Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has died at the age of 74. It is a sad day in our family. Our triplets, Eamonn, Maura and Kristin, were born in April 1986. In those first few insane months of 24-hour-a-day care, I read Mr. Heaney’s Station Island. Once I caught my breath months later, I realized Heaney’s poems were inextricably connected to that profoundly moving — and challenging — time in my life as a new dad.
I decided to write Mr. Heaney at Harvard, tell him my tale and ask him to inscribe the book. Not only did he generously comply with my request but he did so in verse–to the kids!
Inscribed for Brady siblings three,
That happy April trinity,
That triple hedge against all sorrow–
Kristin, Eamonn and — yes — Maura!
A Cornell English professor once told me of an academic conference he attended where Heaney “rose above the other academics as a behemoth among mice.” That did not prevent Heaney from being a gracious, humble and kind man. Included with the inscription was this note:
Dear Sean Brady,
Many thanks for telling me the good news about the family, and allowing me to have been a small part of the experience.
My late uncle Charles Brady, a respected Canisius College academic, was a huge Heaney fan. He once accompanied a November 25, 1984 Buffalo News review of Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish with a caricature of the esteemed Irish poet.
On numerous occasions over the years, I tried to meet up with Professor Heaney during his office hours at Harvard so that I could give him a copy of the caricature. But on each occasion when I was in Boston, he was back in Dublin. In 2004, my wife, Eamonn and I heard Mr. Heaney read at Carlisle College in Pittsburgh. I packed up the framed caricature and eagerly arrived early. By now, though, the good professor was a Nobel laureate and his handlers were appropriately protective of him. I passed off the caricature to a handler who did not seem to appreciate my story or my intent.
Last summer Mr. Heaney was presenting at Canisius College. The president, John Hurley, is a family friend. I emailed John to tell him our story and I included a picture of the caricature. The day after Mr. Heaney’s visit, I received this email from John:
We had a great night last night but an even better morning today. Seamus agreed to appear in Fr. Jim Pribek’s Irish Literature class and I was invited. Each of the 10 students was asked to prepare a good question to ask Seamus. One student observed that so much of his poetry was serious and asked whether he had any comedic influences. In the course of his answer, Seamus said that he had written some light-hearted things, principally for birthdays and anniversaries. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity so I pulled out my cellphone, told Seamus the short background of your story and then read the inscription verse, which he loved. My observation that you were Charles Brady’s nephew prompted Joe Hassett then to talk about two great courses taught by Charles. So I pulled out the cellphone again and showed Seamus the caricature which he also loved.
Kathleen Delaney in our Archives is in charge of the Brady caricatures and said that she will get Seamus another copy of the caricature. I suspect that the one you gave him didn’t reach him. He will now associate it with Canisius.
Pat, the kids and I are grateful that we could in a small way return the good cheer Mr. Heaney’s inscription continues to bring us to this day.
Rest in peace, Seamus Heaney.