I was deeply saddened on Friday to hear that Seamus Heaney poet and Nobel Laureate had passed away at the age of 74. County Antrim born movie star Liam Neeson described the overwhelming sadness perfectly when he said ”With Seamus Heaney’s passing, Ireland has lost a part of its soul.”
The list of Heaney’s honours is breathtaking, from the Cholmondeley Award for Death of a Naturalist , culminating in the Nobel Laureateship. Professor of poetry at Oxford University, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric & Oratory at Harvard, Emerson Poet in Residence also at Harvard, Duff Cooper Memorial Award, American – Irish Foundation Award, Member of Aosdana and the Royal Irish Academy; few available honours, national or international, passed him by.
Nothing about Heaney’s early life suggested the heights to which he would eventually rise. Born in April 1939 on a family farm near Castledown in Co Derry, a remote part of Northern Ireland, the eldest of nine children. He never forgot the world he came from returning to it often in his poetry. “I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells/ Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss,”, he recalled in Personal Helicon.
Heaney was a Catholic and nationalist who chose to live in the South for the rest of his life. “Be advised, my passport’s green/No glass of ours was ever raised/To toast the Queen,’ he once wrote.
He was a translator, broadcaster and prose writer of distinction, but his poetry was his most remarkable achievement, for its range, its consistent quality and its impact on readers: Love poems, epic poems, poems about memory and the past, poems about conflict and civil strife, poems about the natural world, poems addressed to friends, poems that found significance in the everyday and delighted in the possibilities of the English language.
I was introduced to Seamus Heaney by my high school teacher Sarah Creasey. Heaney taught me the power of language, that it was both a cause and result of change. What a gift that has been to me. My favourite image of Heaney’s is still the description of his pen being like the spade his father and grandfather dug with on the farm.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
It proved to be his manifesto. He spent a lifetime digging with his pen. This image had such an effect on me at school that I still often refer to my pen as my tool.
I decided that the best way to pay homage to Heaney was by combining my two passions writing and cooking and thus dedicating a recipe to him. Heaney enjoyed chatting with friends in the pub over a pint of beer or glass of whiskey so I decided a Ceilidh Scotch Egg would be the perfect accompaniment.
The scotch egg may have originated across the sea in England or Scotland, but Irish people have embraced these picnic eggs since their inception. Home made scotch eggs are a world away from shop bought versions. They really are worth the effort for a special picnic treat to be enjoyed with a nice cool beer.
The most important part of a scotch egg is of course the meat, which is why it is important to buy good quality sausage meat. I also like to add fresh chilli and garlic to my sausage meat to give it that extra special kick.
So make a Ceilidh Scotch Egg, kick back with a cold beer or glass of whiskey, open one of Seamus Heaney’s anthologies and remind yourself why this man was the best-known and most loved poet in the world.
4 large free-range eggs
275g/10oz sausage meat
spring onion finely chopped
salt and black pepper to season
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 chilli finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
125g/4oz plain flour.
1 free range egg beaten
vegetable oil, for deep frying
1) Place the eggs, still in their shells, in a pan of cold salted water.
2) Place over a high heat and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for exactly nine minutes.
3) Drain and cool the eggs under cold running water, then peel.
4) Mix the sausage meat with chilli, garlic, thyme, parsley and spring onion in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
5) Divide the sausage meat into four and flatten each out on a clean surface into ovals about 12.5cm/5inch long and 7.5cm/3inch at its widest point.
6) Place the seasoned flour onto a plate, then dredge each boiled egg in flour.
7) Place each onto a sausage meat oval, then wrap the sausage meat around each egg. Make sure the coating is smooth and completely covers the egg.
8) Dip each sausage meat-coated egg in the beaten egg, rolling to coat completely, then dip and roll into the breadcrumbs to completely cover.
9) Heat the oil in a deep heavy-bottomed pan, until a breadcrumb sizzles and turns brown when dropped into it.
10) Carefully place each scotch egg into the hot oil and deep-fry for 8-10 minutes, until golden and crisp and the sausage meat is completely cooked.
11) Carefully remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
12) Serve cool. Delicious!