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Seamus Heaney supported the Palestinian cause

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The Irish poet Seamus Heaney died Friday in Dublin at 74. His support for Palestine is not part of the mainstream obituaries. –Ed.

Seamus Heaney who knew first hand of violent sectarian strife was a supporter of the Palestinian cause. He was a patron of the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest), an organization founded in 2008 with the aim of supporting cultural life in Palestine, breaking the cultural siege imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli military occupation and strengthening cultural links between Palestine and the rest of the world. In his 1995 Nobel lecture he spoke hopefully of Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement. Following the siege of Gaza in 2009 he protested publicly the bombing of Gaza

From Heaney’s speech ((c) the Nobel Prize foundation), his dream of an end of partition.

The century has witnessed the defeat of Nazism by force of arms; but the erosion of the Soviet regimes was caused, among other things, by the sheer persistence, beneath the imposed ideological conformity, of cultural values and psychic resistances of a kind that these stories and images enshrine. Even if we have learned to be rightly and deeply fearful of elevating the cultural forms and conservatisms of any nation into normative and exclusivist systems, even if we have terrible proof that pride in an ethnic and religious heritage can quickly degrade into the fascistic, our vigilance on that score should not displace our love and trust in the good of the indigenous per se. On the contrary, a trust in the staying power and travel-worthiness of such good should encourage us to credit the possibility of a world where respect for the validity of every tradition will issue in the creation and maintenance of a salubrious political space. In spite of devastating and repeated acts of massacre, assassination and extirpation, the huge acts of faith which have marked the new relations between Palestinians and Israelis, Africans and Afrikaners, and the way in which walls have come down in Europe and iron curtains have opened, all this inspires a hope that new possibility can still open up in Ireland as well. The crux of that problem involves an ongoing partition of the island between British and Irish jurisdictions, and an equally persistent partition of the affections in Northern Ireland between the British and Irish heritages; but surely every dweller in the country must hope that the governments involved in its governance can devise institutions which will allow that partition to become a bit more like the net on a tennis court, a demarcation allowing for agile give-and-take, for encounter and contending, prefiguring a future where the vitality that flowed in the beginning from those bracing words “enemy” and “allies” might finally derive from a less binary and altogether less binding vocabulary.

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4 Responses

  1. just
    August 31, 2013, 2:29 pm


  2. amigo
    August 31, 2013, 3:14 pm

    Seamus Heaney was friendly with Bono but was unable to talk him out of performing in Israel.

    Rest in Peace Seamus.

  3. MHughes976
    August 31, 2013, 3:41 pm

    I think SH was somewhat discreet on this matter. He did lend his name to Palfest but I’ve just looked on the Palfest website and it does not seem that he ever took a very prominent part in their proceedings, which some other, prominent (but rather less prominent than Heaney) British literary figures have done.

  4. LanceThruster
    September 2, 2013, 12:06 pm

    This was posted here:

    Human beings suffer,
    they torture one another,
    they get hurt and get hard.
    No poem or play or song
    can fully right a wrong
    inflicted or endured.

    The innocent in gaols
    beat on their bars together.
    A hunger-striker’s father
    stands in the graveyard dumb.
    The police widow in veils
    faints at the funeral home.

    History says, Don’t hope
    on this side of the grave.
    But then, once in a lifetime
    the longed for tidal wave
    of justice can rise up,
    and hope and history rhyme.

    So hope for a great sea-change
    on the far side of revenge.
    Believe that a further shore
    is reachable from here.
    Believe in miracles
    and cures and healing wells.

    Call the miracle self-healing:
    The utter self-revealing
    double-take of feeling.
    If there’s fire on the mountain
    Or lightning and storm
    And a god speaks from the sky

    That means someone is hearing
    the outcry and the birth-cry
    of new life at its term.
    It means once in a lifetime
    That justice can rise up
    And hope and history rhyme.

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