Seamus Heaney HomePlace
Not far from the northern shore of Lough Neagh, as busy national roads give way to local routes and byways, the poetic pilgrim’s progress will bring them to Bellaghy, Co. Derry. This is Heaney country, the ‘place of clear water, the first hill in the world.’ After spending his early years in Mossbawn just a few kilometres away, Seamus Heaney moved to this small village and began to put down roots in the landscape for which he would eventually craft a rich literary narrative. Heaney scholars estimate that over half of his poetry is set within a ten-mile radius of his birthplace, and places like The Wood, Anahorish, Magerhafelt, Lough Beg and Lough Neagh are way markers as readers search for the poet’s influences and inspiration. Heaney’s poetry is ‘earth-hugging,’ as he put it, and possesses an intangible quality embedding it as deeply in the land as the turf cut in Toner’s Bog or the stepping stones in the Moyola riverbed.
Seamus Heaney: HomePlace is a celebration of the life and work of the Nobel Prize winning poet and one of Ireland’s most beloved writers. Far from being an ossified shrine, this art and literary centre on Main Street places Heaney’s writing alongside the literature, music and theatre of others who continue to draw inspiration from his work. Heaney thought of his life as ‘a series of ripples widening out from an original centre.’ In HomePlace visitors stand upon that fulcrum, the centre point which set the tone for his poetry, the finely-wrought words that would follow those early days ‘between oak tree and slated roof.’
For practical information about visiting this site Click Here
Seamus Heaney: HomePlace • Derry
‘Bearings taken, markings, cardinal points…’
The Seamus Heaney HomePlace Exhibition • Derry
The sense of place was important to Heaney. His work held a mirror up to the landscapes he encountered, with locations across the island of Ireland acting as a roadmap into his interior world. From watching a blackbird in the garden in Glanmore, Co Wicklow, to observing the interplay of wind and light along the Flaggy Shore of Co Clare, Heaney’s poetry is often described as ‘making the ordinary, extraordinary.’ In HomePlace, this sense of extraordinary ordinariness is put front and centre where family photos line the walls including images of the young poet in his school days and special snapshots of Heaney with his grandchildren. These small moments, the intimate seconds that make up a life, fill the pages of Heaney’s collections with ‘the music of what happens.’
Video testimonials from contributors such as Stephen Fry heighten our awareness of Heaney’s status as literary giant while his leather school satchel, shiny from use, is a quiet reminder of the formative years predating that exposure. Recordings of poems like Digging and The Forge can be experienced via headphones, inviting an intimate interaction between the poet and his listener. It is a remarkable experience to hear a poet read their own work, and Heaney’s soft northern intonations add his own melody to his metaphors.
The upper floor of the exhibition explores his sources of inspiration. Ascending the stairs, visitors are invited to ‘lie down in the word hoard’ as words like ‘lachtar,’ ‘byre’ and ‘spraughle’ are suspended in mid-air, illuminating Heaney’s use of language drawn from a deep well of older and more local vernacular. An interpretation of Heaney’s study, drawing on the original room from his home in Sandymount, offers the chance to inhabit the place of writing. However, it’s worth taking a moment to look beyond the exhibition at this point. A window overlooking the green fields surrounding Bellaghy draws us once more into the place that made the poet. While a nearby video installation recalls the moment Heaney learned he had won the Nobel Prize, the farmland and hedges surrounding this award-winning exhibition remind us that ‘our greatest poet since Yeats’ was, first of all, a boy from Bellaghy.
The Seamus Heaney HomePlace Exhibition • Derry
‘If you have the words, there’s always a chance you’ll find the way.’
The grave of Seamus Heaney • Derry
In the days following his death, those who knew and loved both the man and his work mourned the loss of he who had translated the lived experience of life in Ireland into poetry. Perhaps most indicative of the national affection for Heaney was the minute’s silence held in Croke Park before the 2013 All-Ireland Football Semi-Final. Such a show of reverence is accorded to but a few, and never before for a poet, but was surely an appropriate tribute to a man once delighted to have his occupation noted by the Gaelic title given to the nation’s ancient seers:
To spend time in Seamus Heaney: HomePlace, to walk the streets that he knew so well and stand by his graveside is to feel a deep connection to the poet and his work. Heaney has been described as a man of
Far from the accolades and the Nobel ceremonies, and with his recitations still fresh in the mind, one can almost hear the music of his voice as
Upper left: the Seamus Heaney HomePlace Exhibition • Lower left: a quote by Seamus Heaney • Right: a word hoard in the Seamus Heaney HomePlace exhibition
Top: the Seamus Heaney HomePlace Exhibition • Middle: A word hoard in the Seamus Heaney HomePlace exhibition • Bottom: a quote by Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney: HomePlace
This immersive visitor centre invites readers to discover the poet’s place of writing.