Home > Lifestyle > People
Tuesday September 3, 2013 MYT 6:30:00 PM
Tuesday September 3, 2013 MYT 8:45:02 PM
Seamus Heaney (April 13, 1939 - Aug 30, 2013). – AFP photos
Poet texted Latin phrase meaning ‘don’t be afraid’ to wife minutes before he died.
HIS voice quavering, the son of Seamus Heaney has told mourners of his father’s final words, minutes before his death.
At yesterday’s requiem mass in Dublin, Ireland, crowded with mourners, Michael Heaney described how the poet and Nobel laureate, who died last Friday at the age of 74 after a short illness, had chosen Latin for the message to his wife, Marie. His last words were “in a text message he wrote to my mother just minutes before he passed away, in his beloved Latin and they read: Noli timere – ‘don’t be afraid’”.
Mourners at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, south Dublin, were led by Marie and their three children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.
But such was Heaney’s impact and the affection in which he was held that the crowd was swollen by Hollywood actors, rock stars, presidents past and present and prime ministers, as well as scores of ordinary people whose lives were touched by the Nobel prize winner’s poetry.
Among the crowd were the members of U2, led by Bono, the actor Stephen Rea and Paddy Moloney from the Chieftains. Shane MacGowan, former frontman for the Pogues, arrived as Holy Communion was being given out.
The president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, attended as did the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, his deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore and the former Irish president Mary McAleese. Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams represented Sinn Fein.
Heaney’s fellow poet Paul Muldoon recalled that when he landed in Belfast international airport on Sunday, a security officer checking his passport asked what he did for a living in the United States.
“I told him I was a teacher and when he asked me what I taught, I said poetry. And then he looked at me directly and said: ‘You must be devastated today.’” For Muldoon, the words of genuine concern from a border control official reflected how his friend’s work had touched so many around the world.
During his tribute at the end of mass, Muldoon lightened the mood when he remembered a phone call he made to the Heaney household in Dublin nearly 30 years ago.
Muldoon said that Michael, then a teenager, had picked up the phone and eventually said: “I suppose you want to speak to Head-the-Ball?”, meaning his father.
Muldoon said the nickname Michael had given his father (a term in Ireland to denote someone being slightly mad) told him that there had been a “wonderfully relaxed attitude between father and teenage son, one I now know is so difficult to establish and even more difficult to maintain”.
Among the celebrities and politicians were ordinary people, some of whom had their own stories about encountering Heaney. Pat McParland from south Armagh told the Guardian how the poet gave him and his future wife Joanne an impromptu engagement present inside a Dublin restaurant six years ago.
“Joanne and I were in Dunne and Crescenzi, an Italian restaurant in Dublin’s Frederick Street, to celebrate our engagement. Seamus Heaney was sitting nearby us with some people having dinner. We kept getting mobile phone calls as people rang in to congratulate us getting engaged. Seamus must have overheard us and went over to wish us all the very best. Then he pulled out a poetry collection which contained his poem Scaffolding. He then wrote a couple of verses from that poem into the book by hand and then gave it to us as an engagement present. This gift from Seamus has become a very precious thing for Joanne and myself,” McParland said.
Among others from the Irish literary world were one of his oldest friends and fellow Northern Irish poet Michael Longley. Other mourners included the former Beirut hostage and author Brian Keenan as well as the folk singer Paul Brady whose songs reflected in music the concerns and pain of the Northern Ireland Troubles that Heaney wrote about in so much of his poetry. Liam O’Flynn played haunting traditional Irish laments on the uilleann pipes during the service.
After the mass ended, the funeral cortege began the long journey north, across the border and into south Derry where Heaney drew much of his inspiration in his early poetry. He was buried in Bellaghy, the south Derry village where he grew up.
There has been wave after wave of tributes to the Nobel laureate since his death was announced on Friday. Around 80,000 stood up and clapped and cheered in his honour for three minutes at the All Ireland Gaelic football semi-final on Sunday between Dublin and Kerry. Books of condolence have been opened in Derry, Belfast and Dublin. But it was his son Michael’s speech which he said would be “nothing fancy” that encapsulated the writing and the philosophy of the greatest Irish poet since W.B. Yeats.
Heaney told generations of aspiring writers: “Do not be afraid” in taking up the pen. Through decades he implored politicians, north and south, unionist and nationalist, “do not be afraid” in choosing the path of peace and eventually ending the Troubles by putting down the gun.
A rarity among poets
Seamus Heaney was one of the world’s best-known poets and winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for literature whose poems evoke an Irish country childhood, with images of potato diggers and peat bog cutters, and echo the deep political splits that have riven the island.
His works include the 1966 debut Death Of A Naturalist, The Spirit Level, District And Circle and an acclaimed translation of the old English epic poem Beowulf.
“The poet and Nobel Laureate died in hospital in Dublin this morning after a short illness,” said a statement on behalf of the Heaney family released by his publishers Faber and Faber last Friday.
Heaney was a rarity among poets, having won acclaim from critics while producing best-sellers.
Born on a farm in Mossbawn, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1939, his poems nostalgically recall the sights and smells of a country childhood. The weaving of rural roots and modern realism helped him to become the most acclaimed Irish poet since William Butler Yeats, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1923.
Heaney was born in the year that Yeats died, and died in Dublin near the house where Yeats was born. A figure with tousled hair and a shy and subtle manner, Heaney hated media hype and publishers’ publicity caravans even as he became one of Ireland’s most famous figures. It once took him three hours to walk down Dublin’s main street, pursued by autograph hunters.
He found recognition in academic circles, becoming Professor of Poetry at Oxford University and lecturing at Harvard University, and won the Nobel prize for his “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth”.
The news of his death sparked immediate sorrow among poets, academics and politicians and was the main story on Irish news bulletins north and south of the border. “For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people,” Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said.
A split Ireland
Heaney’s life was a cultural juggling act that began with his childhood in a Northern Ireland riven by sectarian tensions between Protestants and Catholics. He left at the height of the conflict in 1972, his departure hailed by one Belfast Protestant paper which called him “the well-known Papist propagandist”.
Settling first in the Wicklow Mountains and then in Dublin, his move to the Irish Republic made the headlines and those experiences allowed Heaney to bring a new sense of both the pain and passion of being Irish at a time when the island was torn apart by the Northern Ireland conflict.
“There are tens of thousands of people today who will be feeling personally bereaved because he had great presence,” said prominent Belfast poet Michael Longley. “Just as his presence filled a room his marvellous poetry has filled the heads of a generations of readers.”
Heaney always felt the tug of language between English and Irish and acknowledged the dichotomy in his acclaimed 1987 volume The Haw Lantern, writing: “Two buckets were easier carried than one / I grew up in between.”
He was acutely aware of the dilemma of being a “Green” Irish nationalist in a province ruled by the red, white and blue flag of the British monarchy and was once spotted in the bar on the Dublin-Belfast railway switching diplomatically from the Powers southern Irish whiskey to the northern brand Bushmills as the train crossed the border.
When a London publisher sought to put his work in an anthology of British poetry, he swiftly replied: “Don’t be surprised if I demur, for be advised my passport’s green. No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the queen.” – Guardian News & Media/Reuters
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Seamus Heaney, poet, obit, obituary, funeral, Latin
Copyright © 1995-2013 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)