The Seamus Heaney HomePlace, in the poet’s home town of Bellaghy, Co. Derry, takes visitors on a journey through the Nobel Prize-winner’s life and literature, writes Cathal Coyle.
No matter where Seamus Heaney subsequently lived after he left the family home as a boy to attend boarding school, he always considered Mossbawn and the neighbouring Bellaghy area as his home. Derry City, Belfast, Wicklow, Dublin and Boston were just some of the places that also influenced Heaney’s life and the wonderful poetry that he produced; but he was always at ease on his return to south Derry to see family and friends.
Many of us first experience Heaney’s poetry through his evocative descriptions of rural family life, with poems like Blackberry Picking, Digging and Follower. And with this strong bond established between person and place, it is fitting that the local community together with Seamus’s family helped to establish an innovative and interactive arts centre quite simply called HomePlace – in his honour.
In a previous existence it was a police station situated at the head of Bellaghy’s main street, but has now been transformed to pay homage to one of Ireland’s most famous ever poets.
Seamus Justin Heaney was born on 13th April 1939, the first of nine children. His father owned and worked a small farm of some fifty acres at the family farmhouse called Mossbawn, situated between the villages of Castledawson and Toomebridge.
Seamus attended the local primary school, Anahorish – many years later he was invited back as a distinguished past pupil. When he was twelve years of age, he won a scholarship to St. Columb’s College, a Catholic boarding school situated in Derry City.
There he learned Latin and Irish, and these languages, together with English which he would study while an undergraduate student of Queen’s University, Belfast, were strong influences on many of the developments which marked his progress as a poet.