Poag Ma Hoan

essays and extracts on irish literature

Category: Heaney

Ceide Fields: Bringing Bones to Life


They sit precariously around the tips of Mayo’s ankles which disappear into the Atlantic ocean below. These white bones jut out defiantly out of the surrounding bog and catch my eye as we before we arrive at the Ceide Fields Visitor Center. I wouldn’t know them from the rocks in my Uncle’s farm in Ireland, or exhibitions in Natural History Museums. But these rocks are not limited to the geologically inclined among us. They have become a masterful artistic mouthpiece which still speaks of human life working in harmony with the elements.

A Landscape Fossilised, Its Stone Wall Patternings Repeated Before Our Eyes In The Stone Walls Of Mayo – Seamus Heaney


These white relics tell the story of a neolithic people struggling against a changing environment which rebukes their community and day to day life. These are no underdeveloped cavemen who built these structures, but a community with highly developed spiritual beliefs and culture. I was particularly taken with how the rocks knelt into the wrinkles of the face of the landscape, they followed her curves and natural gradient instead of working against it.

Its easy to understand why Irish writers, including Heaney, find this place captivating and a pertinent art commentary on the struggles Ireland and global humanity face.



‘Something here for me’: Heaney’s Charity Shop

In an 1983 interview with Denis O’Driscoll, Heaney said when he read the 12th century poem Buile Suibhne he had found ‘something here for me’. He went on to translate it into  his beautiful work Sweeney Astray and called it ‘an inheritance’.

Mum (Helen) had returned from a flying visit to Roscommon with SuperValu’s soda bread and a lovely school copy of Seamus Heaney’s 1965 – 1975 Poems. Once it belonged to the studious young Austin McKeon who kept it suspiciously pristine. I wasn’t surprised she bought it because my Mum is a serial charity shopper. She keeps a low profile in our town pottering between the charity shops but at home her hoarder habits are not so easily concealed. She is like the ‘Niffler’ in J.K.Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts clutching at nests of vintage necklaces and disappearing into clouds of clothes. I can never decide if this is endearing or worrying.

img_29422292 (the 1980 Faber and Faber Ltd. said copy)

Heaney was particularly interested by effects of 2nd hand ownership and artifacts which had been handed down. I like to imagine he and my Mum would get on like a house on fire, unless vying for the same item in a charity shop. They’re both artists in the business of repossessing the dispossessed.

Heaney’s business takes him to graveyards, bog fields, the dispossessed ground of Ireland especially in his Door into The Dark collection. In Bogland he sees Ireland itself as a form of perishable item to be consumed or bought by the artist.

The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,

Here,’black butter’ insinuates that this purchase of goods from the ground, this voyeurism performs an inverse of nourishment onto the reader. This volatile bogland enacts its own kind of possession by sucking in and holding feet, both in the poetic sense and physically. The voice of Heaney’s poems often seems to relish these moments, though is weary of the permanent affects of being psychologically sucked in…