Where to begin? Seamus Heaney's writing has been with me for ever it seems. In so many ways his voice is Ireland to me. The gentleness, the quiet firmness, the soft voice with a strong message, the sadness behind the laughter, the courtesy throughout. Oh, he will be missed.
On 31 August 1993 when the IRA had announced its ceasefire (which eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement) Seamus Heaney had spent all afternoon listening to the radio hoping for words that would do justice to the event but instead had only felt more and more claustrophobic with all the meaningless chatter from politicians and commentators. So he went outside to collect his thoughts and suddenly a flap opened somewhere in the back of my head and the light came in.
I remember that I started to cry when I read this sentence. Just one sentence that says it all, the anger and pain and the hope to finally be able and overcome 25 years of darkness, the terrible suffering caused and endured by all parties involved, the deaths and the hatred.
In 2009, it seemed that all of Ireland was celebrating his 70th birthday with him. On the day itself, the 13th April, Ireland's national radio station played the 15 CDs of Seamus Heaney reading his own poetry all day long. We were driving along the Connemara coast that day, a calm and sunny day with a clear sky, listening to his voice with just a hint of Northern Ireland accent. And whenever we stopped and rolled down the window to smell the sea, we could hear him from the other cars parked along the pier and later on, in the pub in Roundstone over the loudspeakers.
A week later as I was queueing for the check in at Dublin airport, taking off my boots for some ludicrous security clearance, there he was again, this time a rerun of him reading his poem St. Kevin and the Blackbird on The Late Late just after he had received the Nobel Prize in 1995. Where else would you have a poet laureate addressed as just Seamus and thus expressing the admiration and the respect and the love that surely was felt by all who watched.
So walk on air against your better judgement
Establishing yourself somewhere in between
Those solid batches mixed with grey cement
And a tune called "The Gravel Walks" that