Seamus Heaney HomePlace – Life, Literature & Inspiration
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When an invite to the opening of Seamus Heaney HomePlace found a very welcome home in my email inbox, my RSVP was sent and plans put in place for a road-trip to Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the official opening by the Heaney family on Thursday September 29th but I was more than delighted to help celebrate the opening weekend, along with Patrick and Smith on the blue skied Sunday of October 2nd.
Seamus Heaney HomePlace is a £4.25M purpose built arts and literary centre dedicated to the late and great poet, author and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney (1939-2013).
Owned by Mid Ulster District Council, HomePlace can be found proudly in the village of Bellaghy in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland.
Bellaghy is the place where Seamus Heaney was born (he was born at Mossbawn on April 13th 1939, it’s near the village of Bellaghy) and raised, and also the place he lies to rest. As you drive through the countryside to reach it, you can understand why Seamus loved this land so dearly, and how it inspired so much of his poetic works.
When you enter HomePlace you are greeted, on the left, by quotes from ‘Digging’ from the first of Seamus Heaney’s major works ‘Death of a Naturalist’ (1966). Like an ode to his roots but also to himself, it prepares you for the Man & Boy Exhibition that awaits you straight ahead.
To the right of the entrance is a small but perfectly formed Gift Shop where you can shop the works of local artists and designers, as well as the works of the main man himself.
In the middle of the open planned and gloriously spacious foyer, you will find the reception desk where you can purchase your ticket – Adult £7, Child £4.50, Under 7’s are FREE, Concession £4.50 and Family £19.
Under the management of Seamus Heaney’s nephew, Brian McCormick, HomePlace is aiming for 35,000 visitors each year, those whom adore Seamus Heaney’s works and those who wish to learn more.
Man & Boy – two beautiful and honest portraits.
Acknowledgements and thanks are given to the Heaney family, Pat Brennan, Michael Kinsella, Faber & Faber and RTÉ Archives for their help and support in creating an exhibition that guides you through the love, laughter, life and death of those who inspired Seamus Heaney from his journey of boy to the man he became.
The exhibition is fantastic and can be as interactive as you want it to be. Using the handheld guides were a treat as you listened to Seamus Heaney read a loud his wonderful words. The big screens and touch screens gave insights into Seamus Heaney’s life and times. Hear the voices and witness what his friends, neighbours, world leaders and cultural figures have to say about him.
The Seamus Heaney life story unfolds before your eyes and ears as you make your way around the exhibition space. We get a chance to see where Seamus Heaney was from, what he took his inspiration from and how important his family and friends were to him throughout his child and adult life.
“Seamus’s feet never left the ground and you could nearly say he never left Bellaghy” Hugh Heaney
“The more string you pay out, of course, the higher and more spectacular your flight” – taken from an extract from Stepping Stones.
The exhibition continues to the second floor, which can be reached by stairs or escalator.
This section of the exhibition explores ‘the inspiration behind some of Seamus Heaney’s most famous work”.
Again this second part of the exhibition, like the first is interactive. The guide can be used, games can be played, or you can just bask in the many inspiring images that help explain the works of Seamus Heaney’s works. “Can you work out the connection between the image and the poem?”
The pen, floating almost like magic, the water pump, a family get together – never to old for games or competition.
Did you know?
“‘Incertus’ – When Seamus Heaney began writing poetry in the 1960’s, this was the pen-name he used. It means ‘uncertain’. It is also the name of a poem from Stations published in 1975”
The exhibition concludes with a copy of Seamus Heaney’s attic study in his home in Sandymount in Dublin. Here you can learn of his reaction to winning a Nobel Prize … and you can even see a replica of the fax in the fax machine that awaited him with this news as he holidayed in Greece. He was unaware he’d won the prize for two days!
The design of the centre means that in special spaces like this, the outside is brought in, or the other way around. Whichever way you see it, it’s a nod to the countryside that inspired Seamus Heaney throughout his life.
I adored The Creative Corner that is especially for budding poets and writers. To me it’s a brilliant and important space for children and their parents.
It encourages junior, and their senior companions alike, to understand the world of words, help them find their voice or express their creative thoughts in colour.
Also on the second level is a Library that contains a selection of donated books from Seamus Heaney’s family. These books are from Seamus Heaney’s home and include biographies, fiction and poetry works from other poets.
The Strand, Glanmore & Broagh Rooms as well as The Helicon, performance space and Café can also be found on the second floor of HomePlace.
On the day we visited the rooms were home to workshops for children that ranged from felt classes with ‘Arty Bird’ to ‘Fighting with Words’ from Belfast. It’s my understanding that these rooms will be used for workshops and events in the future, for both local schools and visiting students and adults.
What was equally impressive was the purpose-built function space that can be found next door to the main HomePlace building. This space is open to the local community for events and for hire.
We enjoyed fresh treats and coffee in the café, admired Seamus Heaney’s old familiar duffle coat as we made our way out the door, said farewell to the chickens, rooster and rabbit outside next to the manicured and community HomePlace allotments, and made our way to the grounds of St. Mary’s Chapel to Seamus Heaney’s final resting place. It made sense that he was found under the leafy shade looking out over the fields, while everyone else looked the other way.
I’m looking forward to returning to Bellaghy. I’d love to tour the local places that have relevance to Seamus Heaney’s poetry. Places like Bellaghy village, Mossbawn, Broagh, The Wood, Toner’s Bog, Lough Beg, The Strand and Church Island … The Forge, New Ferry and Castledawson. Seamus Heaney specialist Eugene Kielt’s “Lifecycle Tour” might just be the answer to this request.
I’ve seen the programme for Season One ‘Close to Home’ October – December 2016 and it’s packed full of cultural events to tickle everyone’s fancy. From a Naturalist Lunch, to an evening with Phil Coulter, from readings to performances both at HomePlace and at secret locations! … booking is essential but what stands out for me is the affordability of the tickets … there’s no excuse to stay home!
Best wishes to Brian and his team at HomePlace. When we visited, Brian was energetic with pride and seemed in his element greeting and helping visitors, whilst keeping everything running smoothly. His team, as was himself, were beaming with happiness. One member I had a quick chat to, Clare, was so proud to be working there. As she put it herself as we looked around the Creative Corner, why wouldn’t you be happy working there.
Congratulations to Mid Ulster District Council and the Heaney Family on such a wonderful and inspiring space. Thank you to HomePlace, ArtsinForm, Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland for organising our visit.