Heaney hailed a ‘universal poet’ at Stormont

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“A universal poet” was how one Assembly member described Seamus Heaney yesterday as Stormont paid tribute to one of County Derry’s most famous sons.

Tributes to the Nobel Laureate were the first item on the agenda during the Assembly’s first meeting after the summer recess.

Reflecting on the words of one of Heaney’s most famous pieces, ‘Digging’, SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley spoke of the late poet’s importance to the wider world.

“He declared that unlike his father who dug with a spade, he in the future would dig with his pen and he did that. He dug, he probed, he searched, he delved and he explored the human heart, human relationships and the human condition,” Mr Bradley said.

“His findings had application not just to Anahorish, not just to Co Derry, not just to Ireland but to the whole of the world. He was a universal poet and he is acknowledged as such, his passing leaves a huge gap on the island of Ireland and in the literary world.”

Tributes have continued to pour in for the 74 year-old poet, who died in Dublin last month. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”.

Meanwhile, organisers of a key event in 2013’s Literature Programme - the On Home Ground Poetry Festival in Magherafelt - have announced plans to transform the Nobel Laureate’s opening night address at the festival into a tribute event celebrating his remarkable life.

The three-day event, which takes place at Laurel Villa Guesthouse from September 20-22, was due to feature an opening night address from its festival patron Seamus Heaney entitled ‘Important Places: A Reading With Commentary’.

Organisers have now decided that their long-time friend should be remembered accordingly and have brought together a host of poets including Joan Newmann, Frank Ormsby, Iggy McGovern, Moyra Donaldson, Maura Johnston, Kate Newmann and Martin Mooney to pay tribute to the literary stalwart in an event celebrating some of his great works. Other leading poets are set to confirm in the coming days too.

Key events throughout the weekend include readings from award winner Michael Longley, William Crawley in conversation with Bernard MacLaverty and a reading from recently appointed Poet Laureate for Belfast, Sinead Morrissey. Dr Pat McKay will also give an illustrated talk on the place-names of Heaney Country entitled ‘Heaney Country: Townlands and Parishes’.

The National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, will close the three-day festival on September 22, capping off a enthralling three-day programme.

Festival co-ordinator Eugene Kielt said: “The loss of Seamus, our dear friend and patron of the festival, has come as a massive shock to us all. Given the massive commitment he has made to our lives, to poetry and to Laurel Villa, we felt it only right that we pay homage to our friend with a special tribute evening reflecting on some of his finest work.”

A special festival prequel event takes place at Prehen House in Derry this Saturday, September 14.

The full festival programme is online at: www.laurel-villa.com. Contact the festival on: 028 79 631510 for more details.