Seamus Heaney and the Polish Connection

Seamus Heaney’s fascination with the work of Polish poets is the subject of a presentation Michael will be giving on Saturday 28 April 2018 at 2.00 p.m. at the Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. It will focus mainly on Heaney’s ‘discovery’ of Czesław Miłosz’s work in 1980-1 when Poland’s free trade union movement, Solidarity, dominated world headlines which coincided with the escalation in the prison protests in Northern Ireland and the hunger strike campaign. The presentation, which will include film clips, will also consider his interest in the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert and Tadeusz Rozewicz during the late 1960s – a bi-product of his relationship with Hughes – and later advocacy in the 1990’s of the work of Wisława Szymborska, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. As Czesław Miłosz, himself observed, ‘One of the strangest regularities to be taken into account by a historian of literature and   art is the affinity binding people who live at the same time in countries distant from  one another’ ( The Witness of Poetry).

The Home Place

The Home Place is an arts and literary centre, built in the heart of Heaney country, which opened its doors for the first time in September 2016. During its first year, it has hosted afternoon and events embracing all the arts, and drawn large numbers of visitors. Many come from far afield, keen to learn more about the poet, his work and his origins.

The ground floor of the building contains a marvellous array of visual and aural material. This provides visitors with an excellent introduction to family members and local individuals who played such a crucial, sustaining role in the poet’s life. Accompanying the photographs and captions are recordings of poems directly related to that person, all read by Heaney. And so close to the picture of his brother, Hugh, for example, you can key in a number and listen to ‘Keeping Going’,  to whom the poem is dedicated.   In addition, via a touch screen, you can hear the testimony of a wide variety of distinguished individuals as to why they treasured his work and his friendship so much.

Considerable thought and imagination has gone into the design of the upper floor. This gathers together a many more photographs of key players and places in the poet’s life. It also includes a film loop in which Heaney and his children recall the day when news of his award of the Nobel Prize filtered through. In addition there is an area where children can try out their skills in composing poems and making paintings. Check out its website for forthcoming events including a talk on 7 December 7 by Fintan O’Toole, recently appointed as Heaney’s official biographer.