The Flaggy Shore  Photo: © M. Brogan

The Flaggy Shore Photo: © M. Brogan

A friend who introduced me a year ago to the beautiful Flaggy Shore walk near the Burren in County Clare texted this morning to say that the walk had been ‘wiped out’ owing to storm damage in the last 48 hours. They had enjoyed a walk there just after Christmas but found the path along the shoreline from which you can look across to Galway Bay had been covered in stones and pebbles and seaweed, washed up by the high waves.

The facebook page for the Flaggy Shore reported yesterday that they had “just heard from the Fahy’s of Linnalla Ice Cream fame that the road near the Marine Research Station on the Flaggy Shore has been destroyed by wave action. The combination of a spring tide and storm surge together with high waves caused extensive damage. Massive boulders used to protect some land between Lough Muree and the Martello Tower have been dislodged and fields flooded with seawater. County Council workers are trying to deal with the damage as best they can. More harsh weather is expected“.

Flaggy Shore January 2013  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Flaggy Shore January 2013 Photo: © Michael Fisher

This time last year it was a very different scene and the weather was relatively mild. However the storm in recent days has badly affected parts of County Clare, especially Lahinch where major damage was done to the promenade area.

Seamus Heaney portrait by Colin Davidson 2013 Photo: © Michael Fisher

Seamus Heaney portrait by Colin Davidson 2013 Photo: © Michael Fisher

The stretch of shoreline at the Flaggy Shore, Finvarra near New Quay was mentioned by the late Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney in his poem Postscript (1996). He refers to a flock of swans at “a slate-grey lake”  at Lough Murree. Hopefully the walk will eventually be restored as it is one of the nicest I have ever done. Thankfully it appears that little damage has been done to any property in this sparsely populated area.

Swans at Lough Murree beside the Flaggy Shore, January 2013  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Swans at Lough Murree beside the Flaggy Shore, January 2013 Photo: © Michael Fisher

Meanwhile as the storm rages on, it is reported that the popular Moville shore path alongside Lough Foyle leading towards Greencastle County Donegal has also suffered damage.


Seamus Heaney Portrait: © Colin Davidson 'Between the Words'

Seamus Heaney Portrait: © Colin Davidson ‘Between the Words’

It was very appropriate that this new portrait of Seamus Heaney by Belfast artist Colin Davidson should go on display at Queen’s University Belfast while the Nobel Laureate was being laid to rest in his native parish of Bellaghy in South Derry. Earlier in Dublin hundreds of people led by President Higgins gathered for his funeral Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart at Donnybrook. The chief celebrant was a priest from the diocese of Derry “with a Northern accent” (which he said the poet might have liked), Monsignor Brendan Devlin from Rouskey near Gortin in County Tyrone.

Seamus Heaney sitting for Colin Davidson portrait © Mark Carruthers

Seamus Heaney sitting for Colin Davidson portrait © Mark Carruthers

Heaney had a long association with the university. In 1957 he enrolled at Queen’s, graduating with a first class honours degree in English Language and Literature in 1961. He became a lecturer in the English department at Queen’s in 1966 and was there for six years, one of which was spent as a visiting Professor at Berkeley. He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the QUB Institute of Irish Studies and when in February 2004 the School of English opened a new Poetry Centre, it was named after him. It houses the Heaney Media Archive. A book of condolences has been opened at the Welcome Centre, Lanyon building at Queen’s and there is also one at Belfast City Hall, at the Guildhall in Derry and at the Mansion House in Dublin.

Cellist Neil Martin talks to Bob Collins; Stella McCusker chats to Ian McIlhenny

Cellist Neil Martin talks to Bob Collins; Stella McCusker chats to Ian McIlhinney

The portrait was on display at the Lyric theatre in Belfast on Saturday night. A full house attended a special commemoration put together at short notice by theatre trustee Stuart Douds. It included a rendition of Port na bPúcaí, a tune that inspired Heaney to write The Given Note, by cellist Neil Martin, who also played at the poet’s funeral. There were  readings by some of his fellow poets and friends. Robert McMillen who I met before the commemoration gave this summary of the participants:-

Michael Longley Photo: © Michael Fisher

Michael Longley Photo: © Michael Fisher

Stella McCusker read from Heaney’s speech at the Lyric in April 2012; Michael Longley… (who read with Heaney at the Merriman summer school a fortnight ago) shared some anecdotes and read a poem called Boat (about his and Seamus’s mortality) as well as two poems by Heaney himself. Belfast poet laureate Sinead Morrissey fought successfully to hold back the tears as she read Tollund Man, a poem she taught students in Schleswig-Holstein (a province in Germany near the border with Denmark). She was less successful later as the stage lights caught the tears in her eyes and her trembling hands. Damian Gorman read the poem Postscript and one of his own, After the Poet about Victor Jara but which was apt too for the night that was in it.”

I notice that Damian has published the poem on his facebook page:

A bird can sing
With broken wings, or none at all.
All that it needs
Is a full throat, and a hearing.

All it needs
Is not to be too afraid
Of singing.
All that it needs
Is to be – or have been –
A bird.

Copyright: © Damian Gorman  (For HP, Zenica, August 2013)

Frank Ormsby & Michael Longley Photo: © Michael Fisher

Frank Ormsby & Michael Longley Photo: © Michael Fisher

Robert goes on to described how “Eamon Hughes gave an academic but very personal account of Heaney, man and work, while Frank Ormsby read the heart-rending poem about Sean Armstrong who was murdered during the troubles, A Postcard from North Antrim. Glenn Patterson read from his new book before Neil Martin returned to play a tune…..called The Parting of Friends. It was left to Mark Carruthers to thank the people who had given so generously of their time to partake in this tribute to Seamus Heaney before Ian McIlhinney read probably the Bellaghy man’s most quoted poem, The Cure at Troy”. 

Stella McCusker chats to Ian McIlhinney with writer Glenn Patterson Photo: © Michael Fisher

Stella McCusker chats to Ian McIlhinney with writer Glenn Patterson Photo: © Michael Fisher

Belfast Lord Mayor, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, dropped in to read a song/poem in Irish, An Chéad Mháirt de Fhómhar which beautifully captures the sorrow and anger at the loss of a loved one. Arts Council of Northern Ireland Chair Bob Collins who was Director General of RTÉ when I worked there), gave a wonderful eulogy in which he spoke of how Heaney had a great understanding of broadcasting as a public service. He has allowed me to reprint this tribute:


“When in 1995, I first read Seamus Heaney’s Nobel acceptance speech, Crediting Poetry, I was transported back more than forty years to the aerial wire coming through a hole bored in the frame of our kitchen window by his recollection of listening to the wireless as a child in the 1940s. But I was also dramatically struck by the relevance of his words to the work I was doing at that time in broadcasting in RTÉ where I spent thirty years of my life. When he said:

I had to get close to the actual radio set in order to concentrate my hearing and in that intent proximity to the dial I grew familiar with the names of foreign stations … I also got used to hearing the short bursts of foreign languages as the dial hand swept round from BBC to Radio Éireann, from the intonations of London to those of Dublin and even though I did not understand what was being said in those first encounters with the gutturals and sibilants of European speech, I had already begun a journey into the wideness of the world.”

With those words, he encapsulated much of the possibility and the responsibility of broadcasting as a public good, as public service. I thanked him for it and quoted him often. Perhaps it was that intuitive understanding that prompted him to give so much of himself to BBC and to RTÉ. His contributions have enriched the schedules and the archives of both, for this and, now, for all future generations. But they were a powerful way for him to play a role as a public person, as a thinker who posed challenges for all who had ears to hear.

Recalling his own childhood – and by extension all our childhoods – he spoke of being “schooled for the complexities of his adult predicament, a future where he would have to adjudicate among promptings variously ethical, aesthetical, moral, political, metrical, sceptical, cultural, topical, typical, post-colonial and, taken all together, simply impossible.”

Part of his calling, his choice, was to be a source of assistance to all of us in those adjudications. He knew the risks of that public role and expressed them. Writing in 1974, he said that “the idea of poetry as an art is in danger of being overshadowed by a quest for poetry as a diagram of political attitudes.” And in his Nobel speech, he spoke of “having to conduct oneself as a poet in a situation of political violence and public expectation. A public expectation, it has to be said, not of poetry as such but of political positions variously approvable by mutually disapproving groups.”

For him, it was simple. “The poet“, he said, “is on the side of undeceiving the world. It means being vigilant in the public realm.”

And he never ceased from lifting deception from the world. He spoke with clarity and rigour. He became a measure, a yardstick, an index of what was good. A moral force. And in the process, he became a spokesman for the entire society, his poetry the voice of the entire community. John Henry Newman said that writers were the “spokesmen and prophets of the human family.” Seamus Heaney discharged that duty to the full. In From the Republic of Conscience, he challenged “public leaders to weep to atone for their presumption to hold office.” Public leaders mind you, not just political leaders but all who wished to hold public positions. After the ceasefire and before the Belfast Agreement he wrote that “violence was destructive of the trust upon which new possibilities would have to be built.” How right and how farsighted he was.

He also said something in ‘Government of the Tongue’ that we might well reflect on in these times in both jurisdictions on the island when he wrote of poetry that “it does not propose to be instrumental or effective. Instead, in the rift between what’s going to happen and what we would wish to happen, poetry holds attention for a space, functions not as a distraction, but as pure concentration, a focus where our power of concentration is concentrated back on ourselves.” It has resonance for our consideration of all the arts.

Last night there was a clip of an interview with Seamus in an RTÉ bulletin. In it he said “If poetry and the arts do anything they can fortify your inner life – your inwardness. Listening together and knowing things together – which is what a culture is. If you know things together that you value, that is a kind of immunity system against things.” This wisdom in an interview conducted quickly on the fringes of a public event.

It is difficult to put into words and to convey fully how intimately his person and his poetry had become bound up with the life of the people, especially, I think and in my experience, in the Republic. How deeply he had become embedded in the affection of the people and in the life of the society – as no artist I can think of has ever quite achieved before. He had an extraordinary place in the public realm. But that place in the public realm, his presence at state and solemn occasions was not as a symbol of state or as part of state but as a reminder to state of the importance of values, of the challenge of office, of the meaning of society, of the responsibility of leadership to the people, of the place of conscience. Through his life and through his poetry he spoke to the people. And the people listened.

He was intuitively trusted; his integrity appreciated; his directness reciprocated; his dignity sublime.

Two weeks ago, last night, I was in Lisdoonvarna, at the Merriman summer school at which he and Michael Longley gave a public reading. It was an unbelievable experience, powerfully moving and indelibly impressive. The intimacy of the relationship with the capacity audience and their appreciation of the work of both poets will remain forever in the memory. These were two poets who had done much to give poetry back to the people. This was Seamus Heaney being the voice of the community within the community. I had the particular pleasure of being next to them both at dinner before the reading and, with our spouses – Marie, Edna and Mary, in the small bar of Sheedy’s hotel afterwards for nightcap, story, reflection, friendship and fun. It was a delight. More than that, it was a blessing.

Like his life, a blessing whose cup of bounty will flow all the days of our lives”.

Bob Collins 31/08/13

Curtain call at the Seamus Heaney commemoration at the Lyric Theatre Photo: © Michael Fisher

Curtain call at the Seamus Heaney commemoration at the Lyric Theatre Photo: © Michael Fisher


Swans at Lough Murree beside Flaggy Shore, Co.Clare Photo: © Michael Fisher

Swans at Lough Murree beside Flaggy Shore, Co.Clare Photo: © Michael Fisher

I began my daily blog on New Year’s Day with a report that included this picture of swans at Lough Murree, beside the Flaggy Shore at New Quay in the Burren area of County Clare. I had just completed the loop walk along the limestone rock of the shoreline, looking out at Galway Bay. It was a lovely day in the company of friends, having welcomed in the New Year in Kinvara.

'Curtain call' at the Lyric Theatre Belfast for the late Seamus Heaney Photo: ©  Michael Fisher

‘Curtain call’ at the Lyric Theatre Belfast for the late Seamus Heaney Photo: © Michael Fisher

Memories of that afternoon came flooding back as in front of a packed house at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, the poet Damian Gorman read ‘Postscript’ from Seamus Heaney’s collection ‘The Spirit Level’ (published 1996, the year after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature). Jean Tubridy has reproduced it on her Social Bridge blog:-


And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,

In September or October, when the wind

And the light are working off each other

So that the ocean on one side is wild

With foam and glitter, and inland among stones

The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit

By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,

Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads

Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.

Useless to think you’ll park and capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

(from The Spirit Level

Seamus Heaney: Lyric Theatre

Seamus Heaney: Lyric Theatre

Heaney had been associated with the Lyric theatre since the days of Mary O’Malley and the literary periodical ‘Threshold‘ fifty years ago. He was present at the foundation stone laying ceremony in 1965 when the Lyric Players built their own theatre at Ridgeway Street, and recited a poem written especially for the occasion, Peter Street at Bankside. 44 years on in September 2009 a stanza from the poem was engraved on the threshold stone as the foundations were laid for the new Lyric Theatre. He said he was honoured and commented that “The  renovation of the Lyric Theatre is a reminder of the vital artistic  achievement in the past and the promise of ongoing creative vigour in  the future. The renewal of the fabric of the building stands for the  kind of social and psychic renewal that the entire community aspires to.  The Lyric has engaged with the life of its society and performed the  classic Shakespearean task to provide ‘the abstract and brief chronicles  of the time’.”

 It was therefore highly fitting that a special  commemoration of the life of Seamus Heaney was organised at short notice by the Lyric Theatre and the free tickets were snapped up quickly. Ten people including his friend and fellow poet Michael Longley took part in an hour-long celebration that included poems, stories and music.

With Ard-Mhéara Bhéal Feirste Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and  Mairead 7 Michéal Martin at Lyric Theatre

Michael Fisher with Ard-Mhéara Bhéal Feirste Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Mairead and Michéal Martin at Lyric Theatre

The Nobel Laureate made his last public appearance in Belfast at the Lyric on 23rd April 2012 where he addressed a sold-out audience to mark the new building’s first anniversary. The theatre’s close association with Heaney is reflected throughout the new building which contains a bust of the poet by sculptor, Philip Flanagan and a Louis le Brocquy painting at the entrance steps.

Seamus Heaney: Louis le Brocquy at Lyric Theatre Belfast

Seamus Heaney: Louis le Brocquy at Lyric Theatre Belfast

Lyric Chairman Mark Carruthers paid tribute to the distinguished poet:-

“Seamus Heaney was a long-time friend and supporter of the Lyric Theatre and we are all therefore deeply saddened at his passing. He was a man of enormous talents – easily the greatest Irish poet since Yeats. His loss will be deeply felt beyond the arts world. As Lyric Chairman we would like to offer our sincere condolences to his wife Marie and family. He will be greatly missed.”

The funeral of Seamus Heaney takes place on Monday: 11:30am Requiem Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook in Dublin, followed by burial after 5pm in his native parish of Bellaghy, County Derry. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.

Seamus Heaney Portrait: Colin Davidson Photo: Michael Fisher

Seamus Heaney Portrait: Colin Davidson Photo: Michael Fisher


Flaggy Shore

Flaggy Shore

A New Year trip to Kinvara County Galway gave me the opportunity to explore some of the beautiful scenery around the Burren in County Clare. Our host brought us for a walk along the Flaggy Shore at New Quay. The final section of the loop gave us a good view of the limestone flag stones along the shoreline. Across the bay in the distance we could see Galway, Salthill and the Barna Road leading towards Spiddal. In the distance you could spot the martello tower at Finnevarra. But on this occasion we did not have time to visit the tower. After parking the car at the beach, walking westwards, we took a left hand turn and started a gently uphill ascent past Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

Checking the origin of the property on my return home I discovered the building was once the summer home of Lady Gregory of Coole Park and it has a place in Irish literary history. Among those entertained there were WB Yeats, AE (George Russell), Synge, O’Casey and George Bernard Shaw. It is now part of Hidden Ireland’s Historic Houses, offering upmarket accommodation and dining. There is a more recent literary connection. This stretch of shoreline was mentioned by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney in his poem Postscript (1996). He refers to a flock of swans at “a slate-grey lake” and  sure enough when you walk over the hill and along the other side you come to Lough Murree. There as the path continues along the lough shore, a group of swans was busy ducking and diving at one end of the lake.

Lough Murree

Lough Murree

This is certainly a scenic spot but underneath the beauty there is also a story of a tragedy over 40 years ago that claimed the lives of nine schooldchildren. Looking at the short distance across the water from the harbour at New Quay to Aughinish Island it is hard to imagine so many casualties occurred here. But a more close look at the tide will reveal just how dangerous a spot this is, with currents from different directions meeting in the middle and clashing with each other. Here on June 29th 1969 nine schoolchildren lost their lives when a boat on its maiden voyage overturned in the choppy waters. The disaster was covered by Kerry photojournalist Padraig Kennelly and pictures of the search operation can be found in his archive.

Shoreline near New Quay

Shoreline near New Quay