Seamus Heaney will long be remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest poets.
But throughout his life he reflected at length on the tremendous upbringing he received while living on the family farm in South Co. Derry. In fact, ‘working the land’ is a recurring theme within many of his most renowned works.
A case in point is the poem entitled ‘Digging’ in which Heaney reflects on the back breaking work put in by his father and grandfather as they dug potatoes and cut turf by hand throughout their lives. He, on the other hand, preferred to do his ‘digging’ with a pen.
The photographer and broadcaster Bobby Hanvey tells the story of arriving at the Heaney household for a photoshoot with Seamus insisting that he must be photographed out on the bog wearing his then departed father’s coat, hat and boots.
This anecdote – one of many – confirms Heaney’s great love for his father and the rural way of life he enjoyed as a child.
All of this is relevant as this week marks the official opening of the new Seamus Heaney Centre in the poet’s home town of Bellaghy.
It is an arts and literature hub, dedicated to the late poet and provides a unique insight into the work of the Nobel Laureate.
I am aware that an increasing number of people from south of the border are now heading north on breaks.
Can I suggest that a visit to the Seamus Heaney Centre should be included on everyone’s itinerary?
And while up in Bellaghy, please call in at the poet’s grave in the nearby cemetery of St Mary’s parish church.
Located close to original stone wall of the graveyard with overhanging trees, it is an idyllic – yet thought provoking – location.
I visited the grave on a wet Saturday afternoon just over a year ago and was overcome by a tremendous feeling of inner peace and restfulness.
I suppose that’s what happens when one finds oneself in the presence of greatness.