Archive for the ‘seamus heaney’ Tag

Quel Coincidence!



I’ve been noticing coincidences a lot recently, and noting some of them down. Mainly of the type where you hear a word for the first time in decades and it comes up again the same day.


But today I had a cracker. I went to Church Hill near Letterkenny to visit Glebe House and Gallery. As luck (or the tourist season) would have it was closed so I contented myself with hanging out in the gardens by the lake, which I had entirely to myself in strong spring sunshine. I laid on the damp lawn and took out my two books. The first one I opened was ‘Human Chain’ by Seamus Heaney, a book of poetry my Other Half gave me for Christmas 2010. I’ve only ever read a couple of the poems so I brought in with me for this Derry-Donegal trip. I read a bit of it last night so it was parked up randomly in the middle wherever I happened to get to.


As I opened it and started reading today stretched out on the grass like a dying naturalist I wrote a note at the top of the page in pencil as a souvenir of where I was:

16.3.16 Church Hill – Derek Hill’s

Derek Hill was the artist who used to live in Glebe House and bequeathed it.

The poem I had got to last night was entitled ‘The Baler’, about a mechanical hay baler. When I got to line 19 who, of all the people in the world, is mentioned?

Derek Hill. I’m not sure if it’s the same one but it probably is.

But what I also remembered

Was Derek Hill’s saying,
The last time he sat at our table,
He could bear no longer to watch
The sun going down

What are the chances?

I finish the night before at that particular poem
I decide to go to Glebe House this particular day
I write Derek’s name
The name is printed on the very page

Doesn’t that mean there must be a God? 😉

Digging (Day 57)

The main thing is to write

for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust

that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.

You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.

Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

Let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.

Let go, let fly.

seamus heaney irish poet

Day 57 concluded at the Festival Hall where a full-house tribute to poet Seamus Heaney was celebrated. You’ve never seen so many lauded poets in one place at one time. The lines above from Station Island were on the back of the programme, a pretty good thought with which to start a day’s writing (even more so as it has its roots in Donegal). The evening opened with the Big Man himself recorded reading Digging, one of my favourites for its simplicity and rootsiness. Piper Liam O’Flynn played, who I saw perform with Seamus at the Barbican in 1999. His pupil and friend Paul Muldoon read very well, as did the amazing looking Edna O’Brien who is now 82. Seamus’ protegee Charlotte Higgins was the third of the trio of outstanding readers, saying Blackberry-Picking (also simple and earthy, also from Death of a Naturalist). Poet Michael Longley read another of our family’s favourites, Clearances: III (the bit about peeling spuds with the mammy). Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read as did Ireland’s Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan. Tom Paulin and Simon Armitage added to the rich mix. The Chieftains with Paddy Moloney, Matt Molloy and Sean Keane played. Channel 4 had a kind of presence in actress Ruth Negga of Misfits fame who performed from one of Seamus’ translations of Greek plays. The photographic portraits of Seamus from various times in his adult life projected behind the stage during the linking sections by Andrew O’Hagan were all wonderful, all by different photographers or friends. It’s quite something to make the kind of impact he made on the world by being a Poet in this modern era.

I came to South Bank in the wake of two meetings. The first was with entrepreneur James Laycock, who worked with Richard Branson early in his career and is now getting Central Working up&running as a place from which to grow businesses. I was asking him for advice on the Business chapter as I still haven’t found a subject I’m happy with – though I know they’re out there. As it happened I may have found the right person through the next meeting which was actually about something totally different, about democracy, politics and activism, with writer/marketeer Chris Ward (mentioned on an earlier Day), my friend Steve Moore (who knew Terri Hooley, one of the characters in the chapter I’m currently writing, back in Belfast in college days) and some people new to me who in their different ways are highly committed to trying to make UK politics (and beyond) work better.

In the morning I found the title for my Music chapter in a Joy Division song (albeit the live version which has slightly different words from the record): Take A Chance And Say You Tried – it’s largely about being true to yourself.

Irish poet Seamus Heaney, winner of the 1995 Nobel Literature Prize

Gilt Trip (Days 6-8)

As foreseen, Day 6 was a reading day since I was on the move, heading over to Derry (currently the UK’s first City of Culture so at least some degree of appropriateness for a budding author) to speak at CultureTech. Focused on the Advertising chapter, reading through a couple of Paul Arden’s short books to get a feel for the man from that perspective. I ploughed through a creativity title, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be (2003), intriguingly billed by Art publisher Phaidon as “The World’s Best-selling Book”. Always thought that was a close race between the equally preposterous The Bible and The Da Vinci Code. On the subject of which, I then had a go at 2007’s God Explained in a Taxi Ride.

an grianan ailigh

The next day was my birthday. My first 0 writing work day since beginning. Starting out from the much-loved Beech Hill, I did a speaking gig at The Playhouse theatre in Derry with Mina Dimintrova, Content Partnerships Manager from YouTube and a couple of smart Israelis in the soft- and hard-ware businesses (one who’s just sold his company to Samsung for plenty of millions of dollars). After that I walked round the city walls to the Verbal Arts Centre for lunch, signing Seamus Heaney’s condolences book while there. I popped into the Guildhall during the afternoon with my other half to look at the room where we were married – it has now been transformed from the council chamber as it was back then to an exhibition about the Plantation of Ulster. It is one of the best museum displays I’ve seen in a very long time, presenting a complex story through interactivity which was unforced and illuminating. From there  we walked over to the old shirt factory where we met the artist Rita Duffy, a collaborator of Heaney’s associate Paul Muldoon. Rita showed us around the shirt-themed exhibition and initiative she’s set up in the old factory with the help of producer Margot Harkin, producer of Hush a Bye Baby, an early Channel 4-backed film through the Derry Film Co-op.

The highlight of my non-work day and big birthday came next. We cabbed it out of the city to the ancient fort high on a hill to the West of Derry, just into Donegal. Grianan Ailigh is my favourite place in the world. It’s no accident I found myself up there at dusk on this special day (birthday also of John Martyn, Mick Talbot, Herbert Lom and DH Lawrence) with no strangers around – just with two old friends and my wife up on the walls drinking probably the first ever Kir Royales downed on the ancient circle of stone.

Day 7 was still away from base, over in Derry. I went to lunch at multi-award-winning head chef Ian Orr’s well regarded Browns restaurant on the Waterside.  After a fabulous lunch he kindly came out to discuss candidates for open and generous chefs. I’ve had various in mind so wanted to test them against Ian’s broad experience. The rest of the day was more reading and research – Gertrude Stein & Alice Toklas and lastly the evolutionary role of altruism.

The week rounded off with a trip to Amsterdam to do a pair of speaking gigs at the IBC conference – the first with multiplatform colleagues from CBC in Canada and SRF in Switzerland (Hansruedi Schoch, Director of Programmes) ; the second a jolly affair with Seb Royce, Diane Glynn and Toby L during which we reinvented the likes of Top of the Pops, Thriller and Cheers for the 21st century of interactivity and brands. Before leaving for City Airport I managed to get the next layer of raw material into the Ginsberg chapter ready for integration into the text. I am daunted to some degree by the act of marshalling so many strands of thought and have a sense it will get messy and out of control before it comes back together.  I’ll start Week 3 with another big writing push to conquer my anxiousness by absorbing more material. The rest of Day 8 was devoted to the strange pair that were Stein & Toklas, getting a good grounding in their dynamics of creative co-dependency but not about Stein’s relationship with Picasso and that circle of visual artists, the core of this story if there is one to be extracted.

Bottom line, I need to be patient with myself, no guilt, just plough on consistently with writing and research, and follow my old friend Carol Muskoron’s adage:

Don’t Get It Right, Get It Written.


Here’s the words of wisdom WordPress threw up on posting this piece:

I do not like to write – I like to have written.

Gloria Steinem

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