Heaney reading for Cancer Care West
Our photograph shows, left to right, Marie and Seamus Heaney with Mary and Des Kavanagh. Photograph: Iain McDonald.
A huge crowd turned up in the Bailey Allen Hall last week for a poetry reading by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. The programme began with some exquisite music by Mozart and Debussy played by Galway’s musical quartet, Contempo, and it was followed by music of a different kind that will resonate in the memories of those who were present as Heaney read from his new book Human Chain.
He was introduced by his friend of 59 years, Des Kavanagh. They met on their first day in secondary school, and it is a measure of their friendship that Seamus has dedicated this book to Des and his wife Mary.
In his introduction, Des talked of their schooldays together, of Seamus’ academic gifts, his great acting abilities in school plays, and how, when he was made head prefect, he had the perfect recipe for unpopularity, but his even temperament and natural charm won them all over.
When Seamus finished in Queen’s University, he went to teach in St Thomas’ School in Belfast where he soon had “the students all wild about poetry”.
As Des said, he now seems to have the whole country wild about poetry, it is no longer an elitism. When he addresses vast international audiences, he does great good for Ireland, planting images of our way of life, our people, our landscape, and the quality of writing that the country can produce.
Heaney’s new collection Human Chain is about continuities and solidarities, between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now, inside an intently remembered present — the stepping stones of the day, the weight and weft of what is passed from hand to hand. And so he started his reading with a number of poems he wrote in the Galway area, for example when he was on his honeymoon here, or when he was sampling oysters near the flaggy shore.
He went on to read from his new book and, for many of the listeners, it was a moving experience, as if he was speaking to them alone about their mother or their father or their growing up. There were a lot of tears in the audience, but it was not a sad occasion. There was a lot of positivity, especially when he spoke of the extraordinary work being done by Cancer Care West, the charity to which the proceeds of the night went. He praised their professionalism, their dedication, the care and dignity they bestow on their patients, their impressive achievements, and he followed this up by visiting their facility at Inis Aoibhinn and their drop-in centre on Seamus Quirke Road the following day.