‘A small project of national significance’: Seamus Heaney benches added to Devil’s Glen walking trail

Poet’s family bought Co Wicklow gate lodge in late 1980s and it became his ‘beloved place for writing’

The crafts of furniture making and poetry-writing were celebrated on Monday on a walk to view new benches on the Seamus Heaney trail in Devil’s Glen forest, Co Wicklow.

Eight of the 12 Douglas fir benches, which were made by students at the Technological University of Dublin (TU Dublin), are now in situ with the last four to be put in place in the next fortnight.

“The benches which replaced older, decayed ones are here to honour the memory of Seamus Heaney who said Glanmore saved his creative life,” said Donal Magner, environmental lead for Rotary Ireland, which led the project with TU Dublin and Coillte.

The Heaney family rented the gate lodge on the Glanmore Estate, now known as Devil’s Glen, in the early 1970s before moving to live in Sandymount, Dublin, four years later.


Heaney’s collection, Fieldworks (1976) features the ordnance survey map of Glanmore on its cover as well as a series of poems called the Glanmore sonnets. The family bought the Glanmore gate lodge in the late 1980s and the cottage became Heaney’s “beloved place for writing” over subsequent years until his death in 2013.

The benches, which are inscribed with lines of poetry selected by Heaney from his own collections and other poets, was the first public project that students in the timber technology programmes in TU Dublin’s school of architecture, building and environment were involved in.

The Seamus Heaney benches project won the sustainability [net-zero] award in Wood Awards Ireland 2022, which recognised the low carbon emissions from sourcing, sawing and transporting timber from a Co Wicklow forest to a local sawmill to TU Dublin and back to Devil’s Glen compared favourably to commercially available imported park benches.

Funds from Rotary Club Ireland were matched by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine for purchase of timber for the benches.

Joseph Little, head of building performance and construction at the TU Dublin school of architecture, said the level of engagement, enjoyment and energy of the students on the project had been one of the highlights of his eight years working in the university.

“It was a small project of national significance coming out of lockdowns in which the students showed a fantastic camaraderie,” he said.

Devil’s Glen was one of the woodlands that people flocked to during the pandemic and the level of interest in this mixed woodland has since prompted Coillte to upgrade the access road and paths and make longer-term plans.

Karen Woods of Coillte Nature said that the semi-State company planned to manage it using a continuous-cover forestry approach.

“It has some ancient woodland with high ecological value which we want to extend. We plan to thin it out to open up gaps which will allow in more light for native species to grow and re-seed,” she explained.

The Seamus Heaney Trail in Devil’s Glen forest is a 4km looped walk on the eastern section of Devil’s Glen, accessible from the car park at the entrance to the forest, near Ashford.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment