Heaney Agonistes

Two eloquent contrasting articles one from Roy Greenslade who wouldn’t mind being called  a republican sympthiser opposed to violence, and  John Paul McCarthy who reads like an uber-( correction) revisonist. The subject is Olivia O’Leary’s eulogy to Seamus Heaney for extending awareness of  the northern nationalist experience to the know- nothing south. Pointless to try to  arbitrate or adjudicate between them. Both have their points. Of the poet, we take what we like from him. It is his  integrity and  generosity of spirit that admits those with a half-open mind to get a  glimpse of a different truth.

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    One person’s “uper-revisionist” [sic] is another person’s balanced commentator. McCarthy correctly nails O’Leary’s cant.

  • Nordie Northsider

    Hardly ‘balanced’, ZTF. This is just the Indo setting its attack dogs on anyone with the temerity to suggest that Northern Nationalists might have been wronged about anything at any time. His article is full of errors. Here’s one:

    Patrick Smyth recalled recently in the Irish Times the existence of groups like the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the League for a Workers’ Republic and the Republican Marxist Group, many of whose members enjoyed long careers in RTE while giving “critical support” to PIRA’s campaign.

    The Socialist Workers Movement (to give them their correct title) and the Socialist Party (who then would have been the Militant Tendency), never gave critical support to the IRA campaign. And there is simply no point denying the extent of Workers’ Party influence in RTÉ during the 70s and 80s. It’s laid out in some detail in Hanley and Millar’s The Lost Revolution.

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    “attack dog”: balanced? Hardly.

  • Alf

    As a matter of interest did Heaney ever write any poems about the slaughter, by Hughes and co, of his Protestant neighbours?

  • Cackle Daily

    I want to respond to the original posting but first; Alf, If I say ‘yes, he has’ would that make any difference? Would you read it?

    Does a poet have to write a poem from their own perspective and then one from the ‘other side’ to make sure no-one is offended. Does it invalidate a poets work that they write from themselves? Does Wilfred Owen need to have written Pro-German soldier poems? Or Kipling, some poems about life an Irish republican? I’ve been happy with the works they wrote. I don’t need to hear a poet’s blanket condemnation, that’s why we have politicians.

    So, Alf, seriously, If you want me to point in the direction of some beautiful, life affirming poetry that condemned without pontificating and explained without condoning then; let me know.

    Or you could just buy the ‘Collected Poems’ on Amazon for £9.53?

    To the larger point; the Sindo article is a mean-spirited, rambling and baseless piece of character assassination which would struggle to get published in any respectable paper.

    It contains no critical engagement with Heaney’s actual poetry (merely quoting one line out of context from a lecture) and relies heavily on the musings of such giants of the literary world as Garret Fitzgerald and Alan McQuillan. Ironically, the only actual published author he does cite in support of his thesis is Danny Morrison. And Seamus Heaney’s feelings about Danny are a matter of some record.

  • SK

    I want to respond to the original posting but first; Alf, If I say ‘yes, he has’ would that make any difference? Would you read it?

    Does a poet have to write a poem from their own perspective and then one from the ‘other side’ to make sure no-one is offended. Does it invalidate a poets work that they write from themselves? Does Wilfred Owen need to have written Pro-German soldier poems? Or Kipling, some poems about life an Irish republican? I’ve been happy with the works they wrote. I don’t need to hear a poet’s blanket condemnation, that’s why we have politicians.

    “So, Alf, seriously, If you want me to point in the direction of some beautiful, life affirming poetry that condemned without pontificating and explained without condoning then; let me know.

    Or you could just buy the ‘Collected Poems’ on Amazon for £9.53?”

    Very well said.

  • Alf

    Cackle,

    I would certainly read the poem if he had written it. Has he? Did he feel as moved by the murder of an eighty year old woman in her bed, by Hughes, or a ten year old girl, as he did by the horrific sight of British soldiers patroling in the UK?

    Are you telling me that he regarded his Protestant neighbours as being the equivalent of WW1 German soldiers? Jesus Christ.

  • SK

    “Are you telling me that he regarded his Protestant neighbours as being the equivalent of WW1 German soldiers? Jesus Christ.”

    Is that glibness or plain stupidity?

    His point was that your attempt to measure Heaney’s poetry according to some tribal, zero-sum yardstick is utterly absurd. The notion that his work is worthy of criticism merely because he didn’t adhere to some “one poem for us, one poem for you” policy when writing it is facile, envious garbage.

    Anyone willing to make such an assertion probably hasn’t read any of his work in the first place.

  • Alf

    SK,

    It’s got nothing to do with any one story for us bullshit. I just want to know what sort of things motivated him to write his poetry. The sight of British soldiers patrolling on UK roads made him so angry that he was driven to write a bitchy poem about it. I wonder if the slaughter of his Protestant neighbours moved him to poetry at all? Or did he just regard them as Huns as your friend above seems to think?

  • SK

    “It’s got nothing to do with any one story for us bullshit. I just want to know what sort of things motivated him to write his poetry. The sight of British soldiers patrolling on UK roads made him so angry that he was driven to write a bitchy poem about it. I wonder if the slaughter of his Protestant neighbours moved him to poetry at all?”

    What is it that you want from Heaney? Poetry is distilled from personal experience, and as such objectivity simply does not come into it. Would you question Picasso’s integrity for depicting Guernica but not Ronda?

    Life is subjective, therefore so is art. If you cannot grasp that for yourself, if the fact that Heaney never wrote a poem entitled “Francis Hughes is a Bastard” precludes you from enjoying his work on it’s own terms, then that is your problem.

    “Or did he just regard them as Huns as your friend above seems to think?”

    That is clearly not what he was suggesting. But you already know that.

  • Alf

    SK,

    I don’t want anything from Heaney. I am simply interested in what motivated his poetry. Did the sectarian murder campaign that was waged against his Protestant neighbours not rouse emotions strong enough to cause him to scribble down a poem? He was angered by much less.

  • Kevin Barry

    Interesting piece Brian and something of a change from your norm. I like most of your work but this is different and we’ll see if it develops any further.

    Cackle daily, I could not have put it any better.

    ‘It is his integrity and generosity of spirit that admits those with a half-open mind to get a glimpse of a different truth.’

    Please take note everyone.

  • Kevin Barry

    By the way, when I said ‘we’ll see if it develops any further’ I meant the pieces on Heaney, not your writing style or topics, don’t want to come across as patronizing tbf

  • Cackle Daily

    Alf,only Seamus Heaney himself (or any writer, for that matter) can tell you what motivates them to write.
    All we can tell you, as readers, is that Heaney’s poetry is a lot of things but ‘sectarian’ is not one of them. That he hasn’t written a poem specifically condemning Francis Hughes should matter no more to you than the fact that Philip Larkin never wrote one condemning the B-Specials matters to me (i.e. not one bit).
    Now – I am not comparing Hunger Strikers and the ‘B’ Specials; it’s an illustrative example. Just like I was not comparing Protestants and WW1 German soldiers earlier.
    So, I’m afraid I can’t help you on the motivation question but If are still want some recommended reading from the poetry shelf (and not just from Heaney!) – happy to help.

  • Alf

    Cackle,

    I think I’ll give his work a miss. I don’t really like people who get all angry at the mere sight of our troops.