Seamus Heaney died a year ago today.
I never met him but one afternoon in a large classroom in Longslade Upper School in Birstall we shared the same space. It was 1972, 1973, and I was an English teacher, it was my first proper job. Seamus Heaney, at the start of his career, came to the school to read his poetry. In a large room with windows looking out over the Leicestershire countryside, I sat at the back on one of the hard school chairs, and as the children filed in, hoped that the students from my classes would behave themselves, even if nobody else did.
I had never heard of Seamus Heaney, but as soon as he began to read I was enthralled by his soft, Irish accent, and the strange, other-wordliness of his subjects. So were the students, listening hard, all quiet and respectful, until he said the word ‘bog’. And said it again. There was no stopping them – there were snorts and giggles. Bog. I set my face to look firm and serious, to show him he was appreciated and to show the students this was how to behave.
He read on, unperturbed, and the laughter settled.
For years after, I followed his progress, bought his books, watched with motherly pride his rise and rise, thought often ‘I must write to him and ask him if he remembers Longslade.’ But I never did. Probably for the best.