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Former Portora teacher’s fond memories of Seamus Heaney

Former Portora Royal School head of English, Lisa Hulme at the presentation of the Beckett Joyce award with the late Seamus Heaney.

Former Portora Royal School head of English, Lisa Hulme at the presentation of the Beckett Joyce award with the late Seamus Heaney.

THE LITERARY world, and indeed the wider world, has mourned the passing of Noble prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney.

The 74-year-old died on August 30, amid an array of tributes from across the globe.

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Lisa Hulme, former head of english at Portora Royal, was among those who offered tributes to the writer, who she first met back in the 1960s when he lectured at Queen’s University, Belfast.

“I was doing English and German at Queen’s, so that was when I first got to know him. He had published his first works ‘Death Of A Naturalist’ and that was back in the 1960s,” Lisa told the Fermanagh Herald this week.

“He was an interesting man – he was charismatic. He was inspirational because he was already writing his own poetry.

“We were amazed at the idea that somebody could write poetry and have a volume of poetry published, and it was lovely poetry. That first volume is simply wonderful.”

That first collection was his ‘Death of a Naturalist’, which was published in 1966.

When Lisa graduated from Queen’s University, she lost touch with the poet.

However, their paths would soon cross again, as part of the annual Beckett-Joyce creative writing competition that takes place between Portora Royal, at which she taught, and Clongowes Wood College near Dublin.

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“We were doing the Beckett Joyce prize, and that was every year, and we always got very inspirational people to judge the prize,” explained Lisa.

“It was the tenth anniversary of the Beckett-Joyce and I wrote to him and asked him if he would do it. He said that yes he would love to do it. He said he was always interested in young people and their writing.”

Lisa added: “He was honest and he stood by his commitments.”

A memory that the former teacher shared was of his speech when the winner of the award was announced.

She recalled: “He said that a poem was a gift from the writer to the reader. I always thought that was a lovely way of phrasing it. He was obviously very positive about the writing that was going on, not just from Clongowes and Portora, but all the writing that was going on in Ireland.”

When news of Seamus’ passing came apparent, Lisa said that she was ‘devastated’.

“My heart goes out to his family and friends. He was a lovely man,” she said.

“He was a kind of torch of morality and hope and standing up for the right things, in those years that we needed a torch.”

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The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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