Heaney retained clear memories of his Castledawson childhood

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OUR Castledawson correspondent, Ivor Hawe, says there is a sense of great loss in the community at the death of their most famous “son”.

Born on April 13, 1939, at Mossbawn, Broagh, just down the Toome Road near the Hibernian Hall, the former Nobel Prize winner always retained clear memories of his childhood spent in and around Castledawson, he writes.

In exclusive correspondence, he recalled a great fondness for Castledawson and readily shared his experiences as a young boy here.

Heaney distinctly liked being in the O’Donnells house at Broagh, the mother, Mary, Rosie and Jane, who worked in Clarks factory. His great uncle Pat McCann and uncle Edward also worked there. His first memories of Castledawson involved the inside of different shops and the visits made

to his grandparents house at New Row.His mother “dealt” in Jack McMillins ,who was a great pal of his father’s, going to fairs together, the cattle trade keeping them in touch, and in craic.

Seamus warmly recalled an air of special friendliness in this shop, being somewhat petted by Miss McGowan, an old lady who half presided and half worked behind the counter. She was kind and tended to give out sweets. He had vivid memories of the crowded, dated interior, with goods on

hooks from the roof, tin cans, half pint tins, hurricane lamps, whitewash brushes, and of course,the big hanging sides of bacon.

Further up the street he used to visit Browns Wool Shop. Here too,his father had dealings with Johnnie Brown in the cattle line. The interior had a warm,secure protective atmosphere in contrast to the back yard where Johnnies realm of turbulent beasts and excited “reddings up”

began.Then there was Robert Hueston’s cobblers shop who Heaney readily likened to a cobbler out of a story book.

Outside the Orange Hall he remembered Andy Hart on sentry duty and Bobby Garvin,the butcher at New Row corner. The poet said he was always in awe of the blood red face, blood flecked white coat, oxhorns on the wall,and the big knife being wheeled back and forwards on the steel.

Up towards New Row, and “The Fountain” was a great wonder to the young Seamus Heaney. His family only had a hand pump at Mossbawn,but here with the turn of a spring knob, the nozzle gushed thick,powerfully pressured water which filled his bucket in a minute. And, at his

grandparents and aunts house in New Row, the electric light always fascinated him.

In the 1940s along the Toome Road, the Heaney family were still in an age of paraffin lamps, globes and candlesticks.There were visits to a less magical cobbler in the guise of Paddy “The Beaker” Grimes, who made balls for the Castledawson gaelic team.On one occasion, Seamus reminisced of the making of an oversized,lopsided ball. Sizes were from three to five, but “The Beaker” made this one like a bloated six and a half. And,one of the most romantic places in “the town” as he would call it, was the Railway Station.

He readily recalled travelling from it only two or three times, once with a Sunday school outing to the Port.Heaney concluded his nostalgic look back to his early days in Castledawson.

when remembering being up a tree at the head of his “loanin” when the soldiers went past, and an image of the new Nestles chimney being built.He joked that it was strange what you retain over the years.

Despite his great travel and worldwide recognition ,it was with obvious affection that Seamus Heaney took an opportunity to look back at his childhood.He indicated never returning back home as often as he would have wished, yet the settlement of Castledawson and surrounding

area, will always be proudly associated with one of the greatest poets that Ireland has ever produced.