Belderg, a North Mayo poem by the late Séamus Heaney

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Belderg by Séamus Heaney

Belderg (aka Belderrig) is a tiny village on the bogs of the north Mayo coast, some 42 km NW of Ballina and 34 km NE of Béal an Mhuirthead.

From the Irish Béal Dearg, the red mouth, Belderg is known for the wonderful archaeological work done in uncovering prehistoric field systems, most famously at Céide Fields. I regularly go walking here, loving the landscape between brown and purple bog, dark north-facing cliffs and ocean blue below.

Belderg, North Mayo

Belderg, North Mayo

Today, I’ve just heard of the passing of the great Irish poet, Séamus Heaney. I thought I’d share with you his beautiful poem to North Mayo and its bogs – Belderg.

Belderg

‘They just keep turning up
And were thought of as foreign’-
One-eyed and benign,
They lie about his house,
Quernstones out of a bog.
To lift the lid of the peat
And find this pupil dreaming
Of neolithic wheat!
When he stripped off blanket bog
The soft-piled centuries
Fell open like a glib;
There were the first plough-marks,
The stone-age fields, the tomb
Corbelled, turfed and chambered,
Floored with dry turf-coomb.
A landscape fossilized,
Its stone wall patternings
Repeated before our eyes
In the stone walls of Mayo.
Before I turned to go
He talked about persistence,
A congruence of lives,
How stubbed and cleared of stones,
His home accrued growth rings
Of iron, flint and bronze.
So I talked of Mossbawn,
A bogland name ‘but Moss’?,
He crossed my old home’s music
With older strains of Norse.
I’d told how its foundation
Was mutable as sound
And how I could derive
A forked root from that ground,
Make bawn an English fort,
A planter’s walled-in mound.
Or else find sanctuary
And think of it as Irish,
Persistent if outworn.
‘But the Norse ring on your tree?’
I passed through the eye of the quern,
Grist to an ancient mill,
And in my mind’s eye saw,
A world-tree of balanced stones,
Querns piles like vertebrae,
The marrow crushed to grounds.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Read about the late Séamus Heaney here.

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