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We know Heaney’s legacy. What legacy can we create?

September 3, 2013

Today the Irish Times published the letter quoted below.
I wouldn’t normally blog about a letter I’ve sent to a paper, but this time the subject is important.
It refers back to my previous blog about the Heaney/Longley readings during the Cúirt Festival in April:
What Ireland do we want for ourselves, and for future generations?

    Published under the title Seamus Heaney Remembered

Sir, – On the death of John Millington Synge, Yeats wrote of “the best labourer dead, and all the sheaves to bind”.

In the past days we bade farewell to one of our best labourers. Throughout the country others labour at kitchen tables, in libraries, in workshops and studios. Local historians dig out and preserve stories of the Irish collective, for love of the work alone. Drama students cobble funds together to stage productions, fuelled by creativity and the confidence of youth. As Seamus Heaney is mourned, it is worth considering the status of the humanities in Ireland. What is the value put upon them – not by those who labour within such disciplines – but by the custodians of our culture, heritage, education?

We cannot measure or quantify in man hours and money the true benefit to a nation of human thought and discourse. History and hope will not rhyme for those generations to whom the subject of history is denied in the early years of secondary school. Universities should not fall to CEO-like management, which considers the value of academic endeavour by the per capita research endowments it creates.

We are in danger in this country of witnessing – to paraphrase Yeats – the fools’ triumph. Vigorous, creative, argumentative, independent thought is beyond price. It gives a nation its character. It needs to be cultivated by the agencies of the State, not deprived of nourishment, or the spaces in which it might grow. This is our nation, our heritage, our intellectual future.

When will we ensure that the short-sighted fools do not triumph? – Yours, etc,


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