Ulster Scots poet in ‘duet’ with Seamus Heaney

When Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney died on August 30, last year, the dreams of writer and poet Wilson Burgess to work with him on an Ulster-Scots project vanished... or so he thought...

An exponent of the Ulster-Scots tongue, Wilson had long harboured a yearning to record and work on a recording with Seamus Heaney, incorporating the Laureate’s only known Ulster-Scot’s tribute to Scottish poet, Robbie Burns, the poem ‘A Birl for Burns’. The poem was published in ‘Addressing the Bard: twelve contemporary poets respond to Robert Burns’, which was edited by Douglas Gifford (Scottish Poetry Library) and published in 2009.

Seamus Heaney.

Seamus Heaney.

If he had had the opportunity, Wilson said, he would have recorded the poem with Heaney with a view to airing it on ‘A Kist O Wurds’ on BBC Radio Ulster.

A Kist o Wurds began in 2002 and is BBC Northern Ireland’s longest-running Ulster-Scots radio programme covering topics on and about the Ulster Scots language, culture, literary traditions and history of Ulster-Scots.

“Seamus Heaney was coming to the Linen Hall Library in Belfast last year, and because of the poem and the connection and tribute to Robbie Burns we wanted to talk to him about it. The idea was that I would interview him and we would read the verses of the poem alternatively, rather like a duet,” said Wilson.

“His death meant this did not happen, but the producer of ‘A Kist O Wurds’, Chris Spurr, said they wanted to go ahead with it,” he said, continuing: “He said they would record me reading the entire poem and they would take a recording of Seamus Heaney reading it and they would put it out on the radio.”

Understandably delighted with the suggestion that is what Wilson did, and as fans of the radio programme know, the ‘duet’ to Burns was played in celebration of the Ulster Scots poet earlier this year.

A video of Wilson talking about the ‘collaboration’ and the poetic ‘duet’ are attached to this article, while the first verse of the poem is reproduced below. To read the full version click here.

A Birl for Burns

From the start, Burns’ birl and rhythm,

That tongue the Ulster Scots brought wi’ them

And stick to still in County Antrim

Was in my ear.

From east of Bann it westered in

On the Derry air.

(By Seamus Heaney, Poet Laureate)