Living poetry is as important as the words on the page


Kate Kerrigan

MUM turned 80 last year so my sisters and I decided to take her away. We started planning back at the beginning of the summer, asking Mam where she wanted to go.

“Anywhere in the world,” I said. “Go for it.”

She sat contemplating for a while then finally looked at me and said: “Harveys point in Donegal—Jacinta says it’s the last word.”

As jam-maker and cook extraordinaire, Jacinta’s opinion counts.

“Is that it?” I said. “Coach trip to Paris? Cruise? Come on Mam. Be adventurous!” Her voice took on an apologetic tone: “Well, if it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to see the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Derry.”

“Really?” the younger sister said when I texted her the plans. “One night?” Our excuse for escaping on a five star jolly was slipping away from us.

“Tell her we’ll take her to Belfast after,” she said. “Three days. I’ll do an itinerary. C can book the restaurants.’

I collected Mum early on Sunday morning and drove her to Sligo. Mum sat in the front, and snuggled back into her heated seat to enjoy the panoramic view.

“This is great” she said.

“Speak-up! I cannot hear you back here!” I complained from the back.

As the responsible eldest, I often took responsibility for my younger siblings and expect the same royal treatment as Mam. I don’t get it.

“Put your hearing aid in and stop moaning,” my sister barked, clicking her shellac off the leather steering wheel.

We had lunch in Harveys Point, took some pictures for Jacinta, then spent the night with the charming Martina in Brook Lodge, Magherafelt. We got a spotless, double bedroom room each and complimentary brownies with our tea and coffee-making facilities. As B&B aficionados Mam and I agreed this was ‘Daniel and Majella standard.’

A short drive away was the Seamus Heaney Homeplace, a purpose built museum and arts centre in Bellaghy. The great man’s face, as man and boy, covers a large wall and grips you in his distinctive, twinkly gaze as soon as you walk in the door.

I met him once at an arts festival. He accepted an invitation to drink tea in my ‘Good Room’ tent. In utter awe of being in his presence I somehow managed to thank him for a poem he had written called Mother of the Groom explaining how I had given it to my mother in law the night before I married. “And did he slip her soapy hold?” he asked me. I can’t remember what I replied but I do remember feeling validated that he bothered to connect with my fandom.

A pretty blonde woman showed us around the museum. Mary’s family bought the Heaney first family home after they moved when Seamus was about 15. She was a mine of information and I stood talking to her for ages before calling my own family over, making her repeat everything she had told me.

Heaney (above) was 73 when he died, seven years younger than my mother. He was writing poetry, right up to the end and died too early. The tragedy of a legacy cut short, all those unwritten poems, his condensed wisdom unshared.

Upstairs we had coffee and watched a video of him accepting the Pulitzer in 1995. The footage showed that, despite his erudition and literary brilliance, Heaney was, mostly an engagingly grounded and ‘ordinary’ man, interacting with his wife and children with immense love and humour. That’s poetry: the captured essence of that humanity. The living of it as important as the words on the page. I leant across and touched Mam’s shoulder.

Visit Kate Kerrigan’s website for a free downloadable book, The Lost Garden, video readings and podcast links and a weekly newsletter than can be downloaded and printed off for senior citizens who are self-isolating to enjoy