Seamus Heaney HomePlace celebrates over 40,000 visitors in first year September 25, 2017 Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy has welcomed more than 40,000 visitors in its first year. The 2,000sqm arts and literary centre, owned and operated by Mid Ulster District Council, celebrates its first anniversary this weekend (29 September – 1 October). The centre opened in Bellaghy last September, aiming to draw 35,000 people to experience the journey through the Nobel Laureate’s life and literature in an exhibition space which is filled with personal stories, photographs and artefacts. Visitors from almost 20 countries – including the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, China and Japan – have all made their mark on the map in the centre which allows visitors to pinpoint their own ‘home place’. Prominent cultural, literary and political figures have been frequent visitors over the course of the centre’s first year, including actors of the calibre of Adrian Dunbar, Stephen Rea and Fiona Shaw and renowned poets and authors from Michael Longley and Sinead Morrissey to Paul Muldoon, Michael Morpurgo, Louis de Bernieres and Medbh McGuckian. Sell-out concerts have included performances from Phil Coulter, Glen Hansard, Liam Ȯ’Maonlaí, Bronagh Gallagher and – still to come – a show from Mercury Prize-nominated singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan. HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall visited in May and other noted but unannounced customers have included everyone from Dame Mary Peters, Ash’s Tim Wheeler and Ralph McTell, to those with personal connections to Seamus Heaney and his poetry, such as Boston firefighter Bobby Breen who features in the poem ‘Helmet’. Reflecting on the success of the first year, Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Kim Ashton, said: “The local, national and international response to Seamus Heaney HomePlace over the past year has been quite remarkable. Whether people come to the centre knowing Seamus Heaney’s work or being unfamiliar with it, the HomePlace experience moves and inspires them and we have hundreds and hundreds of comment cards from visitors of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities who tell us so. “I believe that HomePlace quite simply tells us a story, but a very personal one, of an ordinary boy from an ordinary rural place who, while he grew up to become one of our greatest writers, never lost the connections with and passion for his roots. That is what speaks to people when they visit HomePlace. “The support of the local community for HomePlace has also been very evident and that of partner organisations, particularly the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Tourism NI, has been invaluable throughout the year”. Across the anniversary weekend of Saturday 30 September and Sunday 1 October, visitors to the exhibition are being invited to create a personalised leaf to hang on the 12 branches of a tree, signifying the end of a year which each month celebrated one of Seamus Heaney’s 12 volumes of work. Paper, an essential tool for a poet and the material traditionally associated with a first anniversary, will be in abundance at HomePlace during the anniversary celebrations, with a raft of paper-based arts activities on offer for children, who will all have free entry to the exhibition over the weekend, when accompanied by a paying adult. In keeping with the autumnal feel, a new and original manuscript, showing how Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘The Harvest Bow’ developed, will be unveiled for the first time in the recreation of the poet’s attic study. There will also be an opportunity for visitors to make their own harvest bow, in tribute to the work. Four new ‘story boards’ will also be exhibited, detailing in words and images the highlights of HomePlace’s first year, from 29 September 2016 when family, friends, leading cultural figures and politicians gathered for the official opening, through the dozens of celebrated writers, actors and musicians who have performed there, ending on 1 October 2017 and the anniversary talk to be delivered by Seamus Heaney’s long-time friend, Peter Fallon. Children have free entry to the exhibition on Saturday 30 September and Sunday 1 October when accompanied by at least one adult and all the creative arts activities are free. To find out more, visit www.seamusheaneyhome.com or call 028 7938 7444.