The principal purpose of the visit was to explore the theme of borders – not only the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but also the sectarian fault-lines which gave rise to the Troubles. It became apparent to me on this trip that those fault-lines, despite the Good Friday agreement, have never completed healed.
With this object in mind, I travelled along the Inisclin Road which follows the Termon River north of Pettigo, weaving several times over bridges which cross the border between Ulster and the Republic. I stopped to photograph a particularly lonely bridge which I later discovered had been the scene of a brutal murder early in the Troubles, as described in the Irish Times report below.
History of Termon Bridge during the Troubles:
In June 1969, a 59-year-old local farmer and father-of-ten, Loughlin McHugh, was found with serious head injuries in the middle of the Termon bridge. He was removed to hospital, but later died.
However, before investigations into his murder could begin, as the Border between Tyrone and Fermanagh cuts down the middle of the bridge, policing authorities had to call in a county engineer to decide if he had been found in Northern Ireland or the Republic.
The Fermanagh Herald reported that “After an examination of some bloodstains, (the engineer) was able to establish that it was Northern Ireland, but only by a couple of feet”.
Closer to the Heaney heartland in south County Londonderry, I returned to St Mary’s Church in Bellaghy, the site of the poet’s grave. In the newer part of the cemetery, I came across the graves of several “volunteers” from the time of the Troubles, including those of hunger strikers as well as that of Dominic McGlinchey, former head of the Irish National Liberation Army, assassinated in 1994.
The population of south Londonderry is chiefly catholic, but I did venture into one of the few Protestant estates in Magherafelt. The images below speak for themselves:
On a happier note, a chance encounter led me to “The Wood” farm outside Bellaghy to where the Heaney family (including the then 15 year-old Seamus) moved in 1954 after the tragic death of his four year-old brother, Christopher. There, I was able to speak at length with the poet’s brother, Hugh (now 76 years of age), who allowed me to photograph the house and adjoining farmyard.
Another purpose of my visit was to make enquiries at the Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy http://www.seamusheaneyhome.com/ as to the possibility of my proposed book being displayed, or even of mounting a small exhibition of my images. I was able to speak to staff members there who showed interest, but any final decision must rest with the director of the Homeplace. Unfortunately , he was travelling at the time of my visit, but I am hopeful of hearing from him.