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This report is taken from PN Review 107, Volume 22 Number 3, January - February 1996.

Seamus Riding Gently on the Fame Andrew Waterman

Ireland takes national heroes to its heart: Barry McGuigan bringing back a world boxing title, Stephen Roche when he won the Tour de France, Jackie [0'] Charlton and his footballers - if Ireland ever win the World Cup, a parlous economy will be destroyed by the entire population forsaking work for the pubs indefinitely. Meed on this scale dwarfs anything conceivable in England, should the cricket team ever return with the Ashes. So the orgiastic reception awaiting Seamus Heaney when he flew into Dublin on Saturday 7 October, having cut short a Greek holiday on learning he had won the Nobel Prize for literature, was unsurprising. Both President Mary Robinson and Taoiseach John Bruton mucked in; television showed the former clinging besotted to the poet's hand.

Heaney responded with notions that the Nobel award honoured Ireland north and south. Understandable from a modest man in a state of 'shock' who, as well as his awareness of a context of a divided country just emerged from prolonged violence, personally grew up in a farming family in rural County Derry and studied and lectured at Queen's University, Belfast, before moving south in his thirties. Yet any utterance can be, and usually is, misused in a country too apt to claim as irradiating its entire people any individual's achievement, and to glut itself unquestioningly on the honour.

My response to the Nobel news on Thursday had been simple gladness. From its start Heaney's poetry showed wonderful command of ...


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