During the first glimpse of what will be a monumental tribute to his big brother, Hugh Heaney said the sad thing about HomePlace is that Seamus isn’t here to see it.
Family and friends of Bellaghy’s most famous son joined dignitaries and council staff for the first event at Seamus Heaney’s HomePlace on Monday.
Work on the project is now entering its final phase, with art, poetry and images to begin filling the space from next week.
Still farming family land just outside the village, the nobel laureate’s younger brother told the Mail he thinks the name chosen for the centre “is perfect”.
“He would have loved it,” he said. “He would have loved to have been here today. It’s sad that he can’t be here to see it - I wish he was here.
“He loved it in Bellaghy, around home and the homeplace. It’s a great name for it - a perfect name.”
Even though the poet spent much of his life away from the Mid Ulster village, Hugh said it was like “Seamus never left home”.
“He would come up every Christmas and he would have kept in touch with wee cards, no matter where he was,” he explained.
“A wee card, just maybe one sentence. As you know he could have said more in a sentence than the rest of us could say in a page or a paragraph.”
By his side, the lyricist’s son Christopher said if his father had been around to see HomePlace take shape, the most important aspect of it would have the been that “it’s a place to make the arts come alive in the community as opposed to a museum”.
“It’s a very impressive building,” Christopher said. “I know it’s not finished yet, but it makes an impression when you come into Bellaghy.
“It’s not just a Seamus Heaney exhibition. It’s a place to make the arts come alive in the community as opposed to a museum - which I think would have been important to him.
“He would have been very proud of the whole thing.”
Addressing the audience, his brother Michael said Bellaghy was truly the best place for the centre.
“It’s so important and right that it’s here,” he said. “Physically he left 55 years ago, but literally, creatively, imaginatively - he never really left.”
Speaking after the event, Mid Ulster Chairperson, Cathal Mallaghan said it was a great use of the land on which Bellaghy Barracks once stood.
Proud to have been involved with the project from “the first sod was cut”.
He is now spreading the word about plans for the venue throughout the island of Ireland.
“Tomorrow we are going to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin,” he said.
“Seamus Heaney used to be a member, so there will be a lot of his alma mater there, and Michael D Higgins is going to be there as a guest at the event.”
As for the reaction to the centre so far, he said: “It’s fantastic. Especially when you listen to the programme of events that’s going to be happening over the 12 months.
“They’re blown away by it.
“It’s a huge and ambitious plan, but I guess it’s a good a reflection of Mid Ulster Council (and) how ambitious we are.”
As for past issues around design contracts for the centre, he said “that’s water under the bridge at this stage”.
Heralding the work that will be done in Bellaghy off the back of the centre, he added: “This shows how important rural locations are to Mid Ulster Council.”
Mobile phone improvements and £100k investment in the village are planned.