I'd first read Heaney's poetry in UCD in 1978 - and poems from 'North' - 'Belderg', 'Funeral Rites' - merge in my memory with Ted Hughes' 'Pike' and Sylvia Plath's 'Daddy'. At the time I was too raw and occupied with myself and films and disillusionment to fully appreciate the power and originality of his work. It required more growing up and patient reading and re-reading to see what I should have seen from the beginning.
Interviewing Seamus Heaney and Dennis O'Driscoll in the Abbey theatre last November to mark the publication of 'Stepping Stones' was a joy. Meeting him again for our programmes on David Hammond and John Montague was to see a public man give generously of his time for the marking of friendship and the acknowledgement of significant work made by others. The chosen word always apt, the lines of thought always clear and precise.
Have I a favourite poem? So many give me pleasure, pause, illuminate the day and days: 'Singing School' from 'North' 'Out of This World' and 'The Blackbird of Glanmore' from 'District and Circle'. And I return time and again to the prose, the essays, and the criticism. Nick Laird said to me recently that 'we live in the age of Seamus Heaney': we're privileged to so do.
'If art teaches us anything, it's that the human condition is private.' On this public occasion, however, let us celebrate and raise a glass life and poetry and to a man who has given us more than any spirit level could ever begin to measure.