Death of a conversationalist

My one and only encounter with a Nobel Prize winner involved a glass of red wine, a newspaper and ten minutes of complete silence.

Non distube. Seamus Heaney. Pic: Simon Garbutt

Non distube. Seamus Heaney.
Pic: Simon Garbutt

What’s more, I doubt my presence even registered with Seamus Heaney.

This brief brush with literary greatness occurred when the poet walked into the Swan Bar on Aungier Street on a summer evening three years ago.

We tell visitors that Dublin is the sort of city where you casually come across giants of world literature sitting in old pubs.

Of course this hasn’t been the case since Brendan Behan keeled over in the Harbour Lights bar half a century ago.

That’s what made this night unique – there I was sitting minding my own business beside Seamus Heaney, sitting minding his own business.

Not a word was exchanged. Perhaps Heaney was deep in thought grappling with issues of metre or rhyme. Or opting for cheese and onion over salt and vinegar.

A cascade of tributes to the poet in the past week mentioned his humility, his approachability and open nature.

I encountered none of this. But I didn’t encounter the opposite.

I didn’t strike up a conversation about the weather or dig out a pen for a hasty autograph.

The Swan Bar, Aungier Street, Dublin. Pic: Google Maps

The Swan Bar, Aungier Street, Dublin.
Pic: Google Maps

He didn’t remark on the front page story or ask about the merlot dwindling in my glass.

I wasn’t really that interested in chitchat and neither was the Nobel Prize winner.

And so Heaney sat quietly, arms folded, heels on the floor, awaiting the arrival of friends, while I perched, shuffling newspaper pages and clockwatching, until the time came to meet a pal.

The nine o’clock news broke the silence, probably.

And that was it. My face-to-face encounter with a giant of modern literature.

And the least enlightening Seamus Heaney anecdote you’ll read this week.

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