Seamus Heaney died today.
If you went to school in Northern Ireland, he'll almost certainly need no introduction. If you didn't, he was a poet. If you went to school in Northern Ireland and weren't listening, he was a poet.
Despite taking English Literature at 'A' level, I wasn't a big fan of the old poetry lark (and therefore Seamus Heaney). I passed, but I think I was just a bit lucky.
I had two specific problems with the old poetry lark (and therefore Seamus Heaney).
First, I found it boring and had a genuine tendency to nod off during lessons. Spotting this weakness in my armoury, my teacher - Mr Quigg - used to single me out to answer questions.
What happened next became almost ritualistic and went as follows:
- Colin Andrews would nudge me to wake me up;
- Colin Andrews would deliberately whisper me a made-up/incorrect answer;
- I would relay the made-up/incorrect answer to Mr Quigg;
- Mr Quigg would gently humiliate me.
Anyway, that's how it went and, as I say, somehow I got though it. That was in 1990.
Fast forward a couple of years to when I was a student in Newcastle, and a particular Sunday night in my room after Spitting Image had finished. I was faffing around and the South Bank Show appeared on my portable telly. It was a Seamus Heaney special.
My instant reaction was to turn it off (boring! boring! boring!) but, for whatever reason - perhaps it was fate - I didn't. I wasn't initially listening to it, certainly not consciously, but as poems I was familiar with began to be rattled out, I found that I was.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the end of my bed almost mouthing the words. Well before the end of the programme, I even found myself "enjoying" what I was hearing, and Heaney's own explanations of what he had been banging on about for so long.
By the time the show ended, I felt a sense of guilt - verging on uncleanliness - for those lost years of failed appreciation. Not just of Heaney's work, but of Mr Quigg's efforts in tempting me to like it.
There was only one thing for it; I had to apologise.
Without delay, that Sunday night, I got a pen and some paper out and scribbled a note to Mr Quigg - c/o Coleraine Inst - saying sorry for my failings and conceding that he was right all along. I posted it first class the following morning.
Only days later, I received an immensely classy and witty response from Mr Quigg - he signed it off as Len - accepting my apology and making clear that he didn't hold any grudges. I loved that.
So, on the day Seamus Heaney achieved full membership of the Dead Poets' Society, I feel it only proper that I make an unconditional public apology to him and his memory too.
To quote him: "The end of art is peace.”
I hope the great man has now found his.