Hugh Heaney, brother of poet Seamus Heaney, pictured with Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, at a portrait unveiling at Stormont in Belfast in November 2015.
The new museum
Fran Brearton, director of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s
A brother of Seamus Heaney has come out in support of the A6 road upgrade near the poet’s homeplace ahead of a planned protest against the project at the opening of a new museum in Bellaghy.
Work has begun on the section of the main Belfast to Londonderry road which is expected to cost about £160m but legal papers have been lodged in an effort to challenge the upgrade in court due to concerns it cuts through ‘Heaney country’.
However Hugh Heaney, sibling of the late poet, has said objections from those who claim the new road build would ruin the landscape made famous by the Nobel laureate, are without foundation.
“Heaney’s country is there and Heaney country will be there forever,” he told the BBC.
“I have no objection whatsoever going where it’s going, it’s going through Heaney country but it will not do Heaney country any harm at all.
“Anahorish is still there, Lagan’s Road is still there, Mossbawn is still there, strand of Lough Beag is not even touched, so the A6 is doing a great job taking away bottlenecks for thousands of people travelling every day.”
It comes as a protesters are expected to picket the opening of the new Seamus Heaney interpretative centre on Thursday morning.
Their decision to hold the protest outside HomePlace on the day media will gather to cover the opening ceremony of this major visitor attraction has dismayed many.
It has also caused some embarrassment for the director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry and Queen’s University, Belfast, as the demonstration has been orchestrated by some students and staff at the university.
Professor Fran Brearton, who has been vocal in opposing the road, last night insisted there was no rivalry between the two centres.
“We were, and always have been, incredibly enthusiastic about it. I think it’s the one thing that Northern Ireland absolutely needs and should do,” she said.
She has insisted that the road protest has nothing to do with HomePlace.
“Queen’s is not running the roads protest. The roads protest is in every way unrelated to the opening of HomePlace,” she said.
She said she thought the protests were being organised by environmentalists worried about the wetlands threatened by the road-building, and not by academics from the poetry centre.
“That’s a debate that is not being run by the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s,” she said.
She added there were probably Queen’s students who were involved, but they were not from the poetry centre.
However, at least one of the organisers of the protest is a student in the Heaney centre — and has played a prominent role in the ongoing campaign.
The environmentalists are angry at a decision by Sinn Fein Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard to plough ahead with a £160m dual carriageway between Randalstown and Castledawson.
Critics say it will devastate swathes of land that inspired Nobel Prize-winning poet Heaney to write some of his most famous works.
Earlier this month Belfast actor Stephen Rea — who helped establish the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980 with Heaney — hosted a concert at the Lyric Theatre to raise awareness of the road plan.
Among those taking part were poets mentored by Heaney — Medbh McGuckian and Ciaran Carson — as well as TS Eliot prize-winning poets Michael Longley and Sinead Morrissey.
Other well-known faces included pianist Barry Douglas and environmentalist James Orr of Friends of the Earth.
Professor Brearton said that the poetry centre and interpretative centre had always worked together.
“We’re drawing it up as a formal partnership but it really is anyway… and we always knew they were going to be two very different things.
“What was needed in Northern Ireland was a kind of Seamus Heaney visitors’ centre, which a university can’t provide.”
She said the poetry centre at Queen’s was created for poetry and creative writing research, as Heaney himself wanted it.
It was created to be an academic centre, and isn’t a museum or a place for tourists.
“Following Heaney’s death, that is absolutely what’s needed here,” she added.
“We’ve never thought about it in any other way than that we would double up and collaborate on these things as much as we possibly can,” Prof Brearton added.