Have you been to the Seamus Heaney ‘HomePlace’? No? Do yourself a favour and go. That’s the recommendation from Causeway U3A members who recently visited the new exhibition centre in Bellaghy. The HomePlace is impressive and, of course, it’s close to home.
The U3A members travelled by coach from Coleraine to see the permanent exhibition which extends over two floors in the lovely new building, to enjoy a meal and to hear a one-off talk by Irish Times literary editor Fintan O’Toole.
People and places Heaney knew from his childhood in the local landscape provided the ‘raw material’ for many of his poems. A sense of place, of community and of belonging are major themes in his work. Fintan O’Toole’s talk drew parallels between these themes in Heaney’s work and our own sense of place in a post-Brexit landscape. Here are just a few of his points:
“Belonging seems such a benign word but it can also have negative connotations,” pointed out O’Toole. It’s more complex than it seems. “I belong” is a comforting emotion but “you don’t belong” is the negative side of the same coin. Seamus Heaney was, “a deeply modest person” but “he believed in poetry and had an enormous sense of ambition for his work”. So Heaney’s poetry may appear straightforward but it also struggles with enormous complexity. “Politics and politicians can’t handle that, but great art, such as Heaney’s poetry can,” says O’Toole. Politicians today rely more on twitter or the sound bite and that necessarily simplifies things but, “confusion isn’t an ignoble condition”.
Applying that to our contemporary situation, Mr O’Toole believes those who voted for Brexit shouldn’t be simply dismissed as stupid and xenophobic. “People who feel lost also feel a need to belong again,” he says. For those who feel that loss having suffered, through no fault of their own, the consequences of globalisation their reaction is natural, he believes.
Heaney’s poems often build a similar tension between a sense of place and placelessness. We can experience solid ground and slippery ground at the same time. In the same way, in our real lives we need to manage complexity, contradictions and ambiguities. We can’t always opt for simple solutions. There are various options for the post-Brexit future of our islands and we need to be open to these without feeling terrified. Ultimately the question is, “Can we carry our sense of belonging into new contexts?” he asks.
This was a special one-off talk by Fintan O’Toole but the HomePlace hosts an on-going programme of talks and performances. (More information at www.seamusheaneyhome.com )
Most people just visit the Seamus Heaney HomePlace for its extensive exhibition with superb displays and recordings. Causeway U3A members found it an evocative and even an emotionally charged experience. Go there. It’s at 45 Main Street, Bellaghy. Thanks are due to former Causeway U3A chairman Jerry Sayers for organising the U3A visit.