Two writers share their memories of the late poet with the Irish World…
Freelance writer Grainne McCool was in the audience for one of Heaney’s last public engagements at the Fleadh Cheoil in Derry earlier this month, when he performed The Poet and the Piper along with acclaimed piper Liam O’Flynn.
She said: “I am honoured to have seen Seamus Heaney one last time. He was humble, charming and the audience hung on his every word. It felt like we were sitting in a parlour with him storytelling and reading his works. His innate humour and wit came through on the night. My lasting memory of Seamus Heaney will be hearing him read the infamous ‘Digging’ poem in front of a home audience. A magical, emotional and truly awe inspiring few moments. The world has lost a poetic genius.”
Kilburn-based Ursula O’Reilly was a student under Heaney in Belfast, during great political strife in the city and beyond. She said: “I was fortunate to have him as my teacher in Queens in the early 70s. He was a teacher, not a lecturer. He taught us to love Yeats, for example, through his energy and passion; his ability to animate the subject. He was so full of life. I can still see him now, rushing to the lecture podium in the QFT. It seemed to me as impressionable teenager that he couldn’t wait to impart what he knew to his young student audience.”
She also remembers his generosity after the events of Bloody Sunday: “He was kindness itself to his Derry tutees and offered them hospitality and comfort. In fact, he was approachable and kindly disposed towards all of us, which was quite a rarity in those days, at a time when most lecturers made students feel like an irritating necessity, there to be tolerated so they could further their academic research.
“We had not realised he was famous, as he always appeared unassuming, but we were always aware of his intelligence and grateful for his humour and human touch, especially given the dark troubled times we were living in, in 70s Belfast. Seamus Heaney will be greatly missed by all those lucky to have met him. He was a light in the darkness.”