Painting by Colin Davidson
With great caution and sadness this morning my father told me that Seamus Heaney has died.
With great joy and admiration my mother would read me his poems as a child.
With beaming pride and a feeling of love and connection I would dig my heals in as a youngster to read Seamus's poems at school and The Feis in Derry.
His writings about Ulster particularly,
the light, the wildlife, characters in the villages and towns, his understanding of the growing political problems in Derry all so familiar to me but the beauty the brilliance and the potency of his language became imbedded in my heart.
What he stood for as an Ulsterman, an Irishman, his talent alone, the master poet, but the silent dignity and Integrity he always radiated would leave me wide eyed.
I have travelled many places and I have always brought Seamus's books with me, there is power and healing in his writing.
Whilst performing Warhorse in The National Theatre in London October 2008 the writer Michael Morpurgo informed me "I have a very good friend from Co.Derry also Seamus Heaney" and by my stunned expression and reply to Michael that Master Heaney was my hero, he kindly vowed to introduce me when Seamus would come to see Warhorse.
Over the course of the Oliver Run of Warhorse many family and friends came to see it and one night as i pulled on my tracksuit and hat to run for the tube home my phone rang in my dressing room and it was Cathy Morpurgo to say "Daring we are in the Bar with Seamus and Marie they would love to meet you, will you join us for a drink?"
My heart started to pound in my chest, i couldn't think what to say but just tried to breathe deeply and muttered "Ill be right down Cathy thank you"
In entering the bar in my terrible tracksuit (as I had not expected any friends that eve) I could see before me Seamus Heaney. He was waiting to buy me a drink and the entire National bar staring at him behind their glasses, even the greatest actors that night could hide there adoration.
His immediate warmth and welcoming, his love of the play he had just seen, his tenderness towards his darling wife Marie who was recently recovering from an illness herself, the way he listened as I explained my love of his writing without gushing, that I had only read Blackberry Picking again On BBC Radio Ulster the week before as part of National Poetry week as The Ministry Of Fear was considered to controversial.
He seemed very chuffed about this.
I was in a presence like never before.
I asked if he could shed some light on where I would find a quote from letter he had written to The Irish Times about Anglo Irish talks back when the Ceasefire was announced in 1994 "That a crippled trust might walk"
"Oh yes... Thats from my version of The Cure at Troy by Sophocles" and he made a small note on the Warhorse program.
As the perfect meeting came to the perfect end he informed me "I must take my lovely wife home Bronagh"
He stood up as did I, he folded his coat on the the chair and took my hands in his hands and said "Bronagh the blackberries are in safe hands" I was truly blown of my feet....we all hugged and i watched them all leave like a little pilgrim of Holy People.
I quite literally floated home and could not sleep properly at all as I seemed to be hovering on my bed.
A few weeks later a letter arrived to The National Theatre for me and this very beautiful hand writing.
I didn't recognise the handwriting but upon opening it I was completely floored as it was from Seamus.
A beautiful letter saying how much they enjoyed their evening and my company and also included the photocopied last verse of The Cure Of Troy with the wonderful quote i had asked him about.
Needless to say the letter is framed and hangs in front of me now....
To have the great honour to meet your Hero and his lovely family, for it to have been so special and enjoyable, to hold the memory of it so highly and be for ever grateful I got to share such lovely time with them really is something I will treasure for all of my life... a testament The Master, The great Seamus Heaney. My love and Deepest Sympathies to Marie and The Heaney Family x