Northern Ireland

Seamus Heaney: Family donates poet's items to new £4m centre dedicated to his life

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPersonal items from Seamus Heaney's Dublin study will feature in the centre, as Robbie Meredith reports

A new visitors' centre dedicated to the life and work of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney aims to attract 35,000 visitors a year.

The £4m Seamus Heaney HomePlace centre, built on the site of a former police station in Bellaghy in County Londonderry, is due to open in September.

The poet, who died in August 2013, grew up and is buried in the village.

His family have donated a number of his books and belongings to the centre.

They attended an event on Monday to mark the final stage of construction as the fit-out of the internal spaces begins.

Seamus Heaney's son Michael said they had been consulted right from the beginning of the project.

Image caption The Seamus Heaney HomePlace centre aims to attract 35,000 visitors a year

"Every step of the process we've seen," he said.

"We saw the plans - both the architectural plans and the plans for the exhibition space.

"It has been very sensitively done in trying to get a sense of his life."

The centre will include a theatre, cafe, community space and exhibitions about the literary giant's life and work.

It will also have a recreation of Seamus Heaney's attic study in his Dublin home.

His son Chris said they wanted to give an idea of the range of reading his father did.

Image caption Seamus's son Michael said the centre would capture a sense of the Nobel laureate's life

"There's obviously some poetry books," he said, "but there's also fiction, art books, biography."

"We also want to give people a feel of what his study was like, so we've donated things that were on his desk, some posters, just some artefacts to give a bigger picture of the writing life."

HomePlace is being run by Mid-Ulster District Council, and the centre's manager Brian McCormick is Seamus Heaney's nephew.

"We've set ourselves a target of 35,000 visitors per year," he said.

"While it's a rural area we're obviously positioned almost halfway between Belfast and Derry.

"Actually, in recent discussions with Father Dolan, who is the parish priest, he has indicated that people already travel to visit Seamus Heaney's grave and sign the visitors book there.

Image caption Chris Heaney said his father would have been proud of the centre in his home village

"The range of people and the geographical spread they are travelling from is already there.

"Whenever we have our building up and running that will encourage people to come on a regular basis to Bellaghy."

But how would Seamus Heaney have felt about being a tourist attraction?

Chris Heaney said he would have been proud.

"It's an amazing thing, but there's a word he liked which was 'scaresome'.

"And I think he would have found some of this scaresome, in the best possible way!"

More on this story