Seamus Heaney through the eyes of his Irish American friends
A man of “enormous modesty” and a “powerful voice for peace”
“I didn’t have any personal relationship with him, but I interviewed him in 2001 when he was doing a reading at the Lincoln Center,” Dwyer told the Voice. “Before I had met him as a poet I already though he was remarkable as a man. The reason I thought that was I went to a Gala Dinner around the time Ireland House at NYU first opened. I believe it was shortly after he won the Nobel Prize.”
Heaney got up and gave a talk about the importance of Ireland House, but then he discussed the world of Irish writers that he lived among. “He mentioned Gerald Dawe and Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon and Brian Friel and all his contemporaries,” says Dwyer. “He was breaking a little of the bread off the Nobel and passing it along. He was making sure they were regarded as his peers. He was underlining their importance to him as writers and his peers. He blended them into what he was saying without ostentation. I admired his generosity, which was unshowy. He did the same thing with his Nobel speech.”
Dwyer was in highschool when Heaney’s collection North came out, he recalls. “I had a special aunt who wanted to get me something for my graduation. I told her about this book by this Irish poet. So she got me the book and noticed it had maybe 40 pages. My aunt Sheila being a great Kerry woman was astounded. How could this be a book she wondered? I still have the book and the note she gave me, which reads: “Here is the book you wanted, it’s such a mean looking little thing I’ve enclosed a check.”
Dwyer told Heaney and his wife Marie about the note and the check when he met them and they erupted with laughter.
For people who live outside Ireland it can come as a surprise to discover that Irish poets, particularly northern poets, do not live in ivory towers far removed from the daily struggles of their compatriots. For Dwyer it’s another aspect of Heaney’s dexterity as a writer.
“As you get older you appreciate how people navigate the incredible tension and the claustrophobia that was Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s. How he navigated all that with his integrity impresses me.”
Look at how preoccupied Heaney was with the rituals of death and transformation, Dwyer says, adding that when they met Heaney told him: “At a certain age, the light that you live in is inhabited by the shades --it is.” Adding: “The death of people doesn't banish them out of your consciousness. They’re part of the light in your head.”
In New York this week former president Bill Clinton lead the tributes to the man he called “our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives” and a “powerful voice for peace.”
“Both his stunning work and his life were a gift to the world,” Clinton continued. “We loved him and we will miss him. More than a brilliant artist, Seamus was, from the first day we met him, a joy to be with and a warm and caring friend - in short, a true son of Northern Ireland.”
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Please note: I only submitted the 02:18 post and not the 01:46 one.Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent says Immigrant Council
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