Tributes have poured in since the death of poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney.
Ireland’s Arts Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, praised Heaney for his work as a literary great but also for promoting Ireland.
“He was just a very humble, modest man. He was very accessible,” he said.
“Anywhere I have ever travelled in the world and you mention poetry and literature and the name of Seamus Heaney comes up immediately.”
Mr Deenihan recently joined Heaney at an event at the Irish Embassy in Paris where the poet gave readings to an audience of 1,000 invited guests.
“He was a huge figure internationally, a great ambassador for literature obviously, but also for Ireland,” the minister said.
Heaney donated his personal literary notes to the National Library of Ireland in December 2011, joining the ranks of Irish literary master James Joyce and fellow Nobel winner WB Yeats.
During his literary career he held prestigious posts at Oxford University and at Harvard in the US.
Patsy McGlone, SDLP MP for Mid-Ulster, the area of Heaney’s birthplace, said he has left a tremendous cultural legacy to south Derry but also to the literary world.
“Seamus Heaney was the voice of this community, a man of the people who knew his community well and reflected the history and cultural richness of that community,” he said.
“I remember him calling in to my father’s business when I was younger and being struck by his humility.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt described Heaney as a man of global significance.
“His influence ran broader than the arts. We all remember how US president Bill Clinton chose Heaney’s great phrase about when ‘hope and history rhyme’ from Heaney’s play The Cure At Troy in his speech in Londonderry, and went on to use it for the title of his book detailing his vision of the US in the 21st Century,” he said.
Among the many honours Heaney received in his lifetime were the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, and the following year he was made a Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French ministry of culture.
Socially he was widely regarded as having time and support for people and events.
Irish President Michael D Higgins said Heaney’s contribution “to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense”.
“As tributes flow in from around the world, as people recall the extraordinary occasions of the readings and the lectures, we in Ireland will once again get a sense of the depth and range of the contribution of Seamus Heaney to our contemporary world, but what those of us who have had the privilege of his friendship and presence will miss is the extraordinary depth and warmth of his personality,” he said.
Mr Higgins, himself a published poet, described Heaney as warm, humourous, caring and courteous.
“A courtesy that enabled him to carry with such wry Northern Irish dignity so many well-deserved honours from all over the world,” he said.
“Generations of Irish people will have been familiar with Seamus’ poems. Scholars all over the world will have gained from the depth of the critical essays, and so many rights organisations will want to thank him for all the solidarity he gave to the struggles within the republic of conscience.”
Heaney’s profile and the high regard he was held in was evidenced when he sat at the Queen’s table for a banquet on her state visit to the Irish Republic in 2011, the first such trip for a ruling British monarch.
He was due to deliver a speech at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast next Tuesday and make an address next month at Amnesty International’s ambassador of conscience award, named after a poem he wrote for the organisation in 1985.
Those who knew him remarked on how he was renowned for always accepting invites to speak.
Patrick Corrigan, the organisation’s Northern Ireland director, said he connected not just with people in Ireland but across the world.
“Through the beauty and elegance of his writing, Seamus Heaney reminded us of the bonds which unite and our duty to uphold the dignity of all,” he said.
“Ireland has lost a legendary man of letters. The world has lost a towering giant of humanity.”
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said Heaney is regarded by many as the greatest Irish poet since Yeats.
“Winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, he brought great pride to Ireland and has left us an immense legacy,” he said.
In a statement, his publisher Faber and Faber said: “We cannot adequately express our profound sorrow at the loss of one of the world’s greatest writers. His impact on literary culture is immeasurable. As his publisher we could not have been prouder to publish his poetry over nearly 50 years. He was nothing short of an inspiration to the company, and his friendship over many years is a great loss.”
David McNarry MLA has recalled his favourite pieces of work by Heaney.
“I loved Seamus Heaney’s work and I particularly enjoyed The Peninsula in 1969 and Field Work in 1979,” he said. “I was deeply sorry to hear the news of the passing of this truly great poet and literary figure. In a sense, his voice will never really be silent as he has left us such a powerful body of work but nonetheless I, like so many others, will miss him and I will mourn his passing.”
“I want to express my sincere regrets to his family and to let them know how much people valued his voice, his sincerity and Seamus Heaney the man and the poet.”
Heaney’s work has been taught in schools on both sides of the Irish border, and in Britain with lines of verse still resonating years later from the likes of Digging and Tollund Man.
John Hume, the former SDLP leader in Northern Ireland and a native of Derry city, was good friends with Heaney.
“His poetry expressed a special love of people, place and diversity of life,” he said.
“That profound regard for humanity has made his poetry a special channel for repudiating violence, injustice and prejudice, and urging us all to the better side of our human nature.
“I have always received great inspiration from his written word and I am deeply grateful for the personal encouragement that I always received from such a warm friend and a wise man.”
Micheal Martin, leader of Ireland’s main opposition party Fianna Fail, said Ireland had lost one of its very best.
“He knew his people, and he helped us understand ourselves better. He was a unifying figure, who gave voice to the changing dynamic on our island and the potential that exists,” he said.
Just before lunchtime today, actor Adrian Dunbar led a round of applause at the bust of Heaney in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, while a book of condolences is to be opened in the Guildhall in Derry.
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Heaney’s death is a great sorrow for Ireland, language and literature.
“He is mourned - and deeply - wherever poetry and the world of the spirit are cherished and celebrated,” he said.
“For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people.”
Mr Kenny said it would take Heaney himself to describe the depth of loss Ireland would feel at his death.
Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Eamon Gilmore, said Heaney’s legacy would be as one of the finest Irish poets of all time.
“His work reflected his deep love and knowledge of the Irish land and the Irish people. His poetry explained us to ourselves. In his work, the dignity and honour of the everyday lives of people came to life,” he said.
“Yet his poetry was also universal in nature, as can be seen by the wonderful tributes being paid to him by people across the globe today and by his incredible achievement in winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.”
Poet Michael Longley, a friend of Heaney, said he produced “miracles right the way through his life”.
Speaking to Eamonn Mallie, he said: “He was a great, great poet, a dear friend, and I’m in shock as you say.”
Mr Longley said Heaney wrote some of the “best nature poems in the language”.
He said: “I was very pleased that a few months ago I was able to tell him that I’d been reading his early poems, the poems he wrote as a young man, and that they struck me as miracles.
“And he joked, he says, ‘well they came from Bellaghy, they’d have to have been miracles’.
“And he continued to produce miracles right the way through his life.”
Mr Longley added: “I’m one of thousands of people who feel personally bereaved and I feel as though I’ve lost a brother.
“I just feel an emptiness that this great presence is no longer on us.”
Belfast Poet Laureate Dr Sinead Morrissey said “poet-superstar” Heaney “seemed peculiarly destined for the kind of living success that is almost unimaginable”.
Ian Martin, a writer of The Thick Of It, said he will toast Heaney and “binge-read” his work tonight.
He tweeted: “Love Seamus Heaney. Used to read his shorter poems to my daughter. ‘Widgeon’ she memorised. Will raise glass and binge-read Heaney tonight.”
Professor James McElnay, the vice-chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast where Heaney studied and taught, said: “Seamus was not only a former student, professor and honorary graduate of Queen’s, but also a true friend of the university. Generous with his scholarship and his time, his warmth, humour and brilliance will be sorely missed.
“He was selfless in his contribution to Queen’s. Whether giving his name to the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, crafting our university’s Centenary Stanza or contributing copies of his early works, Seamus asked for nothing in return.
“His contribution to the world of literature has introduced millions of people around the globe to the enjoyment of poetry and enhanced it for many more.
“As a truly inspirational citizen of Northern Ireland, he was the vanguard for a new generation of Irish poets, and at Queen’s we will ensure that his work continues to inspire many for generations to come.
“At Queen’s we have been truly privileged to have known Seamus as a student, staff member and Nobel Laureate and will miss him greatly.”
Professor Ciaran Carson, director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s, said: “Seamus Heaney’s death will leave a void in all our lives. But his words have become part of our lives, and he endures in them. There is no poet in Ireland who has not been influenced by his example, and is in his debt; but so is everyone who has been touched by his poetry, and they are innumerable.”