New A6 road in Seamus Heaney's south Derry

Landscapes, it could be argued, shape us as individuals.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 10th September 2016, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 15th September 2016, 4:24 pm

Those born with a view of mountains and water will forever be drawn to them.

A pretty rural background stops us in our tracks, we may even dream of living there sometime.

Artists rarely paint an uninteresting landscape; some of my favourites are by the late Theo Gracey who loved to paint tranquil water scenes around our coasts.

Proposals for a new A6 road to be built in South Derry have angered those who claim it will brutalise that part of the world where the late poet Seamus Heaney was born. Part of the new road will be built just 100 metres from Heaney’s first family home at Mossbawn which is near Bellaghy, South Derry. He included in his poems areas such as Anahorish, the Broagh, Hillhead, Lagan’s Road and Lough Beg. Campaigners say the road proposals will leave the landscape ‘‘brutalised’’ and “permanently altered’’.

Heaney knew of the proposals before his death and is said to have called them “a desecration’’.

In their statement campaigners say the road could have taken other routes and accuse the NI Government of ‘railroading through the plans’ describing it as ‘one of the most culturally and environmentally devastating acts of institutionalised vandalism on a piece of cultural heritage cherished globally’.

Strong stuff of course. But having been born not more than half a mile as the crow flies from those areas Heaney eulogised over, I have to resort to the old adage that beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.

To me as a child there were just three attractions worth mentioning in an area which was as flat as the Canadian prairie, an area chosen by the British government at the start of the Second World War to build an airfield.

There was a view on a good day of Slieve Gallion and if you found yourself on the Strand Road (later re-named Airfield Road), you could catch tantalising glimpses of Lough Neagh.

As children we also liked to go to the falls at the bridge over the Moyola River. But other than that this was hardly an area of outstanding natural beauty.

As a child I regarded Anahorish as an area to ride your bicycle through as quickly as possible. Any former beauty the area may have had had been bulldozed away in 1940.

When the military left the land was pockmarked with ugly, hastily built single Bann brick buildings, a few of which miraculously survived until recently. There was bogland and moss, large tracts of gorse and poor roads which the drivers of the old UTA buses manfully challenged every day.

My dream, as a child, was to move to live in the nearest town, a dream that did come true for a few years even if my mother ached to get back to where she called home.

That part of South Derry today is developing well with lovely homes, improved roads and a new bridge over the Moyola, proof if it is needed that people can enhance even the most ordinary landscapes.

Heaney was a brilliant poet and he taught us to look at things in a different light, even something so routine as digging with a spade.

However I still find it hard to see the beauty that he saw in that flat land damaged by the necessities of war time.

On the other hand take me to the Glenshane Pass and I’ll see beauty in every blade of grass, in every creek and sheep trail, an area greatly enhanced by road improvements.