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Reading the Language of My Homeplace



Our intern Clare, a student from the North West Regional College in Derry, takes a look at Seamus Heaney's 'hearth language' with the help of 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots' by poet and educator Maura Johnston.


When I started my internship at Colmcille Press, I was shown the many wonderful books that have been published so far and one in particular caught my eye. It was Maura Johnston's 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots', a glossary of Seamus Heaney's 'Hearth Language'.


I am a local of Portglenone originally, a stone's throw away from Seamus Heaney's homeplace in the townland of Bellaghy, County Derry. I would say I am an old student of Heaney's work as I studied his poems in school. When I picked up Maura Johnston's glossary, I re-discovered part of my heritage I had lost and, I was re-connected with the beautiful 'hearth language' of my homeland. In her introduction, Maura talks about the phrase 'hearth language' that Heaney uses, and explains how it is "the language we learn and use at first within the family and then... within the local community".

In school I read among other works, Heaney's poem 'Digging' and I vividly remember imagining Heaney with his pen 'snug as a gun' in his hand digging into the paper to write his poems. I remember also reading about the "fresh berries" that went sour and how Heaney filled a bath with "summer's blood" in "Blackberry Picking".


The language Heaney uses is a dialect and experience that is very close to my heart. Johnston's 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots', is a 126 page glossary that captures the rural experience, details and preserves a local dialect which students can use to assist them in reading the famous Irish poets work. For me, an old student of Seamus Heaney's work and a local of his homeland, I felt like a tourist retracing the language and what it means to speak this Derry dialect.

Within the book there are also pictures of Heaney's homeplace within Johnston's book giving the reader a visceral image of what Heaney tries to capture in his work, the simple but complicated life in the Derry townland.


I learned how my heritage and the dialect that Heaney and I both share and is slowly dying, Johnston's book has been able to preserve these words and phrases in a glossary that she hopes "will help readers of Seamus Heaney's poetry and plays...the explanations will enrich their reading and... help preserve his hearth language." (Introduction to 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots').


You can pick up a copy of Maura Johnston's 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots' on our website, Etsy shop or check buy from local Derry booksellers': Foyle Books and Little Acorns