New arts hub dedicated to Seamus Heaney’s life and legacy opens its doors

By Gáibhin McGranaghan

A new public education centre dedicated to the memory of the late Nobel Prize Laurette Seamus Heaney has opened in the poet’s hometown of Bellaghy, Co. Derry.

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Photo credit: The Irish News

Seamus Heaney HomePlace, the facility has been christened, is located at the heart of the area where eponymous poet spent his formative years and which inspired so much of his work across a career that spanned almost five decades. The project has been the collaborative venture of the Northern Ireland Arts Council and the Department of Arts, Culture and Leisure, developed under the Mid Ulster District Council’s auspices. Its construction, valued at £4.25million, from the renovation of a former RUC station on Bellaghy village’s outskirts has been further augmented by donations from the Heaney family in the way of personal papers, journals and assorted belongings used by the late poet.

Heaney’s son, Michael, said that his family had been consulted right from the beginning of the project, emphasising that “it has been very sensitively done in trying to get a sense of his life.” Mr. Heaney went on to express his hope that as well as being a tourist draw, it will be an important community resource and the symbolism of it being a former RUC barracks, from division to unity.

The new arts hub opened its doors to the public on the 29th September, featuring a plethora of luminaries from across the island’s creative community, public representatives and friends and family in attendance.

The centre’s manager Brian McCormick is Seamus Heaney’s nephew. Earlier this year, Mr McCormick said that he believed it would draw in the crowds. “We’ve set ourselves a target of 35,000 visitors per year,” he added. “While it’s a rural area we’re obviously positioned almost halfway between Belfast and Derry.”

Speaking to The Gown, Tara McEvoy, herself a PhD student in English at Queens, expressed her enthusiasm for the centre’s opening, as well as her hopes about its wider role in popularising Heaney’s poetry for future readership. “I think the new centre is fantastic and represents a great opportunity to promote Seamus Heaney’s work” she said. “The programme they’ve released looks great, too, and I’m really looking forward to attending some of their events.”

HomePlace’s opening was not positively received from all quarters, however. Its development has been fiercely contested by local campaigners who are opposed to the construction of a £160 million four-lane carriageway close to areas which feature prominently in Heaney’s verse. The route, linking the main Derry to Belfast road at Toome with the M2, will cut through an area close to Lough Beg and Mossbawn – the poet’s former home. A silent protest took place outside HomePlace on the opening day itself. Organiser Aisling Cowan was quick to stress that the campaigners were not opposed to the opening of the centre itself however.

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