Thursday, 3 October 2013
An Appreciation of the Life and Work of Seamus Heaney: Statements
I welcome the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan. Before calling on him to speak I welcome Marie Heaney, wife of Seamus Heaney, Professor Brendan Kennelly, Fr. Conor Harper, Professor Terence Browne, Mr. Emmet Kearns and Mr. David Hanly for this very important debate on the life of Seamus Heaney.
Following our statements of appreciation of the life and work of Seamus Heaney in the Dáil last week I am glad the Seanad has set aside time to reflect on the life and work of a truly amazing Irish man. The statements in the Dáil were more than thought provoking. In his tribute the Taoiseach memorably said: "Across the world Seamus Heaney was and is seen not alone as Ireland's better self, but, I believe, its best self possible".
In each of the contributions made last week, the esteem in which all members who contributed held the work of Seamus Heaney was apparent but in addition to this, many of us who are in the Houses of the Oireachtas and across the country and the globe felt a close personal connection with Seamus. This also shone through in the contributions. Like many, both in this Chamber and in the Dáil, I met Seamus Heaney on a number of occasions. Most recently, I had the pleasure of Seamus Heaney's company in Paris when he read his work at the Centre Culturel Irlandais as part of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union. Each person in attendance was honoured to hear him. It was an open air event and, introducing Seamus, I could feel the growing sense of anticipation and excitement among the audience. This large group had gathered to hear the words of the master. When he uttered his first word a calm descended on the audience. There was a palpable sense of anticipation. Seamus was Ireland's supreme cultural ambassador and the respect in which he was held by the academic world, the Irish diaspora and the reader was unparalleled.
I am glad his wife, Marie, is with us today. As Seamus started to recite his poetry, a blackbird emerged and accompanied him during the whole poetry reading event. It was quite extraordinary. I understand something similar happened in Rome. It reminded me of the old Irish tradition where the reciter was always accompanied by a harp but in this instance, it was by a blackbird. As the blackbird has played such a part in Seamus's poetry, it was very fitting. Maybe it was sending us a signal for the future.
When Seamus travelled to Stockholm in 1995 to accept the most prestigious award a writer can receive, we were deeply proud of him. This was a formal recognition of something that was already well-known, namely, that he was a writer of international standing and one of the greatest of our time. So much of Heaney's work was immersed in living things, in heritage, in landscape, in our surroundings and especially in our boglands. His extraordinary talent could also be beautifully simple. The language Seamus used was often the language of the everyday. He painted vivid scenes with often simple words but every word was chosen with the greatest of care and consideration.
His mastery of language was equalled only by his generosity of spirit. He had time for everyone and he gave freely of his talent and his counsel to many aspiring writers, poets and artists and to those of us who simply loved his writing and who delighted in his reading of his work. I saw Seamus communicate with several audiences over the years, especially in my home town of Listowel where he was a regular visitor during writers' week. I saw the connection he had with people, how easy he was with people and how people felt they could approach him with the simplest of requests. That is what really distinguished Seamus so much - that he had that connection with people and people felt so comfortable with him.
Seamus bequeaths a mighty legacy and leaves an immense gap in all our intellectual and artistic lives. With this in mind, I will ask the director of the National Library of Ireland to work with my Department to present a major exhibition on the work of Seamus Heaney in 2015. It is my intention that this exhibition will be one of great significance which captures the extraordinary contribution Seamus Heaney made over his lifetime. It is my hope that when this exhibition is presented, it will be viewed by many people from home and abroad and will contribute to the greatest possible understanding of the man and his work.
I had the pleasure of Seamus Heaney's company and had the honour of introducing him. I have my personal memories of this most private of public men and like many I know some of words by heart. These words will stay with me forever.
Our thoughts remain with his family - with Marie, Michael, Christopher and Catherine Ann. I hope that through the formal statements last week and those this morning that we have, in a small way, communicated to them the extent to which we feel and share the loss of Seamus. Seamus, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle, will always be theirs but we thank them for sharing him with us.
I recite Requiem for the Croppies by Seamus Heaney:
The principal of my national school in Kenmare, Donal Sleator, taught me that poem. He was a great man for poets, including Pádraig Pearse, whose poem, The Wayfarer, contains the line "And I have gone upon my way Sorrowful", and Joseph Mary Plunkett, whose poem, I See His Blood upon the Rose, contains the lines:
The pockets of our great-coats full of barley
(No kitchens on the run, no striking camp)
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people, hardly marching - on the hike -
We found new tactics happening each day:
Horsemen and horse fell to the twelve foot pike,
We'd stampede cattle into infantry,
Retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown
Until, on Vinegar Hill, the fatal conclave:
Twenty thousand died; shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August barley grew up out of the grave.
I see his blood upon the roseSeamus Heaney is not up there among the greats; he is one of the greats and is up there with all our poet laureates and all our Nobel Prize winning poet laureates. He came to Kenmare many times for a festival of culture and, to be honest, there used to be quite a bit of drinking as well. As often happens, everyone claims he or she came up with the idea but it was Joseph Thoma, who was a great teacher but he could not teach me art. I suppose it was never in me, so he could not get out of me what was not in me. My fellow Kerryman over there would point to another great Kerryman, the late Con Houlihan, who said one of our great Kerry poets was making all the right mistakes. I was making all the right mistakes. Joe Thoma came up with an idea that Seamus Heaney and Liam Ó Maonlaí should recite poetry together accompanied by music. Kenmare is claiming credit for where it happened first. It then happened in many auspicious locations, including in Carnegie Hall in New York.
And in the stars the glory of his eyes
Over his life, Seamus Heaney gave us great words and he was a wordsmith of monumental and global proportions. I will conclude with the words of Pearse that we shall all go upon our way sorrowfully.
I welcome the Minister, Marie and friends to the Seanad and will recite The Forge by Seamus Heaney:
They say the arts, music, sports and literature transcend society. They unite people as one and bring together nations of great political divide. It is not often that the announcement of the death of a literary figure can bring a country to a standstill but such was the case when the sudden death of Seamus Heaney was announced. No one was prepared for such a loss. The familial connection and love that we felt for Seamus reverberated around the world as witnessed by the flood of heart-felt tributes.
All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil's short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end and square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.
Seamus Heaney, who died on 30 August at the age of 74, won the Nobel Prize for literature "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past," according to the citation on the Nobel Prize official website. Seamus was a visiting speaker on a number of occasions at my alma mater, Villanova University in Pennsylvania, the first time in 1988 and the fourth and last visit in April 2010 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the university's Heimbold chair. Seamus was always generous with his time.
Much of Seamus's poetry was grounded in his sense of place. He wrote with such nostalgia about his rural upbringing in County Derry in poems like The Forge and Harvest Bow. Living in the North, much of Seamus's poetry was influenced by what became euphemistically known as the Troubles. He was very aware of the lives sacrificed in the name of Ireland, and brilliantly made the connection with other lives sacrificed to the land 2,000 years earlier in his poems Bogland and The Tollund Man. It was no doubt his awareness of living in fear that resulted in Seamus being able to empathise poetically with conflict throughout the world.
While his Northcollection was strongly political, this was just one aspect to his poetry. The obvious love he felt for his parents is deeply touching in poems like Digging and The Pitchfork, inspired by his father Patrick, while the special relationship he shared with his mother Margaret is beautifully portrayed in Clearances and Mossbawn, among others.
We might assume that such talent and achievement would result in a proud, accomplished figure but this was the most surprising and ironic aspect of the man. There is perhaps nothing in life more disarming than listening to an interview with Seamus Heaney. Rarely focusing attention on himself, the warmth and generosity with which he praised others was truly humbling to witness. I particularly love the story of his reaction to winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. Far from expecting such an honour, he was out of the country on holiday and it took some time to contact him with the news. When his family told him that he had won he simply replied, "Well fair play to the Swedes."
Seamus was well aware that sometimes simplicity is best. I wonder if he could possibly know, in these uncertain times of change and upheaval, how comforting his final words would be to all of us. Although texted privately to his beloved wife, Marie, we all felt the enormous power of his last written words: "Noli timere." Don't be afraid. Seamus, a chairde, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I would first like to acknowledge Marie Heaney in the Gallery. I have always felt that Marie and Seamus Heaney were an ageless union. I know that her loss is profound and I am very grateful today to have the opportunity to hold her in our hearts and in our thoughts.
In The Cure at Troy, which is a dramatisation by Seamus Heaney of Sophocles's "Philoctetes", the chorus of elders speak these lines at the close of the play:
Now it's high watermarkWhat a fresh and a new wind gave us the unique gift that was Seamus Heaney? Yeats said that poetry found its power in its attempt to hold, in a single thought, reality and justice. Poetry has always allowed the gods to speak and the poet prophets and poet seers to be heard. Seamus Heaney was and remains our link between the gods and his human being sense of things. He was a diviner of words with which he was able to gift us, individually and nationally, with word music, imagination and a majestic mind. Bridge us back and forward to all that is best about us. Bridge us back and forward to all that is best within us.
and floodtide in the heart
and time to go.
The sea-nymphs in the spray
will be the chorus now.
What's left to say?
Suspect too much sweet-talk
but never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
that blew me here. I leave
half-ready to believe
that a crippled trust might walk
and the half-true rhyme is love.
"Your poems are miracles", said Michael Longley to him standing backstage a few weeks before he died. "If they are", said Heaney, "they are all from Bellaghy." They were all from the core, all from the beginning, all from the foundation of his life at Mossbawn. No matter where Seamus Heaney travelled, who he met or what universal or world civil gifts were bestowed on him, that well, that touchstone, that shape, that sound and that sculpture of Bellaghy's influence never ran dry. It never left him. It was his home. It was his heartbeat, his ear, his eye, his taste, his smell, the contours of the palm of his hand, the clock of his imagination, the language of his life and, above all, the plough, which became his pen.
When Heaney decided to use The Government of the Tongue as a general title for the 1986 T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, a title that well befits us here in the Seanad since it is the government of the tongue that we most use in this House, what he had in mind was poetry as its own vindicating force. Would that we could parallel such vindication. Would that we, as a Seanad, could parallel such valediction.
He, above all else since Yeats, earned that right to govern both through his extraordinary precious mind and through the world-wonder of his words. He wrote in these essays about the poet's power to open up the unexpected, the unedited communication between our nature and the nature of the reality we inhabit - a conduit for the gods. Poetry was Heaney's threshold, not a path, and he constantly approached and departed from it, and gave the reader and writer an ability to undergo in different ways the experience, as he said, of being at the same time summoned to it and released by it.
I ask Senators what we are to do now that he has left us for the gods. What now for our bare-faced world? Where are we to turn now for imagination against the pulse of steel and the repetition of intolerances? Who will fill the world with the wonder of word-beauty that has gone abroad forever with him? We are on what Heaney would call a shifting sand, a sea changed, because we have lost a cosmic elder and the vacuum is very hard to fill.
What will continue is his poetry. It will continue to be as redemptive and as illusory as love because Heaney's mind and tongue was always free from predicaments. He was able to hunker us down to some good place outside and away from what he called cultural anxiety. He cleared so many of our own spaces for us and we should be, and we are, so grateful. His work is his gift to us.
C.S. Lewis said that we read to know that we are not alone. Through Heaney's poetry we will come to know the truth of that statement but it was also when Heaney spoke his verse that we became truly connected, spoken tonic solfa, treble and base, rise and fall, thin and full, quiet Bellaghy rhythms of meaning and feeling, pitch and fork, perfect on the tongue. When he read his work aloud, child and man knew they were in the presence of a mastermind, a spoken Mozart:
I stepped it, perch by perch.And he did. He went everywhere with the words, and he brought us with him. He moved us through his poetic world. How rich we are, and will be, because of him. How very privileged we are to have known him. Those that the gods love, need and want, Marie, die far too soon. May he rest in peace.
Unbraiding rushes and grass
I opened my right of way
through old bottoms and sowed-out ground
and gathered stones off the ploughing
to raise a small cairn
Cleaned out the drains
faced the hedges
often got up at dawn
to walk the outlying fields.
I composed habits for those acres
so that my last look would
neither gluttonous nor starved
I was ready to go anywhere.
Minister, Marie, distinguished poets and guests and my friends from the Yeats Society in Sligo, thank you for being here to share in this moment. It is very difficult to pay tribute to a man of Seamus Heaney's immense stature. I am honoured to stand here as a Senator and to be able to contribute.
At his death, the Irish Independent described him as the best known poet in the world. In 2008, Harvard University, in trying to explain his immense popularity, especially among younger people, said that they were not teeny-boppers, but Heaney-boppers. That Seamus Heaney was a great poet is in no doubt. The American poet, Robert Pinksy, said that Heaney had the gift of the storyteller.
I only came to know him a little bit in person in very recent years, but I knew him long ago from his poems and was always touched by how his words allowed me to reach out to a real world, to reach into his world and to begin to make sense of my world. Rather than trying to confound or impress people, Seamus just wanted to share what he saw, felt and understood. He did this by telling the story of his life, the landscape, the weather, the earth, the light, the cold, his mother, his father, the berries, the ferrets, hares, turf, milk, horse, cart, the smells and the feel of steel and wood. Always the simple things - the clatter of the stones, a kingfisher's blue bolt at dusk, a snipe's bleat, the cold smell of potato mould. All lines of magic, so many lines of magic. We have been handed a treasure trove of a mind that could always tell the wood from the trees.
He could write all of this because he wrote from the heart, from where he had been, from where he was, from where he knew. His sense of self was very strong and remained so all his life. Whether he was writing about the pitchfork, the ash plant or his beloved blackbird, he had not read it in any book or thought it might be cool. No, he had been there, and those things had burned an image, smell or sound on his conscious memory.
Seamus was a man who never lost touch with who he was and what he wanted to say. His sense of his own voice was always strong. He always understood and knew where his roots were and he never shied away from them. There was nothing post-modern about Seamus. He did not reinvent himself for a quick headline or a fast buck. He was always true to himself and to poetry. His authenticity beamed out from him along with his great, warm smile. His poetry always felt believed in, not made for money or fame, not crafted for a prize or a promotion. It was simply what Seamus loved and believed in and what he wanted to do. It was important; it mattered. He knew that the voice of the poet was an essential voice in society and that, somehow, now he was that voice. The scholarship boy had won the greatest prize.
He knew, too, that this was the most special prize. As he told The Paris Review some 20 years ago, he had always expected to have a job, but the most unexpected and miraculous thing in his life had been the arrival in it of poetry as a vocation and almost as an elevation. He never lost sight of the responsibility that this miraculous thing had thrust upon him. In 1993 at University College Swansea, he said that the poet who would be most the poet had to attempt an act of writing that outstripped the conditions even as it observed them.
As a colleague, Ms Aoife O'Driscoll remembers meeting him at the fourth annual human rights lecture in 2009 when there was much conversation about the attack on the flotilla to Gaza by the Israeli army. Ms Mary Robinson spoke about that event. She had just come from a meeting of the elders in South Africa. As Aoife remembers it, Seamus was standing next to her and listening to Mary. He had his left hand on his face. She said that he had an intense and calm look when Mary stopped speaking. He said that one could just imagine the ships in that moment, on the sea, the people staring at one another, their fear, their excitement, their terror on their faces, but there they were staring and waiting. Then, he said suddenly, almost abruptly, that poetry was the thing that made us blink. It was that moment.
Seamus Heaney knew that he could not hide in the fields and barns of his childhood. The Troubles and the political conflict of his native land were something that he knew he had to talk about, to deal with, to include in his poetry. In 1972, in the dedication of his collection Wintering Out, he wrote these stark words:
This morning from a dewy motorwayThe "articulator of the years of pain in the North" was how his old friend, Monsignor Brendan Devlin, summed up Seamus's poetic contribution about the North at his funeral. Writer and critic, Mr. Blake Morrison, said that Heaney's response to the Troubles showed that he had taken on the mantle of public spokesman. Yet he did all of this work without trying to be important himself. He did it because it was important for us.
I saw the new camp for the internees:
a bomb had left a crater of fresh clay
in the roadside, and over in the trees
machine-gun posts defined a real stockade.
His original pseudonym as a writer was Incertus, meaning "Uncertain". While he was quickly able to throw that name aside and write as himself, he retained some level of that uncertainty. By this I mean that he was never so certain of himself and his contribution that he belittled others or saw himself as better, superior or rather grand - a Nobel winner after all. Those of us lucky enough to have spent even a small time in his company understood that immediately.
I am no academic. I never wanted to parse and analyse Heaney's lines. I never felt that I needed to drill down into it because it drilled into me. Somehow, I always thought that I knew Seamus before I met him because I felt that he was speaking to me when I read his poetry and that he was telling me about his life. Or, as he said simply, making sense of a life from a time that he described as not really the 20th century at all, but rather a medieval country where water was carried from the well and horses ploughed the fields. He was talking about his beloved Bellaghy.
Seamus Heaney had a long, strong and wonderful relationship with Sligo and that other Nobel prize-winning poet, William Butler Yeats. Indeed, there is no argument that Seamus Heaney is the greatest poet since Yeats, whom he was able to read as a young boy in his aunt Sarah's house. She had a three-volume collection of Yeats's plays and poems. Sitting in the dark of the Hawk's Well Theatre on 4 October this year at the 54th Yeats International Summer School, one could have heard a pin drop and every seat was filled with those of us lucky enough to hear Seamus Heaney's last public reading. His mind was, as in the words of Henri Cole in The Paris Review 20 years ago, alert and mischievous, firm but funny, sharing, enjoying the moment, contemplating his work, reading with his magical, mellifluous voice that itself was a gift.
His association with the Yeats Society stretched over 40 years. He first came to read in 1970 as a young poet with just one published collection. In the words of Ms Stella Mew, the stalwart of the Yeats Society, he came and came and came back to Sligo, winter and summer, to run workshops, lecture and read, and to acknowledge Yeats but, above all, to inspire and support another generation of poets and poetry lovers and to share his own love of ideas and words and his absolute belief in the power of poetry and its place in Ireland and the world.
Do I have a moment?
He loved to visit, to read and to talk to the students who came and still come from around the world to learn about Yeats and to enjoy contemporary poetry. He generously signed books for people, worrying in recent years that the shake in his hand from his illness would stop him from doing so, but continuing to do so because he knew how much it meant to people.
His generosity of time, inspiration, smile and handshake was enormous. The following is a piece which he wrote for the launch of Yeats Day in Sligo last year, which has not yet been published:
His great love was for Marie. Their love for each other and their children and grandchildren was always visible and tangible. Our thoughts are with them and with his close friends. We hope that today our words will help to fill the emptiness for them in a tiny way. It should be remembered that on the day before his funeral, 81,000 people attending a football match in Croke Park stood and applauded a poet. Perhaps we in Ireland do know that poets and poetry have a special place in our hearts. Seamus Heaney the most special of all.
When Marie and I went there [he was talking about Thoor Ballylee] one bright summer morning two men were working at the top of the tower at the top of the narrow winding stair out on the roof replacing damaged slates. We asked them if we could take a couple of fragments of the old sea-greens and they had no objections. So from that moment on I had a token that kept me in personal touch with William Butler.
We honour the man from Bellaghy, Anahorish, St. Columb's in Derry, Queen's in Belfast, Berkeley, Carysfort, Harvard and Oxford, such a distinguished career. The Minister's proposal to celebrate Seamus Heaney will, I am sure, be unanimously accepted by the Houses and people throughout the country. It is a wonderful idea. I wish it every success.
It is an honour to welcome Marie here and to pass on our commiserations to her and Michael, Christopher and Catherine Ann. Dr. Conor Harper, who is in the Visitors' Gallery, along with Professor Brendan Devlin and others celebrated the wonderful funeral mass for Seamus Heaney. Professor Devlin cannot be here because he is visiting a very sick friend in Kilkenny. Also here are, David Hanly, who interviewed Seamus for 20 minutes on "Morning Ireland" when he won the Nobel Prize, Terence Browne, a well known writer on literature and culture and a fellow Derryman, Emmet Kearns, Phil Coulter, Eamon McCann and John Hume from St. Columb's College. What an amazing collection of alumni from that school. My sister Geraldine is in charge of them. Like Professor Devlin, Martin Naughton, the founder of the Seamus Heaney chair of poetry at TCD was unable to attend today. The Minister will have Seamus in the National Library and he will be remembered down the street in TCD. Professor Brendan Kennelly also represents that great tradition of poetry. Others who could not attend include Dr. Edward McParland, pro-chancellor at TCD, and Professor Dan Bradley from Anahorish.
Conor Cruise O'Brien said of Death of a Naturalist,"I have read many pessimistic analyses of Northern Ireland but none has had the bleak conclusiveness of this poem." Seamus Heaney's volume The Spirit Level was described as being tinged with a sense of hopefulness for the passing of conflict. This was recalled when Seamus took his last journey through the main street in Bellaghy to join his parents and brother Christopher and the PSNI saluted his passing coffin. In the early days, Seamus wrote about what a difference it was to be called Seamus or Seán and not Samuel. So much had happened up to the time he attended the wonderful dinner in Dublin Castle with Her Majesty the Queen, former President McAleese and Prince Philip. It was a journey that encapsulated so much of what he had to done to reconcile the traditions of this island.
Seamus Heaney was the president of the Classical Association of Ireland, by whom he is warmly remembered, during which time, as stated by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, he dramatised Sophocles into The Cure at Troy, which was run in the city of Derry. In the context of entrepreneurship and cultural development, those were incredible times. Seamus also translated old Irish and Beowulf . His successors at the Classical Association of Ireland include Archbishop Richard Clarke of Armagh and Frank McGuinness, who wrote Observe theSons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme.
Seamus was a great poet. He also wrote beautiful cards and letters, which we will remember. It is great to honour him in this Chamber which was graced by another Nobel Prize winner, W. B. Yeats. This is a marvellous day. Seamus Heaney's generosity and kindness will live on forever and his memory will be preserved by the Minister in the National Library and by TCD. Everybody has read with emotion their favourite poem by Seamus. The following is mine and is celebrated in the museum in Croke Park so that the poet will always be honoured by 81,000 people. The title of the poem is Markings and is about boys playing football in a field in County Derry:
We marked the pitch: four jackets for four goalposts,Thank you so much Seamus. May we all have time that is extra, unforeseen and free.
That was all. The corners and the squares
Were there like
Under the bumpy ground, to be
Agreed about or disagreed about
When the time came. And then we picked the teams
And crossed the line our called names drew between us.
Youngsters shouting their heads off in a field
As the light died and they kept on playing
Because by then they were playing in their heads
And the actual kicked ball came to them
Like a dream heaviness, and there own hard
Breathing in the dark and skids on grass
Sounded like effort in another world . . .
It was quick and constant, a game that never need
Be played out. Some limit had been passed,
There was , , untiredness
In time that was extra, unforeseen and free.
Minister, Marie and other distinguished guests, I am delighted to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the late Seamus Heaney, a worthy Nobel Laureate and undisputedly the most globally renowned of modern Irish poets.
Comparisons to Yeats and descriptions of Seamus Heaney as the greatest poet of our age are by no means exaggerated and are richly deserved. I welcome the representatives of the Yeats Society who are here with us today, with whom I understand Seamus was involved for 40 years. Despite receiving the highest accolades by critics worldwide, Seamus Heaney notably never lost the common touch. I was lucky to have met him in Mayo in my family home. He helped us celebrate the George Moore festival a number of years ago. We were thrilled to have him as a guest in our home. It is a happy memory, in particular during the past while.
Former US President, Bill Clinton, recently praised Seamus Heaney as our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary life. Heaney's poetry possessed an aural beauty and a finely raw texture which he presented with a coherent vision of Ireland past and present. His early poetry collections painted a portrait of family and farm life in County Derry, evoking a hard, mainly rural, life with rare exactness. Seamus Heaney also used his collections, Wintering Out and North to reflect upon the Troubles and sought to weave the ongoing situation in Northern Ireland into a broader historical framework, embracing the general human situation. Bill Clinton also described Seamus Heaney as a powerful voice for peace. Seamus was undoubtedly a symbol of hope and inspiration to many during the Troubles.
Seamus Heaney did not reduce political situations to simple clarity and by all accounts he did not believe his role was as political spokesman. However, the following lines from his play, The Cure at Troy are truly inspirational:
History says, don't hopeSeamus Heaney's work of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, like that of his fellow Irish Nobel Prize winners, Shaw, Beckett and Yeats, are and will continue to be an enduring gift to the world. Seamus Heaney possessed the rare ability to make one see, hear, smell and taste this life, illustrating that all parishes, rural or urban, are equal as communities of the human spirit.
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
I propose to recite a poem, Seeing Things, which I heard while visiting Inishbofin on the weekend after Seamus Heaney passed away. Coincidentally, I once met Senator Fiach Mac Conghail on Inishbofin and it was he who suggested that we recite a poem today:
I offer my deepest and sincerest sympathies and condolences to Marie as well as to Seamus's children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.
Inishbofin on a Sunday morning.
Sunlight, turfsmoke, seagulls, boatslip, diesel.
One by one we were being handed down
Into a boat that dipped and shilly-shallied
Scaresomely every time. We sat tight
On short cross-benches, in nervous twos and threes,
Obedient, newly close, nobody speaking
Except the boatmen, as the gunwales sank
And seemed they might ship water any minute.
The sea was very calm but even so,
When the engine kicked and our ferryman
Swayed for balance, grabbing for the tiller,
I panicked at the quick response and heft
Of the craft itself. What guaranteed us--
That fluency and buoyancy and swim--
Kept me in agony. All the time
As we went sailing evenly across
The deep, still, seeable-down-into water,
It was as if I looked from another boat
Sailing through air, far up, and could see
How openly we fared in the light of morning,
And loved in vain our bare, bowed, numbered heads.
I welcome Marie to the Seanad this afternoon. It is fitting that the House is paying tribute today to a man who will always be remembered as an Irish legend. Born in April 1939, shortly before the beginning of the Second World War, in a farmhouse known as Mossbawn between Castledawson and Toomebridge in County Derry, Seamus Heaney moved to Bellaghy in 1953 as a teenager. He came from ordinary beginnings deep in the Derry countryside.
Seamus Heaney's contribution to Irish life can only be described as extraordinary and brilliant. He has been described by many Senators as one of Ireland's greatest and that description is not an understatement. Many academics and Irish, European, American and world leaders have spoken of the man he was. Seamus Heaney came through the Troubles in the North and they shaped, in large part, his professional outlook and literature. He was described by Robert Lowell as the most important Irish poet since Yeats, a sentiment echoed by the academic, John Sutherland, who described Heaney as the greatest poet of our age. Everyone here will agree with that description.
As previous speakers noted, on 1 September 2013, a crowd of 81,533 observed a minute's silence and applauded for several minutes at the all-Ireland football semi-final in Croke Park. This was a fitting and appropriate gesture given the magnitude of Seamus Heaney's influence on Ireland and its people and the importance we, as a nation, place on our cultural and historical identity. President Michael D. Higgins, the former United States President, Mr. Bill Clinton, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and leading lights in literary and academic circles paid tribute to Seamus Heaney on his death. Colm Tóibín wrote the following appropriate words: "In a time of burnings and bombings Heaney used poetry to offer an alternative world", while the former US President, Bill Clinton, acknowledged not only the greatness of Heaney's work but, more important, its influence in bringing about peace in our time. This influence cannot go unrecognised.
I acknowledge the Minister's proposal to recognise the wider contribution of Seamus Heaney. It is an excellent idea, particularly as Seamus Heaney was an extremely generous man who gifted the State his literary notes in December 2011. I understand he and his son, Michael, packed the notes in boxes and donated them to the State. They are an enormous contribution to the State and a great reflection on the man.
Seamus Heaney will always be remembered as a great Irishman and Gael who influenced the cultural identity of our nation. In the poem, Digging, from the 1966 volume, Death of a Naturalist, he reflects on his past and brings it into the literary work that was to shape poetry in this country and the minds of generations of young people in the classroom who learned about poetry through his writings. I will recite some of the lines from Digging:
My grandfather cut more turf in a dayAr dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.
I, too, am grateful to have an opportunity to pay tribute to Seamus Heaney, a renowned poet and Nobel laureate. I express sympathy to Seamus Heaney's wife, Marie, children, Mick, Christopher and Catherine Ann, and grandchildren.
Seamus Heaney will be remembered as a man of peace. His startling depictions in his poetry of the Troubles in Northern Ireland acted as a catalyst for reconciliation between North and South. Not only was he an inspiration to many through his poetry, he also showed an extraordinary commitment to human rights and the fight for a better world. His deep love of his land and its people will live on through this generation and future generations, as will his work and legacy.
While I was not as fortunate as other speakers to have met Seamus Heaney, I have met two of his children, Mick and Christopher. They share their father's personality, wit and love of language. It is lovely to know that through this sadness, Marie will take comfort from the fact that Seamus's amazing personality and love of family will live on through his children and grandchildren.
As a former teacher of English, I had the pleasure of introducing students to Seamus Heaney's poetry. With no disrespect to the other esteemed and renowned poets who are present, I loved teaching his poetry. It will stay with us as it struck a chord with the students I taught.
This was because it gives a vivid depiction of the not-so-ancient history of our country. He has influenced the generations of young people who studied his poetry at school, young people who could relate. It is so important that we are able to relate to the young people and to educate them in order that they may grow up to influence and educate the generations to come.
I will conclude by reading my favourite poem, the poem I used to love and get so much enjoyment from, as did my students. It is a poem about innocence and childhood. Reading back through it this morning brought back all the memories of conciseness and the idea that one can get so much into so few lines but open so many thought-provoking ideas as well:
Mid-Term BreakAr dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were 'sorry for my trouble,'
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.
I extend my welcome and fáilte to Marie and I extend my sympathies to Mick, Christopher and Catherine as well. Our loss does not compare to the loss of Marie. We share that. I support all the emotion because it is important in this cynical age that emotion is seen as a valid response to bereavement and loss. It is also a response to events and the passing of Seamus Heaney is an event as well as a moment of personal and professional grieving.
I cannot say I knew him well but his extraordinary generosity made me feel that I was one of his closest colleagues and friends. I worked with him as director of the Abbey Theatre. We produced his play "The Burial at Thebes". That play, along with "The Cure at Troy", demonstrated how he understood and supported theatre and the politics of theatre, and how theatre could communicate issues of justice, politics and equality. Often there was a mild accusation that Seamus was not political. In fact, he was quite the opposite and he used the power of poetry to be allegorical, mischievous and challenging. That is one of his greatest legacies.
This is a wonderful occasion today because it is all-Ireland poetry day. What a wonderful occasion for us to be celebrating not only Seamus Heaney but poetry. I extend my welcome and fáilte to Professor Brendan Kennelly, David Hanley, Terence Brown and other colleagues here. I acknowledge that the community of poets in this country are also bereft and at loss because one of their brethren, a colleague of theirs, is no longer with us.
I will read one of his poems that was commissioned by Amnesty International, From The Republic Of Conscience. He remarked on it in a wonderful book of conversations - another of his legacies - with Dennis O'Driscoll, who, sadly, is also no longer with us. Heaney said that he remembered a poem by another writer that helped him to get started, in this case, by Richard Wilbur, and that he used Wilbur's poem Shame to do a little commissioning himself. He said that Wilbur made an allegory of Shame by turning it into a small cramped country. During the previous term, Heaney asked the Harvard students in his workshop to write a poem based on it. Then it occurred to him that he could ask himself to do the same thing, to make up an imaginary country to represent a particular state of mind or feeling. Once the job was presented in those terms, the element of play entered and he was able to cross the frontier of writing and shift out of the doldrums of what happens. Amnesty International had sent him some reports about the injustice and suffering endured by prisoners of conscience in different parts of the world. All he could do at first was quail before that evidence. No cry he could have made in verse could have matched what was crying out in the dossiers. He had to recover and "by indirections find directions out".
The poem was read recently by another south Derry artist, Eleanor Methven, who was a member of the cast of "Major Barbara", which we ran in the Abbey Theatre. On the morning that we heard of the passing of Seamus, Eleanor read it on the stage of the Abbey Theatre and there was a standing ovation afterwards as a way to mark his passing:
From The Republic Of Conscience
When I landed in the republic of conscience
it was so noiseless when the engines stopped
I could hear a curlew high above the runway.
At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather.
The woman in customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye.
No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared.
Fog is a dreaded omen there but lightning
spells universal good and parents hang
swaddled infants in trees during thunderstorms.
Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells
are held to the ear during births and funerals.
The base of all inks and pigments is seawater.
Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat.
The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,
the hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.
At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office -
and to affirm their faith that all life sprang
from salt in tears which the sky-god wept
after he dreamt his solitude was endless.
I came back from that frugal republic
with my two arms the one length, the customs woman
having insisted my allowance was myself.
The old man rose and gazed into my face
and said that was official recognition
that I was now a dual citizen.
He therefore desired me when I got home
to consider myself a representative
and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue.
Their embassies, he said, were everywhere
but operated independently
and no ambassador would ever be relieved.
My condolences to Marie, who is very welcome to the House, to Catherine-Ann, Christopher and Michael, who are not here today, and to the grandchildren as well as the other speakers. His gifts will go on through them. Many people have said he was the most significant Irish poet of his generation. He was described by fellow poet, Robert Lowell, as the most important Irish poet since Yeats, no small statement, and, indeed, he was.
His life has been celebrated throughout Ireland during his life and since is death by all the print media, national media and every type of media. He was given a front-page dedication in the New York Times.
It is fitting that we in Seanad Éireann use our final opportunity for statements before the vote - I am referring to before the vote, not the final statements in Seanad Éireann - to pay tribute to a great man, a great family man and a great people's poet.
In his final farewell he brought together people from all walks of life, old friends and new friends, fellow poets and wordsmiths, heads of state and government, politicians, diplomats, rock stars, actors, those who had met him, those who had not met him and those who wanted to pay tribute and be associated with him on his final day. They came to show their respect and admiration for him and his family. I read something in the newsprint following his funeral, the words of a taxi driver, who said to a journalist that it was a sad day for us all and that he was an extraordinary ordinary man.
Before coming in, I spoke briefly to Marie and she spoke of all the letters and cards she had received, not from dignitaries, important people or whoever, but from the ordinary people of Ireland who wrote in extraordinary words. She said they themselves were poets and that their words were valued and appreciated. This again is a tribute to the Heaney family and to Seamus, who was in great demand worldwide but who found so much time for the ordinary people. I attended the Clifden Arts Festival last weekend, at which a loving, moving tribute was paid to him for all of the time and work he had given to the ordinary extraordinary people of Clifden during the many arts festivals held there.
As a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I note that as a poet from Bellaghy and Northern Ireland who lived in Dublin, Heaney used his work to reflect upon the Troubles, the often-violent political struggles that plagued the country during his young adulthood. He sought to weave the ongoing Irish troubles into a broader historical frame embracing the general human situation in his books Wintering Outof 1973 and Northof 1975. Caithim cúpla focal a rá trí Ghaeilge mar gheall ar a chuid oibre íontach ar an aistriúchan a dhearna sé ar Buile Shuibhne, that is, Sweeney Astray, his great translation of the medieval work, Buile Shuibhne. It concerns an ancient king who, cursed by the church, is transformed into a mad birdman and forced to wander in the harsh and inhospitable countryside. Heaney's translation of that epic medieval work was published in 1984 as Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish. As my own maiden name was Sweeney and some might say "Sweeney astray", I have a resonance with that magnificent poem and work of prose by Seamus Heaney. Críochnóidh mé le sin. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I think today, Marie, is a day to celebrate rather than to look back on the occasion of what happened a few weeks ago. I cannot claim to have been a friend of Seamus but feel as though I knew him as a friend, as I think did everyone else. We knew him through his words and through his personality. I would prefer to touch on his personality at this stage, as well as his words, because I have heard so many stories over the years. One occurred quite recently, when my wife, Denise, and I were in Galway and went out for a meal in Moran's on the Weir. This was perhaps a month or six weeks ago, when Sheila Moran came over to us to tell us how only that morning, she had had a little visit from Seamus himself. He came in for a cup of coffee, I am unsure if Marie was with him or if he was on his own. In any event, she told me the story of how he had been there before and she knew of a poem which mentioned Moran's. She had had it typed out and wanted it framed and was hoping he would sign it. However, when he had come in and she had asked him to sign it, he said he would not but that he would write it out again. He hand-wrote it out and I gather it has been framed there ever since.
It is these little stories about how everyone felt he or she knew him and that he was his or her friend. Anne Ó Broin has worked with me for more than 27 years and her father was a poet or liked to be a poet and did his best. She told me that he just loved it. Coming up to his 80th birthday, which was perhaps ten or 12 years ago as he died last year, she wondered what she could get for him. She decided to get him an anthology of Seamus's work. As she knew where the family lived, she wrote to Seamus and, having enclosed a stamped addressed envelope, asked him whether he would sign the anthology. However, he did not sign it but instead wrote a lovely warm letter to her father for his 80th birthday and I can tell Marie that the book and that letter are highly valued. It seems to me that these are the memories people have of this wonderful man. They are the memories we all have, as well as the feeling that we knew him so well.
Approximately eight years ago, I got a present from friends of a lovely handwritten letter from Seamus Heaney to me. I really appreciated it and have found it to be something I value a great deal. It is a lovely poem, which I will read. I had originally intended to read the poem Digging from the collection Death of a Naturalist but my colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, beat me to it by reading it approximately half an hour ago and I will read this poem instead. Incidentally, I did have a falling out with Seamus about 20 or 30 years ago, because I became very jealous and envious of him. My wife returned to UCD to study literature and I found that she became infatuated and so I became very jealous and envious. While I am unsure whether she ever met him, she continued to talk about him.
That Christmas, when looking for a present for her, I actually bought a lovely framed version of Digging from Death of a Naturalist. We have it at home and it is very valued on that basis. The envy disappeared very quickly through the love of the poem. However, let me just explain what is the poem on the lovely gift I received in 2005. It is called Colmcille the Scribe and it is a version by Seamus Heaney of an early Irish poem beginning, "Sgith mo crob on scríbinn". The poet translated the poem to celebrate his enrolment as a member of the Royal Irish Academy at the Guildhall, Derry, on 9 June 1997. To mark the 1400th anniversary of the death of Colmcille, Dr. Heaney commissioned Tim O'Neill, the calligrapher and authority on early Irish manuscripts, to write the poem on vellum and he presented it to the academy on the occasion of his admission as a member. I am honoured to have one of 150 copies of that poem and it is greatly valued by me. Therefore, having this lovely message from Seamus is very valued. While I am sure I will not do it justice, I will read the poem to Marie. It is called Colmcille the Scribe and is from the 11th century:
My hand is cramped from penwork.It is from the 11th century Irish and is signed by Seamus. It is something that I value. We all very much value the wonderful memories we have of Seamus, the work he has done, the words he has given us and the great pleasure he has given to so many people over the years.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-spark of ink.
Wisdom keeps welling in streams
From my fine-drawn, sallow hand:
Riverrun on the vellum
of ink from green-skinned holly.
My small runny pen keeps going
Through books, through thick and thin
To enrich the scholars' holdings:
penwork that cramps my hand.
Like others I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak during this debate paying tribute to the late Seamus Heaney following his sad and most untimely death. I also welcome Marie to the House and extend sincere condolences to her, as well as to Mick, Christopher and Catherine Ann, as well as to her grandchildren and family. I also welcome Professors Kennelly and Brown and other distinguished visitors from Trinity College and from the Yeats Society, as well as an American visitor, Mark Tuohy, who also are present in the Gallery for this debate.
I personally always have loved Seamus's poetry. I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting him in Trinity as I was there at the same time as Seamus and Marie's son, Mick. Like everyone else has noted, he was friendly and approachable, with a touch of mischief it must be said, as well as being humorous, which perhaps was very different to the somewhat austere stereotype of the Nobel Laureate that one might expect.
With all due respect to William Butler Yeats, I always thought he appears to have been a somewhat more austere figure.
It was with deep sadness and regret I learned of Seamus Heaney's death. It touched so many people - all over Ireland, North and South, and outside this island. Others have referred to him as "the people's poet". From random conversations with taxi drivers, colleagues, friends and acquaintances following his death, it was clear just how deeply people everywhere were touched. Senator O'Keeffe described the "Heaneybopper" phenomenon, which was widespread. The extent to which people everywhere were touched by Seamus's death was extraordinary. Perhaps it is because his poetry, while apparently homely, much of it dealing with domestic issues, his childhood and upbringing, always carried universal themes. Others have spoken of the importance of Heaney's poetry as a human response to the Northern Ireland Troubles. Blake Morrison described Seamus as a spokesman although his mantle of public spokesman was somewhat contested. Yet there was that homely touch, that dwelling on universal themes.
Others have read very eloquently from Seamus's poetry, with Senator Moran reading from my favourite poem. It is that perhaps because I came across it first when I was much younger. It is, of course, Mid-term Break, which was about the death of his younger brother. I always find it extremely moving and did so when Senator Moran read it just now. It is an incredibly poignant account of loss told through the eyes of a child. It is one of those poems that are timeless.
I acknowledge the long association that Seamus had with Trinity College, Dublin. As my fellow Dublin University colleague, Senator Barrett, mentioned, Seamus had a long-standing relationship with Trinity where, since 1998, he had been an honorary fellow. The provost paid a very warm tribute to him recently, pointing out the deep respect and admiration the Trinity College community and the wider community had for him. Seamus gave of his time and intellect freely within Trinity. I remember a packed-out Edmund Burke theatre some years ago where he was giving a reading in support of Amnesty International but he also gave readings in Trinity on other occasions and as part of charity fundraisers. Senator Barrett mentioned the Seamus Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing, recently named in his honour, which I believe will form a legacy - one of many - to the significant and immense contribution he has made to Irish writing and literary studies.
Every speaker has mentioned Seamus's common touch and the immense and widespread response and outpouring following his death. However, it is noteworthy too that he was a major intellectual figure. His translations, in particular that of Beowulf, were rigorous academic studies. He gained immense respect at that level, as well as at the popular one within the Irish community. Newsweekgave a lovely description of his translation of Beowulf,saying it had "muscular language, rich with the tones and smell of earth". That was appropriate to the particular text; it revitalised it as well as being true to its spirit.
There is no doubt that his loss is an immense loss to Irish society as well as to the international community. He lectured at Oxford, Harvard and elsewhere. It is an immense loss. Most of all, we pay our sincere condolences to the Heaney family, to Marie and to the family.
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire agus roimh na h-aíonna speisialta, go háirithe Marie. Is dóigh go bhféadfaí a rá faoi Seamus Heaney nár aithin sé teorann. Níor aithin sé teorann ó thaobh tíreolaíochta nó ó thaobh ealaíne agus chuaigh sé thar na teorainneacha ar fad ó thaobh a chuid ealaíne agus a chuid scríobhneoireachta. Marie is very welcome and it is an honour to be able to pay respects in the Seanad to Seamus and to try to say words that encompass all he achieved. I feel completely inadequate standing up to do so because I know anything we say will not match the genius of the man himself.
I cannot say I ever met Seamus Heaney but I bumped into him once in the airport and was totally starstruck. We were queueing for an aeroplane and when one is doing that one goes backwards and forwards. I caught his eye and he caught mine and I knew he was looking at me and saying, "You know who I am". I was an ordinary Joe Soap at the time - I still am - but there was a glint in his eye that told me he recognised that I knew who he was. What struck me in the first instance was the size of the man - he was a big man and he had a long grey coat and that white hair. There was a sense of humility about him. One did not get a sense of ego or "look at me". He gave a really nice smile. I did not need to say anything to him. I wanted to talk to him because there were so many questions I would have liked to ask him but to be honest I was too shy. I was awestruck. However, I got a sense of the man he was, a very gentle, warm, smiling man - wonderful.
Seoid náisiúnta a bhí ann. He was an absolute treasure for us. File, drámadóir, teagascóir - he was a poet, a dramatist and also a teacher. From what I have read and seen and from listening to people talking about him the great thing that comes across is the generosity of his gift. He saw his writing as a gift; as far as I can see he never saw it as something he had that was special. but saw it as a gift he was lucky to have, one he was so very willing to share it. That is very special and it is probably one of the elements that made him so special. He had a great knowledge of very many countries and places but very much of Ireland - all of it. I will try to do justice to one of my favourite poems, which relates particularly to the west of Ireland, from where I come. One can see the way he captured nature, time and life passing on:
Lovers on AranObviously, Seamus was a genius but it seems to me he was somebody who carried his genius very humbly. To be able to put so much into so few words was an incredible gift.
The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas
To posess Aran. Or did Aran rush
to throw wide arms of rock around a tide
That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?
Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.
It is strange. I was delayed coming up to the Chamber because an Irish language event was taking place downstairs and I bumped into a girl who was a student in St. Patrick's College last year. Seamus visited that college last year. I was not sure how much background Seamus would have had with the Irish language but she told me that he came to them when they were doing an event as Gaeilge, and supported them wholeheartedly. He spoke to them in Irish and told them to keep up the good work, saying, "Coinnigh suas an dea-obair, coinnigh suas an obair mhaith". Another point is that he seemed to have crossed generations and is loved by old and young alike, which is an amazing gift to have.
We are a much poorer nation because of his loss. There are lessons we must learn too. In this Chamber we tend to have many debates on finance and the economy, the cost of things, etc. However, I do not know whether we realise the value of things, in particular the value of the arts, creativity and so on. A moment such as this in the Chamber is a time to reflect on that. Although we may be going through difficult times financially and economically, we have a great richness of language, theatre and the arts. People like Seamus Heaney are our gold bullion. We need to remember that and to encourage it, as he would have done. I am sure that what he might say to us is, yes, we will get through the tide, the woes and the hard times, but let us remember we have this great richness to us as well.
Another great poet from the west was John O'Donoghue. If I may, I will quote three lines of one of his poems, to note the occasion:
Though we need to weep your lossBhí sé linn, beidh sé linn agus tá sé linn. Tá mé cinnte. Go maire a cháil go deo agus go dtuga Dia suaimhneas síoraí dá anam.
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you
There are many of us here who could also claim that, a Chathaoirligh.
I offer my most sincere condolences to Marie and all the family. I met Seamus Heaney once, in New Ross during the summer, at the opening of the Kennedy homestead. It was not the first time I had come across or spoken to him. Somebody very close to me, whose mother died, was reading a poem by Seamus.
That person was reading a poem by Seamus Heaney. I have to read it without my iPhone because unfortunately Senator Fiach Mac Conghail got to the Republic of Conscience before me. The poem is Valediction:
Lady with the frilled blouse
And simple tartan skirt,
Since you have the house
Its emptiness has hurt
All thought. In your presence
Time rode easy, anchored
On a smile; but absence
Rocked love's balance, unmoored
The days. They buck and bound
Across the calendar
Pitched from the quiet sound
Of your flower-tender
Voice. Need breaks on my strand;
You've gone, I am at sea.
I am at sea
Until you resume command
Self is in mutiny.
Like Senator Feargal Quinn I requested a copy of that poem to be signed and to my surprise I did not just get a copy of that poem but many other pieces from the great man himself, all signed and it was very much appreciated.
The Irish have many traits. The one I hold in highest regard is the trait of understatement. Last night I was speaking with a few men who really surprised me. I said I would probably speak on this debate but I was not sure what to say. One man who knew Seamus Heaney's works told me to say one thing, that he was a good man. Seamus Heaney was a good man.
Marie, distinguished poets and guests, I am deeply honoured to have a few moments to say just a few things. I am honoured also to be among my colleagues and to have heard what everyone has contributed so far. I am sorry I forgot to mention the Minister.
I always considered Seamus Heaney to be a man of great courage. He dared to be different. That he came out of his background and yet had remained so connected with it, is an incredible power. My image of Seamus is always with his feet solidly imbedded in the soil and yet to have navigated the world from that point was an incredible gift. Just to quote from his poem Digging:
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.
He did dig with it. Through his poetry he made our ordinary world really extraordinary. He was as Senator Marie Louse O'Donnell said a diviner of words that gave us a sense that we were all great in our existence, an existence we often thought was completely miserable. When I look at his poem Digging and lines such as:
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
I remember doing that with my father. I did not think there was anything great in that. Or the following lines:
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper.
I did that too. Through his words he made us realise that we value this - that this is life and it is our life and it is worth valuing.
When I think of all the trials and tribulations the Minister has had with the boglands, perhaps Seamus would have been the key negotiator he needed on his side so many times to make ends meet, so to speak. I hope that will come to a conclusion one of these days.
All those bogland neighbours in Galway. Absolutely. I consider myself very fortunate to have been a student of Seamus Heaney. I attended Carysfort College in the early 1980s. As a 19 year old he supervised, probably, my second teaching practice. Somehow I knew there was a bit of greatness about him because a good friend attended his English lectures. She used to speak to me about his work and on one occasion she told me he had to leave the lecture because the BBC was looking for him. I knew this was no ordinary teaching practice supervisor. He observed my class and he said afterwards it was grand but added, "If I were you I would put in another stage in your teaching". When one is 19 years of age one is doing well to manage a class and one is thinking of just delivering. I am conscious that Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell is present because she was there also in those days. I said, "What exactly do you mean?" He said, "You need to graph it, you need to paint it, you need to engage them so that they discover what it is you want to teach them". For that I was ever grateful. It certainly made me a much better teacher at a very young age. Some 15 years later I became a teacher educator. He was way ahead of his time, even with that piece of advice, because in 1999 we revised the primary school curriculum to imbed that approach.
In every way he contributed much, as Senator Ivana Bacik said. As well as being the ordinary man who made things extraordinary for us, he was also an intellectual and a great teacher. I pay tribute also to Marie because on more than one occasion I heard her read, particularly at the Children's Literature Association of Ireland in the company of that great wizard Robert Dunbar, when she shared with us the stories of the clans of Ulster and the hounds of Ulster. It was, as Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell said, a great union that touched many lives. I had decided to read Mid-Term Break but my colleague has already shared it.
The reason I had chosen it is that so many children studied it and so many of us looked forward to the mid-term break. The images he imbedded in that poetry are many. I remember when my grandfather died it was during a mid term break. I heard neighbours saying, "Sorry for your troubles", and whispering to strangers all around, "That is the eldest, away at school". That is exactly what I experienced. That is the beauty of what he shared with us.
We are conscious to have known him, the people's poet. I acknowledge his links with Yeats and Thoor Ballylee. I am honoured at present to chair a committee for its restoration and the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, is definitely giving us a dig-out there. I think I can hazard guess that if he had something say about the referendum tomorrow that he may say that he would hope that hope and history would rhyme. I thank you for sharing him with us.
Minister, distinguished guests and fellow Senators, as my friend Senator Fiach Mac Conghail whispered to me earlier it is a healing time for us here this afternoon, especially as we are able to feast on the words of Seamus Heaney and our reflections on them. What an extraordinary experience it is to do this in the presence of Marie, as a way of us offering our deepest sympathy to her. I have just two simple offerings of appreciation in that regard to say about her husband and life partner.
I want to express personally an appreciation for all the times I reached for a poem of his in order to help me understand the meaning of being human, whether it was an event, a time of grief or a time of joy, because I think that was one of his greatest gifts as a poet. About a week after he died, I got word that I was to be given an award. It came out of the blue for me and was something I never expected. Not unlike what I often did, I went to our bedroom which has a few bookshelves. There is a copy of every book of poetry he had published, as my partner, Ann Louise, always bought them as they came out. I reached for one calledThe Spirit Level to try to help me to understand, to get a sense of and experience the meaning of what was happening. I read a poem I had never read before and it was just perfect. While it may not have been my most favourite, it was extraordinary for that moment and it helped me, like many other times, to understand that moment - that dimension of being human in my life. It is actually from the collection, The Spirit Level , which I understand was the one he published after winning the Nobel Prize. It is the last poem in the collection and it is called Postscript:
That is what I felt like that day - big soft buffetings coming at me, catching my heart off guard and blowing it open - and so I want to express a personal appreciation to be able to continue to reach for his poems, as so many people do throughout the world, to help me understand the meaning of being human. They are sacred texts.
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open
I want to offer another simple offering of appreciation. Others have referred to his great contribution to the field of human rights. Senator Bacik mentioned that he was an intellectual giant as well as a poet. I want to remember an extraordinary night for the Irish Human Rights Commission a number of years ago when we invited Seamus to give the yearly lecture on human rights. In fact, I think it was the high point of the decade of the Irish Human Rights Commission. The theme chosen for him to speak to us on was the relevance of poetry in times of societal upheaval and unrest.
Of course, he came to that lecture with a most extraordinary script where he weaved his reflections on other poets' work and really effectively illustrated that our poets have always written in times of turmoil. Just after he quoted from Dante, Shakespeare and Ulysses, he - this extraordinary mind - said:
These, as I say, are the classic voices, all of them fundamental to the evolution and maintenance of a more equitable and civilised world. And in their wake, right down to the present, the work of writers has been crucial in keeping alive conscience and the spirit of freedom not only within the individual psyche but also in the collective mind of nations and of people.Later in the lecture, he talked about Brodsky, a Russian poet living a bohemian literary life in Leningrad in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He said of him: "Because of his experience of the totalitarian system in action, Brodsky had a deeply ingrained fear not just of political propaganda, but of writing that too ardently supported causes, even good causes." We should all take a little note of that. He reminded us that Brodsky had said that the only defence against evil is complete originality. Seamus went on to reflect that: "Poetry, in his understanding, was the sponsor of that originality, and as a result of that sponsorship poetry was an agent of human liberty and human rights."
By way of personal appreciation for his poetry, I continue to reach for it not only to help me to understand the meaning of being human and acknowledge them as sacred texts, but also to help me on every journey and every path in regard to human rights.
Unfortunately, I had a medical appointment that I had to keep but I will not delay proceedings. I first encountered Seamus Heaney when I was in college in Dublin. I became an immediate admirer of his work and subsequently a teacher of English literature in Kerry. In those days, the mandarins in the Department were very cautious and slow-moving and those who set the curriculum for the leaving certificate were of the opinion that all Irish poetry ceased following the death of W. B. Yeats or Clarke. It was great to be able to bring Heaney into class if nothing else as a counterpoint. It was something the students used to like. We also did so with our neighbouring poets, including the great Brendan Kennelly, who is my near neighbour from Ballylongford and who is here with us today, and the late Michael Hartnett from Abbeyfeale. The students understood Heaney and those two poets immediately. It was different from the set format laid out by the Department.
Seamus Heaney's position in the pantheon of Irish literature is set in stone. To use the words of Yeats, the people will be speaking of him forever. I will not add anything to that other than to sympathise with Marie and his family.
On a parochial note, my wife Madeleine was chairperson of writers' week in Listowel for many years and we got to know Seamus well because he was a great supporter of the writing festival as well as writing festivals all over the country. He never let them down if they asked him to adjudicate or give a reading. He was always available and was a great asset to the festival. I would like to convey the deepest sympathies of the people of Listowel.
It is great to follow a scholar from the literary capital of the kingdom. I would like to extend a warm welcome to Marie, Brendan Kennelly, David Hanly and the other distinguished guests with us today. It is proper that these tributes are paid to this great poet in this House. I must confess I was never very good at poetry. I always like to read it and to hear it read and that is why it is so good to hear such lovely poetry being read by Members.
It was wonderful to hear the Minister say what happened in Paris and at the event in Rome. I only met the good man once when he handed over that magnificent treasure trove, all those poems, writings and notes which he had boxed so carefully, to the National Library of Ireland. The Minister's idea to have an exhibition in 2015 is very fitting and worthy. Please God that will lead to a magnificent gathering and, in its own way, will spawn further gatherings.
Next Monday night the Minister will be in a famous schoolhouse at Muckross launching another great work on Killarney and Kerry. I will try to be there but I am not sure I can make it. As a great promoter of the arts, formulator of ideas and something of an event organiser over the years, he might suggest at the event in that schoolhouse, which is so representative of schoolhouses in Kerry and throughout the country, that a Heaney commemoration would be held there in due course. It would be a wonderful event. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I did not want to let the occasion pass without being part of this unique occasion to mark the passing of one of our greatest poets. What I have been reading is rather interesting. Seamus Heaney and W. B. Yeats shared a legacy that was spoken about in great detail by many people on his passing and it reminded me of the one and only occasion on which I met Seamus Heaney. I was chairman of Fáilte Ireland North West at the time and we were launching the Yeats Trail in Sligo. I had the honour of being with him on that occasion and because it was about Yeats I recall quoting one of Yeats's poems and apologising to Seamus for not quoting one of his but that I had no doubt he would take the opportunity to do so, which he did. I want to express my deepest sympathy to Marie and to all of his family on the loss of an outstanding husband, father and patriot.
I could not help but reflect that one of the poems that struck me as resonating, and we all have our reasons for selecting various extracts from Seamus's anthology, was Sunlight, which he wrote some four years after the death of his mother with whom he had a particularly close relationship. I will not read it all other than to convey the sense of that relationship to which most of us would relate in our own homes:
So, her hands scuffledAr dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
over the backboard,
the reddening stove
sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.
Now she dusts the board
with a goose's wing,
Now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails
and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the ticks of two clocks.
And here is love
like a tinsmith's scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.
As Leader of the House I am privileged to say some brief words about the exceptional man who was Seamus Heaney. I would like to extend my sincere sympathy and the sincere sympathies and condolences of all Members of Seanad Éireann to Marie and her children. We are delighted that you are here this afternoon to share this occasion with us.
Many people will have shared the shock last August when we heard the sad news of Seamus's passing. So much has been said of him since then reminding us, lest we forget, about the impact of his work not only on the people of this island but around the globe. His true appeal was his inimitable ability to touch a chord with all levels of society. It is only right and fitting, therefore, that we remember Seamus here in Seanad Éireann today.
Fintan O'Toole wrote a rather fitting article in The Irish Times in which he noted how, throughout Seamus's poetry, we are reminded that Ireland is at first a culture before it is an economy. Given the experiences we have been through in the past number of years we, as a people, should continue to remember that.
On my journey home to Waterford after Seamus's passing I listened to the radio where contributors from all over the world spoke warmly of Seamus and of his work. It brought home to me, if we did not know it already, that this was an exceptional man who was revered by all who knew him and whose work will continue to inspire generations into the future.
I would like to thank the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, for being present here today and all my Seanad colleagues for the heartfelt and genuine tributes to Seamus Heaney. On this day, before the people of Ireland decide whether Seanad Éireann should continue or not, I am proud of the contributions of Members of the House this afternoon and I hope we did some justice to the memory of an exceptional man of our time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I thank all the Senators who contributed and made this occasion very special. I recognise the quality of their presentations and thank them for reciting some of Seamus Heaney's best-known and epic poetry. It made the occasion very special and unique. I thank Marie for being in the audience today. Her presence gave a special sense of poignancy to the occasion and made it very special. There was a feeling of sincerity from all the contributions, which were spontaneous. Also, as the Leader of the House mentioned, they were genuine and heartfelt. No one was posturing or trying to impress. These were genuine expressions of sentiment, admiration and respect for a special person.
It is good to be joined here today by Des Kavanagh and David Hanly but also by Professor Brendan Kennelly. To me and to us in Kerry, Brendan Kennelly is up there with Heaney and Yeats. They were great friends and shared that special talent with words. It is a great tribute to Seamus Heaney that Professor Kennelly would come into the House today to listen to all the tributes made to Seamus Heaney. I thank Brendan sincerely. He was a great fellow Kerry footballer in his time who could also relate so much to the field and the markings in Heaney's great poem to which all of us young people growing up in Kerry could relate. There were several markings on Kerry pitches throughout the length and breadth of Kerry, and indeed the rest of the country.
I tried to write something while listening and being inspired by all Members to sum up in some way what they were saying about Seamus Heaney. I will conclude by saying that in all of his work Seamus embodied the adage that the truly brilliant need no artifice. They are who they are, and he remained who he was - always true to himself. He painted scenes with words lesser wordsmiths would have discarded to the humdrum business of conjunction and preposition. Words were his thing, and none were ordinary. They came to him with height, density and sound, and he gave them soul and life.