I began my daily blog on New Year’s Day with a report that included this picture of swans at Lough Murree, beside the Flaggy Shore at New Quay in the Burren area of County Clare. I had just completed the loop walk along the limestone rock of the shoreline, looking out at Galway Bay. It was a lovely day in the company of friends, having welcomed in the New Year in Kinvara.
Memories of that afternoon came flooding back as in front of a packed house at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, the poet Damian Gorman read ‘Postscript’ from Seamus Heaney’s collection ‘The Spirit Level’ (published 1996, the year after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature). Jean Tubridy has reproduced it on her Social Bridge blog:-
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
(from The Spirit Level)
Heaney had been associated with the Lyric theatre since the days of Mary O’Malley and the literary periodical ‘Threshold‘ fifty years ago. He was present at the foundation stone laying ceremony in 1965 when the Lyric Players built their own theatre at Ridgeway Street, and recited a poem written especially for the occasion, Peter Street at Bankside. 44 years on in September 2009 a stanza from the poem was engraved on the threshold stone as the foundations were laid for the new Lyric Theatre. He said he was honoured and commented that “The renovation of the Lyric Theatre is a reminder of the vital artistic achievement in the past and the promise of ongoing creative vigour in the future. The renewal of the fabric of the building stands for the kind of social and psychic renewal that the entire community aspires to. The Lyric has engaged with the life of its society and performed the classic Shakespearean task to provide ‘the abstract and brief chronicles of the time’.”
It was therefore highly fitting that a special commemoration of the life of Seamus Heaney was organised at short notice by the Lyric Theatre and the free tickets were snapped up quickly. Ten people including his friend and fellow poet Michael Longley took part in an hour-long celebration that included poems, stories and music.
The Nobel Laureate made his last public appearance in Belfast at the Lyric on 23rd April 2012 where he addressed a sold-out audience to mark the new building’s first anniversary. The theatre’s close association with Heaney is reflected throughout the new building which contains a bust of the poet by sculptor, Philip Flanagan and a Louis le Brocquy painting at the entrance steps.
Lyric Chairman Mark Carruthers paid tribute to the distinguished poet:-
“Seamus Heaney was a long-time friend and supporter of the Lyric Theatre and we are all therefore deeply saddened at his passing. He was a man of enormous talents – easily the greatest Irish poet since Yeats. His loss will be deeply felt beyond the arts world. As Lyric Chairman we would like to offer our sincere condolences to his wife Marie and family. He will be greatly missed.”
The funeral of Seamus Heaney takes place on Monday: 11:30am Requiem Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook in Dublin, followed by burial after 5pm in his native parish of Bellaghy, County Derry. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.