Lonely Planet Writer

An arts and literary centre dedicated to poet Seamus Heaney opens in Northern Ireland

An arts and literary centre dedicated to a celebrated poet and playwright has opened in Derry, in the village in Northern Ireland where he spent his childhood.

Centre manager Brian McCormick at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council
Centre manager Brian McCormick at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council

The £4.25 million Seamus Heaney HomePlace was officially opened this week by the Nobel Laureate’s winning poet’s widow Marie and their three children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine. It is based on the site of an old RUC police station in Bellaghy, the village where Heaney lived as a boy.

 

The building encompasses an 189-seat performance space, a library with books from the poet’s home donated by his family, and room for exhibitions. There is a permanent exhibition spread over two floors about Heaney’s life and writing, and it includes photographs, stories and personal items.

The Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council
The Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council

The poet was in Greece when he was awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature and was unaware for two days that he had received the world’s greatest literary accolade. Visitors to the centre can watch a film of the reaction to his award.

Marie Heaney at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council
Marie Heaney at the opening of the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council

Heaney passed away in August 2013 and is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church in Bellaghy. The famous line from his Nobel prize acceptance speech to “Walk on air against your better judgement” has been inscribed as an epitaph on his gravestone.

In addition to Heaney’s family, 200 guests gathered for the official opening of the building, including singer-songwriter Paul Brady and actor Stanley Townsend, who read from the poet’s work at the event.

The Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry at night. Image: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
The Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry at night. Image: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

Speaking to Lonely Planet, centre manager Brian McCormick spoke of the positive reaction from the first visitors to the centre. “The personal stories, photographs, artefacts, video and audio contributions from cultural and global leaders, and of course the poems read by Seamus Heaney himself are having a powerful effect,” he said. “Many people have spoken about how emotional and moved they are – as well as inspired, which is how we want people to feel when they leave!”

The creative area at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council
The creative area at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council

Basic ticket prices are £7 for adults and £4.50 for children over 8, and concessions are available – See booking information here. The HomePlace is surrounded by a wealth of places of interest to tourists, including heritage trails and sites. For more information on what is on offer locally, see here.

The creative area at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council
The creative area at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Derry. Image: Mid Ulster Council