My first novel, “The Stunt”was published by O’Brien Press, in 1995. It got plenty of push, so a lot of people were aware of it, without buying it, may I say. My wife, calls me Seamus, rather than Shay, as does her sister Betty and consequently, her sister’s next door neighbour. On the morning the news reported that Seamus Heaney had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, my sister-in-law, Betty, stepped out her door at the exact same time as her next door neighbour.
“That’s great news about Shay”
“What’s that?” asked Betty.
“Winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.”
It was a nice thought, but wishful thinking at its most extreme. The passing of the real winner, Seamus Heaney last week, affected many very different people and I think his popular appeal is down to his boyhood in Bellaghy, which coloured his poetry by stirring the deep-rooted, primeval connection that the Irish people have with land.
My father Seamus Healy, came from Glencalry, a remote hillside cluster of houses, a bit like the Bellaghy of North Mayo. He was always running, so he was nicknamed Scaoilean, after one of Cuchulainn’s two hounds. His running paid off and in the mid-30s, he became Connacht 440Yds Champion, for which he won a bale of cloth, along with a medal.
He wasn’t destined to be an athlete for life . He was much more an aesthete and very much part of the Gaelic revival. He became noted for his reading of poetry and whenever the first president of Ireland, Douglas De Hide, wanted his Gaelic poems read on radio, my father would get the nod.
He went on to make the first ever album of poetry in Ireland The discs were distributed by Beltona Records, who had a premises in Johnston’s Court, off Grafton Street. The discs were made from brittle black, shellac and over the years, the few copies we had, shattered along the way.
My father became a semi-professional actor and spent six years in The Abbey Theatre in the thirties. In the Forties, he was a member of Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammoir’s Gate Theatre company. In the Fifties he was in the original Gaelic version of Brendan Behan’s play An Giall,, which became more famous as The Hostage, when Joan Littlewood brought it to Broadway.
As the encomiums flowed for Seamus Heaney, I thought about my father. Even though, as a boy, my father drove cattle to market along the backroads of North Mayo, all the time he thirsted for the city and as soon as he was old enough, he headed for Dublin. I got a lot from my father. He could quote in Greek,Latin and “as gaeilge,” as much as the poet and listening to him recite famous monologues like “Dawn on the Hills of Ireland” and the Robert Service favourite “Green Eye of The Little Yellow God” his little bit of magic shone through.
When I was born, I was christened Seamus Og, (young Seamus). I didn’t mind it being stretched to, Ogi, until I became a teenager, when a lot of my peers thought it was really stupid name and so did I.
My first day at work in the Irish Press, I walked timorously into a big office, full of people hunched over their desks. A man rose, came towards me and and stuck out his hand.
“Welcome, sez he.“What’s your name?”
“Seamus Og Healy,” sez I.
“Okay Shay”, sez he, “you’re sitting over there.”
I meekly crossed the room and sat on the chair he had pointed out and from that day on, I was irrevocably known as SHAY.(stet)
A certain amount of confusion came into play again last week-end, with the sad death of the poet laureate. Two friends, who work in the restaurant business, thought I had croaked.
“Will we be closed tonight?” sez he.
“Why?” sez she.
“Because Shay Healy died.”
It was a flattering thought, that somebody would close their restaurant because I had died, but there’s a limit you know.
They didn’t close any restaurants for Seamus Heaney, but the celebrations of his gift were many and the coverage he got was consoling, because it revealed that the ordinary populace has held on to its poetic heart, our love of language is still alive and we still trust the poet as a reporter.
This is the second time this year I have been assumed to be dead. I was being a smart aleck on the Marion Finucane Show, when she celebrated my seventieth birthday on the radio in March.
“70 is the new dead,” I joked.
The following morning an old friend, journalist Kieran Fagan, was listening to John Bowman at about 8.30 a.m. John was paying me a nice compliment on the radio, but when Kieran’s wife walked in and heard John say my name in his somewhat sombre style, she immediately reacted.
“Is Shay Healy dead?”
“No. Seventy!”Shay Healy’s latest eBook ‘The Danny Boy Triangle’ is Out Now on Kindle 2.99 Free Kindle Reader – download app