The impressive scenes at the Requiem Mass for Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney in Dublin were entirely fitting for a man of his international standing.
Presidents, politicians, priests, and fellow artists mixed with neighbours from both Derry and Dublin in a way that was representative of the poet’s life.
In his homily, fellow St Columb’s College student, Monsignor Brendan Devlin, spoke of the south Derry-born poet as an “articulator of years of pain” in the North and of how he conveyed “the memory of a community” in his work.
This was a community which had not, until then, found a voice to tell its story in the intellectual world of art and poetry.
Seamus Heaney told the continuing story of this community so well because he lived and understood it. He instinctively knew its past, understood its troubled present, and looked hopefully to a peaceful future.
At a time when many throughout the world were ready to believe the lie that the North of Ireland was entirely populated by mindless savages, Seamus Heaney presented a different face and in doing so, gave voice to an entire community.
This in turn led others who came after him to find, and be proud of their own artistic voices.
As such, he inspired a literary and artistic renaissance across Ireland as artists who, without his influence, may not have had the courage to tackle the unique and complex social and political challenges of the time in their work.
Always unwavering in his rejection of violence, he made the wider world aware of the complexities of the situation in the North beyond the headlines.
It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that Seamus Heaney saved the artistic soul of modern Ireland and, like his work, that contribution will last forever.