I remember sitting in the back of Newry Town Hall in November 1980 when Seamus Heaney came to give a poetry reading. It was a revelation to my teenage self who had not once been out of the island of Ireland at that point.
Heaney represented something that was identifiably Irish in his reflections on life, the countryside and the horrors of the Troubles. But he was also a voice that refused to be provincial showing how we shared the same hopes and tragedies that ordinary people from England to Greece, Italy and America had suffered over the centuries.
The universality of that voice is one of the reasons that his death has so resonated across the world. His poetry spoke to people in their diverse individual lives.
But it was also clearly the voice of one of the world’s great gentlemen, someone whose graciousness was evident in even the most cursory meetings.
The world has been enriched by his life’s work. But that must be little consolation to his wife and family now. I am sure the country’s hearts go out to them in their grieving.
The world is a bit smaller without him, but his poetry, even before he wrote the words himself, helped inspire many, myself included, to try to do a little bit to encourage that “longed-for tidal wave of justice” to “rise up, and [make] hope and history rhyme.”