I was looking forward to this talk. When I first heard about it I went on line but I thought I was too late as it seemed to be completely sold out. I went back a couple of days later and managed to get two tickets in the rear stalls. I was really pleased to have something to look forward to in that long, grim stretch between the end of summer and Christmas. It is always a pleasure to hear Seamus Heaney speak.
I actully gasped today when at lunchtime I went onto the Guardian site to find out if Cameron had resigned and instead read the awful news that Seamus Heaney had died. As I was reading it my brother texted me to tell me about it. In Ireland you are never more than two degrees away from anyone else. My brother's partner is best friends with Heaney's niece and she grew up surrounded by Heaneys. As my mother would have said there's a big connection of them.
My mother's family and the Heaneys are distantly related although that is not as impressive as it sounds as probably most of the population of Ireland is distantly related to each other.
I sat in front of my desk at work and wept. One of my sisters told me she had cried uncontrollably for an hour after she heard the news.
It's hard to explain why the death of a man none of us knew could have such an effect but as I have said before his voice has been in my head almost all my life. He represented everything I love about the Northern Irish. His wit and humour, his shyness and self-effacing nature, his intelligence and of course, his way with words in many ways reminded me of other Northern Irish people who while not quite as brilliant as him shared many of these traits. My father's family loved word play and the making up of rhymes. Like Heaney most of them looked kind of craggy and knew what snedding meant. They were capable of playfulness despite tribulations. Heaney was like the best teacher you could ever have or a really brilliant uncle who would have stood you a pint and taken an interest in what A levels you were doing.
Like my mother Heaney grew up near Toome and often mentioned it in his poetry. My parents got married in Creggan and had their reception in Toome, famous for its eels and the execution of Roddy McCorley, a United Irish man and radical Presbyterian. I found this on the internet and read it with great interest. We went to O'Neill's hotel for dinner after my grandmother's funeral. I'm pretty sure Heaney would have visited O'Neills from time to time.
I'm glad that I did at least get to speak to Seamus Heaney if only for a minute or so at a book signing. I'm going to Ireland next week and I'll visit Bellaghy and light a candle for Famous Seamus.
I don't know what I'll be doing though on the 28th November.