Seamus Heaney strode the world of Irish poetry like a Colossus. When he died on 30th August 2013, his friends and family felt a personal loss and it was a tremendous loss, too, to fans of his poetry in Ireland and internationally.
To mark his tenth anniversary in August 2023, RTÉ lyric fm is celebrating his work by asking ten people to each choose and introduce a favourite Heaney poem, before we hear an archive recording of the poet himself reading the poem. The poems chosen include some of his best known and most loved, like Mid-Term Break and Digging, as well as less well-known poems, and range in theme from family and childhood, music and landscape, history, human rights, and the Troubles.
Broadcast daily at 12:30 as special, short features during Niall Carroll's Classical Daytime on RTÉ lyric fm from Monday 4th to Friday 8th September, and from Monday 11th to Friday 15th September, Remembering Seamus Heaney reminds us of the power and beauty of the poet's work.
Contributors to the series include poets, an actor, a painter, a Leaving Cert student, a former hurler and more.
Listen to the podcast series on Niall Carroll's Classical Daytime page.
Monday 4th September - Episode 1
Michael Longley first met Seamus Heaney in Philip Hobsbaum's flat in Belfast when they were both young poets. It was, he says, like love at first sight. While he misses his old friend, Longley reminds us that while the poet may have died, his poetry is 'immortal’. "True poems, haunt us", he says as he chooses The Harvest Bow (from the collection Field Work, published by Faber & Faber).
Tuesday 5th September - Episode 2
Journalist and presenter Olivia O'Leary had the privilege and the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Seamus Heaney a number of times. In a conversation recorded at the Royal Irish Academy in 2012, they spoke about his poem Clearances #4 (from The Haw Lantern, Faber & Faber), one of a sequence written in memory of the poet's mother. The poem considers the wedge that education can drive between parents and their children but also the bonds of affection that reach back beyond it.
Wednesday 6th September - Episode 3
Many of us got to know actor Andrew Bennett when he played the role of a farmer and foster father in the film An Cailín Ciúin. Growing up on a farm was good preparation for the role and also for reading Heaney’s work, steeped as it is, in the poet’s rural childhood. For this series, Andrew looks back on some of his childhood memories and is struck by parallels to his own experience in the poems Lightenings #6 and #7 (from Seeing Things, Faber & Faber).
Thursday 7th September - Episode 4
The annual Poetry Aloud student competition is run by the National Library and Poetry Ireland in partnership with University College Cork. The overall Seamus Heaney Award in the 2022 competition was won by Luke Dolan, who recently finished his Leaving Cert year at Glenamaddy Community School in County Galway. Dolan talks about the importance of inhabiting a poem if you are to read it well and tells us how he felt affinities to Heaney because of the rural background they share. He chooses one of the poems he performed during the competition, the opening poem of Seamus Heaney's first collection: Digging (from Death of a Naturalist, Faber & Faber).
Friday 8th September - Episode 5
Nicholas Allen is Director of the Willson Center and the Baldwin Professor in Humanities at the University of Georgia in the United States. He introduces a poem that brings us back to the dark days of the Troubles in Northern Ireland: Two Lorries (from The Spirit Level, Faber & Faber). The poem recalls the day in May 1993 when a bomb exploded in Magherafelt in County Derry an even which impacted on Allen whose father was the manager of the local Northern Bank which was blown to pieces in the attack. Allan reminds us that while Heaney never looked the other way from the horrors, he also did not let them dominate him and in his work, he always kept dreams beyond the terror alive.
Monday 11th September - Episode 6
Perhaps the poem Mid-Term Break (from Death of a Naturalist, published by Faber & Faber) is Seamus Heaney’s most well known. We remember the story behind it – the death of Seamus Heaney's little brother, Christopher – and can recite the poem's devastating final line. The poem has a personal significance for writer, activist and artist Orla Tinsley, who has lived with cystic fibrosis since she was a child and has been all too aware of the fragility of life and the cold reality of death. She talks of how the poem has grown with her across her life.
Tuesday 12th September - Episode 7
Seamus Heaney's so-called 'bog poems' were inspired by the discovery of bodies from thousands of years ago in the bogs of northern Europe. It is perhaps inevitable that Annemarie Ní Churreáin, who grew up in the boglands of the Donegal Gaeltacht, is drawn to them. She introduces Punishment (from North, Faber & Faber) and, as one of our younger generation of poets, describes how Heaney's work has inspired her to take more risks with her own poetry.
Wednesday 13th September - Episode 8
Diarmuid Lyng is a facilitator, wild Irish retreater and former Wexford hurler who has spent time living on the Blasket Islands. He is a fan of the music of Colm Mac Con Iomaire, The Gloaming and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and chooses a poem by Heaney, The Given Note (from Door into the Dark, Faber & Faber), that seems to explain where their music comes from. The poem itself was inspired by the traditional air Port na bPucai or the Tune of the Fairies.
Thursday 14th September - Episode 9
In 1985 Seamus Heaney was asked by Mary Lawlor to write a poem for Amnesty International to mark International Human Rights Day. The resulting poem, From the Republic of Conscience (from The Haw Lantern, Faber & Faber), inspired the creation of the Ambassador of Conscience Award, which has been given to Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, Malala Yousafzai, U2 and Greta Thunberg, among others. The poem is introduced by Irish-Syrian journalist and activist Razan Ibraheem, who is a member of the board of Amnesty International Ireland.
Friday 15th September - Episode 10
The artist Colin Davidson met Seamus Heaney in 2013 to make drawings and take photos in preparation for painting his portrait, and he is grateful that he had an opportunity to show the painting to Heaney not long before he died. Colin introduces one of his favourite poems, Postscript (from The Spirit Level, Faber and Faber), which, to his mind, illustrates some of the parallels between painting and poetry.
All the poems featured are included in 100 Poems of Seamus Heaney, published by Faber and Faber. Our thanks to the publishers and to the Estate of Seamus Heaney for permission to broadcast these poems. The recordings of Seamus Heaney reading the poems in this series are from the RTÉ / Lanann Foundation boxset "Seamus Heaney: Collected Poems".
The producer of Remembering Seamus Heaney is Claire Cunningham and the series is a Rockfinch production for RTÉ lyric fm, funded by Coimisiún na Meán with the Television Licence Fee. The producer for RTÉ lyric fm is Eoin O'Kelly.