Construction is to begin on the site of a new £4M visitor centre which will showcase the work and life of Seamus Heaney.
The ‘clean rasping sound when spade sinks into gravelly ground’ could be heard across the site of the former police barracks in Bellaghy, when the first sod was cut by the late poet’s brothers, Hugh and Dan Heaney on Tuesday.
They were joined by the Chair of Magherafelt District Council, Councillor Kate McEldowney, and Presiding Councillor (Chair) of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Cáthal Mallaghan .
Developed by Magherafelt District Council with the support of the Heaney family, the project has now also been endorsed by Mid Ulster District Council and is expected to attract up to 50,000 visitors each year, when it opens in Heaney’s birthplace of Bellaghy in 2016.
Some 2,000 of the poet’s personal books, reference materials and manuscripts will be housed in the centre’s library, while a large exhibition space will link the people, places, landscapes and traditions which influenced and inspired Heaney and also include a selection of his personal belongings, from his signature duffel coat to his fountain pen.
A 160-seater theatre and performance space will also form part of the build, with specific learning, activity and creative zones designed to meet the needs of children and young people, as well as large tour groups.
Welcoming the beginning of construction, Councillor Kate McEldowney, Chair of Magherafelt District Council, said:
“Breaking ground is a significant milestone in our plans to celebrate the life and works of a man from the village of Bellaghy who gained international standing and a global reputation.
“The centre is not only an opportunity to ensure his contribution to the arts and wider society is recognised and remembered, but will also be a catalyst for regeneration in Bellaghy and, with the potential to generate an additional £6M in visitor spend for the local economy, a clear boost to the tourism industry of the wider Mid Ulster area”.
“The commitment and generosity of the Heaney family, the support of the local Bellaghy community and now the endorsement of the new Mid Ulster District Council mean that this centre will undoubtedly rank as one of the most significant legacies of Magherafelt District Council”.
Mid Ulster District Council, which assumes responsibility for the existing Magherafelt council area together with Cookstown and Dungannon councils in April next year, has supported the centre which will form a key element of its capital programme.
“Poet, playwright, translator, lecturer, Nobel prize-winner, international ambassador for his village, county and country, Seamus Heaney’s loss was felt across the world and he deserves to be remembered, recognised and celebrated in the village which so clearly anchored him throughout his life,” said Councillor Cáthal Mallaghan, Presiding Councillor (Chair) of Mid Ulster District Council.
“This project is a very fitting tribute to a great man, and an important addition to the tourism product and potential of the Mid Ulster region. I am enormously pleased that we will now be able to carry on and conclude the excellent work of Magherafelt District Council”.
The project architects are W&M Given and the building contractor is Brendan Loughran & Sons. The interpretive element of the project is being managed by Tandem Design.