The Christmas reading included Stepping Stones, a big book of interviews with the late Seamus Heaney by fellow poet, Dennis O’Driscoll. It’s an inside job for readers of Heaney’s oeuvre, “on whose behalf I hope to have asked the kinds of questions which they themselves might have wished to pose.” Heaney’s worldview was formed in places named Anahorish, Mossbawn, Lough Beg and Toome and these, to quote him about one of his formative influences, Patrick Kavanagh, are used “as posts to fence out a personal landscape.”
“When did you meet Kavanagh himself?” asks O’Driscoll in the section titled “On the Books.” It was not until the summer of 1967, says Heaney and the place was the Baily pub on Dublin’s Duke Street. Richard Ryan made the introduction.
“At first I avoided the contact as unobtrusively as possible,” says Heaney, “kept my face to the counter when he stopped to speak to Richard, and waited for him to move on — he was coming back past our part of the counter on his way from the Gents. But the pause continued and what had begun as a reticence started to look like an ignorance; so I turned round and said, ‘Mr Kavanagh, can I buy you a drink?’
‘No’, he replies, with the ‘o’ in the ‘No’ well lengthened out. So then Richard says something like, ‘Paddy, this man’s come down here from Belfast, and he’s just published a book of poems. His name’s Seamus Heaney.’ And Kavanagh says to me, ‘Are you Heaney?’ rhyming me with Rainey, as people did in the country at home. ‘Well, I’ll have a Scotch.’ So I took that as a pass.”Tweet