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‘Noli timere’

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Brendan Duddy SJ was going about his chaplain’s work in St Vincent’s Hospital when he noticed a familiar face in one bed: his old friend Seamus Heaney. Brendan spent time with Seamus before he went to Blackrock Clinic, where he died. You can hear Brendan talk about his friendship with Heaney in this podcast.

After Heaney’s death Conor Harper SJ visited the Heaney family daily and helped them plan the poignant funeral mass, which was broadcast on RTE television on Monday 2 September at 11.30am.

Conor is curate in the Sacred Heart Chapel Donnybrook where the mass took place. He assisted the main celebrant Monsignor Brendan Devlin, quietly conducting the proceedings of a mass filled with prayer, poetry and plaintive piping. It was fitting.  Another Jesuit, Finbarr Clancy of the Milltown Institute, was appointed as chaplain to President Michael D Higgins for the funeral service.

In his brief but eloquent homily,  Monsignor Devlin said “..when we read that series of sharp witted paradoxes that we call the Eight Beatitudes and which are the core of the Sermon on the Mount, what you might call the identikit portrait of the ideal Christian, it cannot but strike us how many of them apply readily to our memories of Seamus Heaney.”

And he also cautioned, “But understand me well, this is not my effort to recuperate him, as the French say, to harness him in the ranks of the soldiers of Christ. How unsufferably patronising that would be! I think rather of something more deep-seated than such easy conformism. I remember something he wrote a lifetime ago when he recalled the early stirrings of a poetic imagination as he recited as an altar boy the words of the Litany: “Mystical Rose, Tower of David, Tower of Ivory, House of Gold, Ark of the Covenant, Morning Star.” I too recall such stirrings at devotions in the twilight of a May evening. Like many of our generation we had both inherited, he on the plains of South Derry, I in the hills of Tyrone, the imagination and with it the memory of a community. What was important was not so much the prayers we did or did not say as the prayers that had been said before us for generations, generations whose hard won loyalties were so authentically embodied in the man and so vibrantly expressed in his work.”

But Seamus Heaney still managed to have the last word, capturing again the public imagination in a text he sent to his to his wife Maire just minutes before he died. Speaking also at the mass  his son Michael revealed that just before he headed toward the operating theatre he texted in ‘his beloved latin’ – ‘noli timere’- do not be afraid.

There was much to think about in the moment’s silence suggested quite spontaneously by Conor Harper at the end of the mass. “It just came to me as the appropiate response to all that we had heard and celebrated,” said Conor. “And the depth of the silence confirmed it was indeed what people wanted.”

It was heart-warming to see that the love and esteem people from all walks of life in Ireland had for Seamus Heaney was actually replicated world-wide. And touching also to learn that the great writer brought every visiting poet to the grave of Gerard Manley Hopkins  in the Jesuit burial place at Glasnevin Cemetery, on Dublin’s northside.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis. We truly will not see his likes again.