing out airy, exasperated sighs.

It turned my thoughts to another poet; Emily Dickinson. In her poem I heard a fly buzz – when I died she describes the mental anguish at annoying distractions at the most crucial times in life. Even at the moment of death.

In Dickinson's case, it was a wretched bluebottle that interrupted the stillness that should come with it. My thoughts turned to Seamus Heaney's family. Here was a man: their brother, husband, father – who had dedicated his art for all of us to enjoy the riches of his work.

His pared-back words showed us that the beauty of life, the important things, should not get drowned out by the noise of the unnecessary.

And yet his service had been rudely interrupted by just that.

It wasn't just a single culprit. I was told afterwards by another mourner that devices went off on several occasions through the service. Phone calls and text messages pierced through the silence as people meditated on his life. One gentleman reported that the man next to him spent half the service "clicking away on his camera phone". Can you imagine?

RTE presenter Sinead Gleeson heard a mobile ring as Heaney's son Michael delivered his eulogy.

In fact, she said, she heard "the whole cacophony of technology" represented at the service. From texts to iPad pings to telephones ringing.

At one stage we were told that the song Brahms's Lullaby had been specially requested by Heaney before he was taken to his final resting place.

So he had put some thought and creativity into how he wanted his final goodbye to play out.

I'm sure the great man didn't factor in the rude punctuations of phones, iPads and Blackberries hopping in the pockets of people with their busy lives. People to meet, things to get on with.

Despite the bad-mannered intrusions, it was the most beautiful of ceremonies, due to the care and attentiveness of his family and friends.

We heard about the informal relationship he enjoyed with his children, who had referred to the literary great as 'headtheball', much to the amusement of the congregation. His spirit of generosity, his humility, right throughout his life.

One fellow mass-goer told me how the poet had sought his inspiration whilst looking out from an attic room over the stillness of Sandymount strand.

Indeed, Given Note, the chosen Heaney poem read out on the day, described a man going off alone on to an island to retrieve the magic of life.

Outside however, within the church grounds, the circus went from bad to worse. As the plain coffin was placed inside the hearse, people gathered round now purposefully armed with their mobile phones. They drew them forth, bang, bang, bang, stealing shots of the pale wooden box.

For what? Twitter? To text on to friends? Who knows?

I wonder what the great man himself would have made of the whole thing. The nation's past and future colliding spectacularly as he made his final journey.

The beanie cap worn by The Edge, of which there was much consternation this week, isn't worth a second thought when compared with the bad manners of others at the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook last Monday.

At least the musician sat in quiet veneration throughout.

It is ironic that a technology which – in many ways is destroying communication with one another in our day-to-day lives – almost ruined the long farewell to Ireland's acknowledged 'keeper of language'.

Sunday Independent

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