Our Day Out: Sunshine and poetry at the Heaney Home Place

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“Wee” and “snottery” are perhaps not words commonly associated with perceptions of poetry but, as Wallace’s Year 13 English Literature students were to learn, Seamus Heaney’s genius as a wordsmith stems at least in part from the richness and diversity of his language choices.

The now annual visit to Bellaghy saw glorious sunshine and a first sighting of a new addition to the Home Place, a sensory garden. The students were able to enjoy an unseasonably warm day and, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, listen to Heaney’s own voice reading a range of his most famous poems including The Forge which is celebrated in a particular area of the garden.   The mixture of the open air and Heaney’s distinctive accent brought a new dimension to the students’ experience and enjoyment of the poems as did the excellent exhibition tour. The Heaney Home Place prides itself upon the authenticity of its exhibition pieces as Heaney’s family, including his widow, have donated items to the centre and it also boasts a replica of his study. Interactive elements are cleverly mixed with more traditional displays of photographs and commentary both of Heaney’s family circle and the wider rural community; the dominant mood of the exhibition is undoubtedly celebratory and the genuine enthusiasm of the staff is infectious.

The Wallace students were also delighted to participate in the study programme which was a key element of the day. After a lively, amusing and insightful lecture by Dr Frank Ferguson of the University of Ulster which provided some terrific tips for studying the poetry of Frost and Heaney there was an opportunity to mix with AS students from other schools in a seminar situation. Discussions were facilitated by PhD students from the English Department at the University of Ulster and the Wallace students felt the set poems studied were “well chosen” and “really central” especially as the foyer of the Home Place has a display centred on Heaney’s parents’ gift to him of a fountain pen immortalised in the poem The Conway Stewart.

The students returned to Wallace with an enhanced level of understanding not only of poetry but also the geography of Northern Ireland…Bellaghy, Castledawson and even Toomb were mysterious locations prior to this trip! Our thanks are due to the staff of the Home Place and the University of Ulster for providing staff and students alike with such an educationally enriching day out.

Last modified: March 13, 2019