My mate Seamus

Dot writes: my busy month of conferences is finally over. It finished suitably on the most intense conference of the lot, the ISAS (International Society of Anglo-Saxonists) conference, which took place here in Dublin with me as one of the organisers. It had been a very long time in preparation – it’s a biennial conference, and we bid to host the 2013 event back in 2009 – and I can hardly believe it has finally happened; I’ll probably still be absent-mindedly planning it in spare moments well into next year, just out of sheer force of habit. It was stressful because it was (a) very complicated, with a large number of receptions, trips and other attached events besides the academic programme; (b) partly happening in my own institution, with me as the lead organiser for those days; (c) exhausting: the number of abstracts submitted was huge and we had produced a punishingly full programme in order to fit in as many as possible; and (d) high-profile, being attended by lots of scarily influential and senior people in my field. In fact it was an extremely well-attended event, probably the biggest ISAS conference yet. And it was glitzy, or as glitzy as Anglo-Saxon Studies ever gets. We opened with a reception in the National Museum, and our President, Mary Clayton, had persuaded one Seamus Heaney to give a reading.

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Just in case you missed it, that’s me. With a Nobel Laureate. Oh, and Mary Clayton. (Who, of course, was the person actually in charge.)

Other fun things included a reception at the British Ambassador’s residence, Glencairn. It’s rather oddly positioned in Sandyford with the elaborate gate of the drive separated from the road by the LUAS line; I drove there and had a slightly scary moment when I was waiting for the security guard to open the gate and realised a tram was coming round the bend and the back of the car was on the track. We escaped just in time and were revived with canapes. Here are some colleagues getting used to the elegant life of the diplomat.

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On the Wednesday there was a trip to Glendalough and Powerscourt, but I skipped this in favour of catching up with admin and buying myself a nice dress for Thursday (though I then had to attend a board meeting and didn’t get home till 9pm, so it wasn’t such a lazy day as all that). Thursday and Friday were the days in my own college, culminating in a wine reception I had booked (and which therefore caused me much pointless worry – would the caterers turn up? would the venue be unlocked? would any elderly scholars suffer embarrassment owing to the lack of facilities in the beautiful but old building we were using? etc etc) and then the conference dinner. We presented Mary with a huge bouquet and a brooch showing the Salmon of Wisdom. And she gave the rest of us on the conference committee copies of Seamus Heaney’s version of the Testament of Cresseid, personally inscribed to us by the great man himself.

Anglo-Saxonists are often (not always) a bit sniffy about Heaney’s Beowulf. But frankly, he seems like a lovely man to me.

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5 thoughts on “My mate Seamus

  1. Seamus Heaney once wrote me a letter, answering questions I asked him while I was writing my MA thesis on his translations/adaptations. I never expected a response and was mightily chuffed (and a tad star struck) he’d taken the time – a very generous man too. Still haven’t read his version of Beowulf, and I have very little memory of the actual Beowulf so wouldn’t know about any sniffiness (We did watch the film the other day though and I was rather bewildered).

  2. kenanddot

    That was nice of him. He was genial and friendly at the reading. I think everyone is a bit bewildered by the Beowulf film (I haven’t seen it, I admit, but I gather it bears a rather loose relationship to the poem).

    By the way, the next ISAS conference (2015) is in Glasgow.

  3. Oh you lucky woman. I used to think that if there was a God he’d be something like Seamus Heaney.
    Heaney’s poetry is sublime. I’m not an anglo-saxonist (I read Beowulf for the first and last time back in 1985 as a Glasgow Uni 1st yr undergraduate) but his Beowulf read and sounded wonderful to me…
    I recognise those anxieties you describe – I hate being the ‘organiser’ – I much prefer when I can delegate that responsibility!

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