The family of Seamus Heaney have said he would have been proud to see a new arts and literary centre where he spent his childhood.
The £4.25 million building was officially opened on Thursday by the Nobel laureate’s widow Marie Heaney and their children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine on the site of an old RUC barracks in his native Bellaghy, Co Londonderry.
Called “The Seamus Heaney HomePlace”, it is surrounded by the rural landscape which inspired much of his work.
At its heart is a permanent exhibition on two floors about the poet’s life and writing along with a 189-seat performance space, a library with books from his home which his family donated and room for exhibitions.
Son Michael paid a glowing tribute to those behind the project.
“HomePlace has turned out to be precisely how we envisaged,” he said.
“It will become a hugely important place for all of our family, and all of those who treasured Seamus.
“We are so grateful that dad is being honoured in such a generous fashion, and we know he would have been proud to have his life and work celebrated in such a positive way.”
About 200 guests gathered for the official opening including singer-songwriter Paul Brady and actor Stanley Townsend who read from Heaney’s work at the event.
A piece of music called “LifeCycle” – specially-created for the event by nine musicians from Ireland, Scotland, Japan, the US, Poland and Greece – was also played.
Those behind the project said the influence and impact on Heaney of the people and the place of Co Londonderry are central to the exhibition.
Visitors will be taken on a journey through his life and literature, including photographs, stories, personal items and objects, and books.
They can also watch a film of the reaction to his Nobel Prize award.
Heaney was in Greece at the time and was unaware for two days that he had received the greatest literary accolade.
DUP First Minister Arlene Foster said: “Seamus Heaney’s contribution to the culture and life of Northern Ireland is immeasurable.
“His published work spans over 50 years. Those same 50 years were also profoundly significant to all of us in Northern Ireland, bringing us to where we are now, looking forward with confidence and determination to a positive and energised future.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the centre “will be a tourism magnet for Mid Ulster”.