THE FINAL words of Seamus Heaney were not written with a pen resting “snug as a gun” but typed in a text to his wife from the poet’s hospital bed, his son revealed yesterday at his funeral. The words were still poetic: “Don’t be afraid”.
Politicians and pop stars, musicians and farmers, family and friends joined contemporaries and dignitaries of the world renowned writer and hundreds of mourners at a church in south Dublin to pay last respects to one of Ireland’s literary greats.
The internationally acclaimed 74-year-old poet died unexpectedly in hospital on Friday after a short illness.
Mourners at his funeral at the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook were led by his widow Marie and children Michael, Christopher and Catherine Ann.
Michael spoke briefly at the end of the service to thank those who cared for his father and those who have offered support and praise since his death. He said: “his generosity in spirit as well as obvious gifts as poet left everyone who met him feeling lucky to have known him. His last few words in a text message he wrote to my mother minutes before he passed away were in his beloved Latin and they read – ‘nolle timere’ (‘don’t be afraid’),”
Irish president Michael D Higgins attended along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and former president Mary McAleese. Heaney’s body travelled from Dublin the 125 miles north to be buried last night in his native Bellaghy in Co Derry – a village that inspired so much of his work. Paul Muldoon, a teacher, poet and friend of Heaney, gave the eulogy following the service. “We remember the beauty of Seamus Heaney as a bard and today in particular in his being,” he said.
His lifelong friend and poetry contemporary Michael Longley were among the mourners, along with musician Paul Brady and U2 stars Bono – with his wife Ali Hewson – Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton. Books of condolences are open in Derry, Belfast and Dublin.
Mr Kenny has said it would take Heaney himself to describe the depth of loss Ireland felt over his death.
Politicians who attended the service also included Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, senior Sinn Fein figures Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
Chief celebrant of the Mass, Monsignor Brendan Devlin, opened the service with the remark that Heaney might have liked to have his funeral celebrated by someone with a Northern accent. He summed up why the poet was held in such high regard by people from all walks of life. He said: “He could speak to the King of Sweden, an Oxford don or a south Derry neighbour with the directness of a common and shared humanity.”
Monsignor Devlin, a family friend originally from Co Tyrone, celebrated the mass with Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Eamonn Walsh, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson and Mark Patrick Hederman from Glenstal Abbey.
A posy of flowers from the garden of the Heaney family home in Sandymount and a book of some of Heaney’s works were offered as gifts during the service. The Mass was ended with a reading of one of Heaney’s poems, The Given Note, from his second collection.