The childhood home and land which inspired Seamus Heaney is to see a motorway built through it in a project made possible by DUP Brexit money.
It comes after an environmentalist lost his legal bid to re-route the motorway, which will also cut through the largest freshwater wetland in the British Isles, in the Court of Appeal.
A four-lane dual carriageway section of the A6 between Belfast and Derry-Londonderry will now cut across a stretch of the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg basin, carving through the heart of ‘Heaney Country’ and the habitat of a number of rare protected plants and animals.
Construction along the disputed leg of the road between Castledawson and Randalstown has been delayed due to the challenge brought by ornithologist Chris Murphy, while work has begun on the remaining sections.
Estimated to cost upwards of £168.5 million, following its initial £33 million valuation, the overall A6 expansion aims to streamline commutes between Northern Ireland’s first and second cities.
The £1 billion pledged as part of Theresa May’s deal with the DUP has made possible the costly upgrade, as money has continued to flow into the project despite there having not been an Infrastructure Minister in place for the past eight months.
One stretch will come within 20 yards of Nobel Laureate poet Heaney’s family farmland in Mossbawn, while skirting the townland, Anahorish. The landscape informed the poet’s own highly tactile use of language, and was the nucleus of his imaginative universe.
Anahorish and its surrounding countryside feature throughout Heaney’s poetry, appearing in early works and exerting an influence in titles as late as 2010’s Human Chain.
As a result, academics such as Bernard O’Donoghue of Wadham College, Oxford, still regularly send students to the area, maintaining that, since Heaney was a ‘poet of place’, it is indispensable to understanding his work.
Heaney voiced his opposition to the Department’s preferred ‘Red Route Variant’ back in 2007, writing to then-Secretary-of-State Peter Hain to suggest a brownfield alternative through a nearby disused aerodrome, and calling the proposed route a “desecration”.
The broad support of the international literary community and some of its luminaries has galvanised Murphy’s judicial review challenge.
The Court of Appeal upheld his March defeat in the High Court, but Murphy intends to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Officials from the Department for Infrastructure argue the planning proposals have gone through ‘due process’, despite charity Friends of the Earth’s claims the area has not undergone adequate, up-to-date environmental checks.
Campaigners insist there is still a ‘win-win’ solution to be salvaged in dropping the Department’s advanced route and opting for one of the several alternatives.