Unseen Heaney poem sent to ‘Journal’

June 2001 - Seamus Heaney'The Nobel prize winning poet in Dublin.'John Harrison
June 2001 - Seamus Heaney'The Nobel prize winning poet in Dublin.'John Harrison

The ‘Derry Journal’ was once honoured to publish a previously-unread Seamus Heaney poem, ‘The Road to Derry’ as part of its supplement marking the 25th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

The poem, which had never been included in any Heaney collection, was written in the days after Bloody Sunday but lay unread for many years until Heaney himself unearthed it and sent it to the ‘Journal’ for our 25th anniversary commemoration edition.

The haunting poem reflects the depth of the poet’s feelings when making the journey from Belfast to Derry to attend the funerals of the 13 men and boys murdered by British paratroopers on January 30, 1972. The funerals were held at St Mary’s Chapel in Creggan.

In his letter to this newspaper in 1997, Seamus Heaney revealed the origins of the piece - and that it was Luke Kelly of The Dubliners who had originally asked him to write a song in the wake of the massacre.

“I did four stanzas... and sent them to him, with the suggestion that they might be put to the air of The Boys of Mullaghbawn, but nothing ever came of it. Anyway, I think it is in order to reprint this abbreviated version now, twenty-five years after the drive from Belfast to Derry on the day of the funerals,” Heaney wrote to the ‘Journal’.

The Nobel prize-winning poet later agreed that ‘The Road to Derry’ be published in a book for the first time - that book being ‘Harrowing of the Heart: The Poetry of Bloody Sunday’ co-edited by Derry Journal reporter, Julieann Campbell, and published by Guildhall Press in 2008.

He also requested that another Bloody Sunday-inspired piece, ‘Casualty’, be considered for inclusion in the same collection.

Heaney’s ‘The Road to Derry’ (1972)

On a Wednesday morning early I took the road to Derry

Along Glenshane and Foreglen and the cold woods of Hillhead:

A wet wind in the hedges and a dark cloud on the mountain

And flags like black frost mourning that the thirteen men were dead.

The Roe wept at Dungiven and the Foyle cried out to heaven,

Burntollet’s old wound opened and again the Bogside bled;

By Shipquay Gate I shivered and by Lone Moor I enquired

Where I might find the coffins where the thirteen men lay dead.

My heart besieged by anger, my mind a gap of danger.

I walked among their old haunts, the home ground where they bled;

And in the dirt lay justice like an acorn in the winter

Till its oak would sprout in Derry where the thirteen men lay dead.