Q&A with Brian McCormick

New arts and literary centre set to open in Northern Ireland
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Eleanor Mills
The Seamus Heaney HomePlace, a new arts and literary centre dedicated to the Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) opens on Friday next week.

Located in the Northern Ireland village of Bellaghy, where Seamus Heaney was raised and drew much of the inspiration for his poetry from, the centre hopes to transform the local culture scene.

Museums Journal caught up with Brian McCormick, the manager of HomePlace and the nephew of the late Seamus Heaney, about the new arts centre.

Can you tell us a little bit about Seamus Heaney?

Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

He is widely considered to be one of the great poets of all time. Seamus Heaney’s impressive body of published work spans over 50 years, from his first major work, Death of a Naturalist in 1966 to Aeneid Book VI published posthumously in 2016.

You’ve dedicated an arts centre to him – what are the highlights?

There are many. Visitors can immerse themselves in the interactive exhibition which takes them on a journey through Seamus Heaney’s life and literature, full of personal stories, objects and artefacts, photographs, the voices of local people as well as world- and cultural figures – and of course the voice of the poet himself, reading his own work, which is very powerful.

We also have a performance space named The Helicon, with a year-round programme of events, from talks and readings to drama and music, and a library filled with books from Seamus Heaney’s study in his Dublin home – and we have a representation of that same attic space in HomePlace too.

How and where did the funding come from to found the centre?

HomePlace is a £4.25 million project, funded by Mid Ulster District Council and with a contribution from the former Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) of £980,000. We have been fortunate to have financial support from other organisations as we developed HomePlace, including £26,000 from the Arts Council of NI (ACNI) towards the pilot education programme, and Tourism NI contributed £30,000 for business engagement work.

The Council has also received an offer of substantial support via the ACNI’s Challenge Fund. Funding of £70,000 will support programming at HomePlace (£50k) and the post of the arts and cultural development coordinator (£20k).

The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £688,700 in January 2016 for literary trail development and education activity. This followed a £30,000 award to develop outline proposals.

Will you be doing work with the local community?

Local people are very proud of Seamus Heaney. Many of them knew him, remember him and his family still live in the area. He and the family remain part of the community and HomePlace reflects those connections in its ethos and in the exhibition of his life and literature.

We are pleased with the support that the project has received and ensuring that local people are kept up-to-date and involved has been important.

We are pleased, for example, that we have local people on our Project Advisory Board and that we now have an 18-strong group community forum to help ensure that HomePlace is as much a centre for local people, as it is for visitors from further afield. And, of course, we also have a particular emphasis on weaving community-based activity into our events programme.

Will you be working with other organisations on exhibitions and events?

We are already working with other organisations with strong connections to Seamus Heaney, for example, the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast – we staged an event together as part of our opening weekend programme.

We also have links with the National Library of Ireland, which will be opening an exhibition in Dublin late next year offering access to Seamus Heaney’s literary archive.

HomePlace offers those same visitors an opportunity to witness a unique Seamus Heaney experience in his ‘home’ location. The two are very much complementary and we plan to work together to encourage visitors to both locations.

How will HomePlace change the cultural landscape of Bellaghy?

We see HomePlace as a place for inspiration and a catalyst for creativity in Bellaghy, the wider Mid Ulster region and beyond.

We believe the project has the potential to raise the creative profile of the area and that through our artistic programmes, through our creative outreach and partnership working with our communities, we will demonstrate just how strong a contribution the arts can make to the growth and strength of a region, socially and economically.

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