Page last updated at 08:23 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 09:23 UK

Poet 'cried for father' after stroke

Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney has talked about his stroke in 2006

Irish poet Seamus Heaney has spoken about how he cried, like a child, for his father after he suffered a stroke three years ago.

The Nobel prizewinner and his wife, Marie, had been in Donegal celebrating the 75th birthday of Anne Friel, the wife of playwright Brian Friel.

Heaney became ill during the night - he felt ill and discovered that his leg was twisted.

He had to be carried downstairs by friends to a waiting ambulance.

"I cried and I wanted my daddy, funnily enough," he admitted.

But even having a stroke had a certain beauty, he told The Observer newspaper.

The trip on the bumpy back road in the ambulance to Letterkenny Hospital with his wife beside him will stay with him always.

He strode into the ward like a kind of god. My fellow sufferers, four or five men much more stricken than I was, were amazed
Seamus Heaney

"Marie was in the back with me. I just wrote about it three weeks ago. To me, that was one of the actual beauties of the stroke, that renewal of love in the ambulance. One of the strongest, sweetest memories I have.

"We went through Glendorn on a very beautiful, long, bumpy ride."

Heaney, who celebrated his 70th birthday in April, looked back on the "stroke episode" of August 2006 and said that it had prompted him to take a year off. It was, he said, his "rest cure".

As he lay in hospital, who should walk in to visit him but former US President Bill Clinton.

"He strode into the ward like a kind of god. My fellow sufferers, four or five men much more stricken than I was, were amazed.

"But he shook their hands and introduced himself. It was marvellous really. He went round all the wards and gave the whole hospital a terrific boost."

His stroke, he said, marked a powerful punctuation to his very busy life and he realised that he should devote more time to himself.

"I thought, 'My God, you've never stopped, Seamus.' So for a year afterwards, I just cancelled everything. I decided that in hospital," he said.

Heaney, who was born in County Derry, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

In 2006, he was awarded the TS Eliot prize and this year he received the David Cohen prize for literature.



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