Seamus Heaney: Sandymount’s second man
Although Seamus Heaney and I had lived in the Sandymount area since the mid-1970s, I never saw him until the summer of 1983, when we both witnessed the Tribute Head unveiling in honor. by Nelson Mandela.
The first time I had a tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte with him was in 1994 at the bar of the Buswell’s hotel in Molesworth St, just across from DÃ¡il Ãireann. He had been giving a talk nearby, as I had done myself, down in Buswells at the Patrick Kavanagh Society. He relaxed as he stood alone at the nearly empty bar. I joined him and introduced myself as another resident of Sandymount who has written biographies. I asked him why, since he lived in Sandymount Strand, hadn’t he written more about it? His answer seemed well practiced when he replied “Ah this is Joycean’s territory and I don’t want to interfere”.
I had recently published a biography of Conor Cruise O’Brien under the title To Laugh or to Weep and Seamus was interested in how I found the man himself. Conor was the only contemporary subject I had ever written about and, as usual, there were plenty of stories to tell about this experience. It became the subject of our conversation. Although Seamus was a very famous poet and scholar, he was completely and graciously accessible, and carried his fame lightly. Indeed for me it was his glory. He asked me for a copy of the book and in due course I pushed it into his mailbox on Strand Road.
I was the primary teacher at Enable Ireland School on Sandymount Ave. It was on this same avenue that WB Yeats was born in 1865. There was a bust of Yeats on nearby Sandymount Green. I started taking a group of our students there every June 13 to commemorate the poet’s birthday for a poetry recital. So they were well aware of the fact that Yeats had won the Nobel Prize in 1923. When our neighbor from Strand Road won it in 1995, I thought it was fair that we wrote to Heaney to congratulate him. In our letter, we pointed out that he was the second man from Sandymount to win the Nobel Prize. In his response, Seamus went to the trouble of putting each student’s name on his letter and thanked us for naming him with a new title, which he was happy to accept.
Later, when my study of The Gonne-Yeats Letters 1893-1938 was published in 1997 as Willie Yeats and the Gonne-MacBrides, I invited Seamus to consider launching the book. The letter below was his cheerful response. His reference to the “second man of Sandymount” was the mention in an earlier congratulatory letter from students at our school, when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which extols the daily miracles and the living past “, after the other” Sandymount Man “, WB Yeats, won it. His read to me:
Tony Jordan, IPC
Sandymount School and Clinic
March 10, 1997.
Dear Tony Jordan,
Thank you for your letter. In fact, I recently declined to debut Roy Foster’s new biography on WB Yeats, which makes me very reassuring to say no again.
As you will understand, I am more or less on the run from commitments like this. I have to make an effort to stay home and keep my nose on the desk. Although, as Sandymount’s second man online, I was tempted for a while.
A few years later, in 2003, I wrote a fairly critical biography of WB Yeats, subtitled Vain; Glorious; Thug. It drew some negative reviews. I handed a copy to Seamus and waited for a response. He was not long in coming because he wrote:
Dear Tony Jordan,
Thanks for leaving in your book. I’m afraid the subtitle sounded a bit uppercut to me, but looking over the text I realized it was more vehement than the substance of the book you actually wrote.
Lots of work there.
I can’t wait to read it when I get the chance today, it’s vacation time in this house again.
Best for 2004.
The last time I met Heaney was in July 2013 during the Ezra Pound semester conference at Trinity College. We were both participating simultaneously so I didn’t hear him speak. As I left the auditorium, I saw him sitting alone in the almost empty room. He asked me what my article was about. He learned that this was an account of the meeting between Ezra Pound and Arthur Griffith in London during the Anglo-Irish treaty negotiations in 1921. Pound had later written one of his Cantos about it. Seamus asked to see a copy of my article. I never saw him again because he died suddenly on August 30. At Croke Park the next day, his image was projected onto the screen and 80,000 people observed a minute of silence before applauding for a few minutes. The next day his funeral became a national event that I attended.
At the funeral mass, Monsignor Brendan Devlin, who had been one of my speakers at Maynooth many years before, spoke with emotion. He said: “Just as I consider it not for a Christian minister to embark on a eulogy or praise the talents and achievements of those who have gone before us, neither is it mine. to audit the virtues and good works of Seamus Heaney. After all, as Wisdom tells us about great men, their good works precede them. And yet, on reading this series of quick-witted paradoxes that we call the Eight Beatitudes and which are at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, what one might call the robot portrait of the ideal Christian, it is clear that how many of them easily apply to our memories of Seamus Heaneyâ¦ â
Anthony J Jordan’s latest book is Second Sandymount Man: a Memoir of Letters.