The body of Seamus Heaney was reverentially consigned to the County Londonderry bogland that inspired him to write the verses which helped elevate him to the status of one of the greatest of Irishmen.
The poet, now hailed at home and abroad as one of the cultural immortals, was laid to rest by his family in the homeland that inspired him. The 74-year-old Nobel laureate died on Friday in a Dublin hospital, suddenly after a short illness.
The cortege was headed by a lone piper as mourners made their way along the country roads. Earlier the great and the good of Ireland, encompassing the president, political figures, poets and other artists, bade farewell at a funeral service in Dublin.
The Irish President, Michael Higgins, himself a published poet, attended along with the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and the former president Mary McAleese. Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton from the band U2 topped a list of names from the world of music, arts and entertainment.
There was a palpable sense of national loss at the passing of a unique national asset, regarded as Ireland’s most renowned poet since Yeats.
Monsignor Bernard Devlin told the congregation: “As a country, we are keenly aware of our deprivation at the disappearance from among us of Seamus Heaney.”
During the service one of his sons, Michael Heaney, revealed that his father’s last words, sent as a text message to his wife Marie minutes before he died, were “nolle timere”, Latin meaning “don’t be afraid”.
Heaney was lauded as a man who, despite his celebrity, had never lost the common touch. Describing him as a great democrat, Monsignor Devlin 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.”
Heaney’s legendary accessibility, both in terms of his verses and his personal kindness, was illustrated by the fact that onlookers applauded in the street as his coffin was carried from the church. Many members of the public have in recent days commended him for having “no airs and graces”.
The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said of him: “Seamus Heaney was a great man, yet always a man of kindness and humility and a seeker of what is deepest in our common humanity. Greatness and graciousness belonged together in him.”
Reaction to the poet’s death in recent days had shown that the public admiration was not only for his literary talents but also for his sociability, humour and courteousness, and his generosity, giving both time and encouragement to young poets.
The Monsignor said a spirit of optimism lived in much of his work, which he believed was his inheritance from the troubled past. He described Heaney as “the articulator of the years of pain in the north”.
Fellow poet Paul Muldoon described him as big-hearted, bounteous and – to the surprise of many – “bouncy”. Recalling playing football against Heaney, he said: “I have to tell you that I speak, humbly, as someone who has been shoulder-charged by Seamus Heaney. He bounced me off, like snow off a plough or whatever. He rebuffed me benignly.”
Heaney, he said, never took himself too seriously but had “that signal ability to make each of us feel connected not only to him but to one another.”