A postcard from Bellaghy.

In 2010 we set off on a poetic pilgrimage to Bellaghy in Co  Derry, NI, the birthplace and now the burial place of Seamus Heaney, his ‘place of clear water’. To get there from our holiday house on the Antrim coast, we had to pass this avenue of trees.  It felt like passing through a portal.

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Bellaghy turned out to be an ordinary looking little place in Co Derry (sorry, Bellaghy but you did then). I couldn’t stop thinking of Heaney’s poems about his family and his childhood there. I was on the look-out for a policeman riding a bicycle, a turf spade, a latched doorway, a well, a pump with a windlass, cobbled yards where work went on, a lane of alders, a water diviner, a slaughter house. I even looked for a sign to a place called ‘Anahorish’.

But what we did find was the beautiful Bellaghy Bawn (an old plantation house) where the Northern Irish Environment Agency keep an amazing archive of Heaney manuscripts and memorabilia and you can go and see it for free.  At the entrance is this amazing figure….

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I remember how we wanted to pay the woman at the Reception desk and said we’d be happy to pay whatever was asked to enter, but she just shook her head.  Here are some photos of some of the things that we saw….  I took the pictures of the notebooks as I was so intrigued by the drafting, the crossings out and the amount of revising from start to finish. I think these are unpublished (so far) poems.

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They even had the school bag itself!

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On our way back to our holiday house, we stopped off to see Lough Beg.  All around the lough it was waterlogged – ‘soft as pulp’ –  its whole shore being an impenetrable bog where the cattle still graze ‘up to their bellies in an early mist’  …  so we couldn’t get any closer for a better view than this…

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I wanted to touch, like Midas, the water that hardens wood to stone, or see the men lamping for fish, the woman on the shore.  At the other end, I think there are some fish or eel farms on the River Bann that is full of clay that ‘holds and gluts’.  In the centre of the lough is Church Island with a church and an old burial ground on it. During the high summer there might be a ferry to get there.  In early September there is a pilgrimage to it.  But this was late September and there was nothing available.

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Perhaps the peaty figure doing the good turf digging outside the Bawn bears some resemblance to him, now I come to think of it!

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About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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10 Responses to A postcard from Bellaghy.

  1. Hi Becky – I really enjoyed reading this – it must have been a very special trip. The photographs certainly bring the place and the man into focus. The avenue of trees is especially inviting. Thanks for this. V x

  2. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Thanks for sharing with us, Becky. I enjoyed it very much.
    Elly x

  3. thanks Becky – makes me want to go there xx

  4. Reblogged this on Josephine Corcoran and commented:
    A lovely post from Rebecca Gethin about her 2010 visit to Seamus Heaney’s birthplace – and, as she says, now his burial place. Rebecca also mentions how beautiful this part of Ireland is and urges us to visit.

  5. Lovely stuff. Thanks, Becky.

  6. Cathy Scullion says:

    It was funny to read this Rebecca. I am from Bellaghy and can empathise with the impression you had of my home village, but it is a visual one… Bellaghy is beautiful because of its people, history, community spirit and its best knows scholar… Heaney, . Did you visit the old graveyard beside the catholic church? That’s where Seamus Heaney now rests.
    The trees you passed are located on Bregagh Road, Stranocum, Co Antrim. I regularly photograph there and yes they are breathtaking. Our coast line is one of the best in Ireland. I hope you enjoyed your trip.

    • Thank you, Cathy…. I was only there in your lovely, quiet village for the visit to Bellaghy Bawn and to see the lough I had read about in Heaney’s poems. It was a magical moment to be there. in fact, I was astonished. I loved NI and the whole area around ….. As you say the coast is about one of the best in Europe.

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