Thursday, November 25, 2010

‘Threshold’ Contributors: Seamus Heaney

The Lyric’s literary periodical Threshold sought to encourage submissions from local writers, and there is no more celebrated a Northern Irish writer than Seamus Heaney. Heaney contributed several poems to Threshold, and indeed went on to become editor of the magazine for a short term in the late 1960s.

After reading English Language and Literature at Queen’s University, Belfast, Heaney trained as a teacher at St Joseph’s Teacher Training College and went on to work at St Thomas’ Secondary School in west Belfast. Having begun writing poetry while an undergraduate, Heaney now found a mentor in the headmaster of the school, the Monaghan writer Michael McLaverty. McLaverty proved to be a strong influence on Heaney, encouraging his writing and even becoming a foster father of sorts. With his support, Heaney began publishing his poetry in 1962 and continued to do so over the following decades with huge success.

Copy of Peter Street at Bankside, Lyric Archives, NUI Galway
His involvement with Threshold came about as Mary O'Malley sought to cultivate working relationships with Northern Irish writers, to encourage submissions both for the periodical and for the Lyric Theatre. As her time was increasingly demanded from the Lyric Players, guest editors were brought in  to oversee Threshold. These included people such as Roger McHugh, Brian Friel, and as mentioned earlier, Heaney himself. Heaney was also present at the foundation stone laying ceremony in 1965 when the company built their own theatre at Ridgeway Street, and recited a poem written especially for the occasion, Peter Street at Bankside.

Forty four years later, Heaney was again present at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the new Lyric Theatre home at the same site. A stanza from Peter Street at Bankside is engraved, fittingly, in the threshold stone which will mark the entrance of the new theatre, which is due to open next year.

Lyric Archives, NUI Galway
Heaney maintained his connection with the team behind Threshold, writing to thank Mary and Pearse O’Malley for their congratulations after his ‘Swedish bounty’ in 1995. His continued involvement with the Lyric Theatre is testament to Mary O'Malley's early recognition of his work, and to the inextricably intertwined relationship between author and audience.

Sarah Poutch

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