Obituary: Heather Newcombe
The Arts Council has learned with regret of the death of poet Heather Newcombe of Ballycastle on Thursday 30 November 2017.
Heather’s two collections of poetry, Almost Dancing (Summer Palace, 2004) and A Purse of Shadows (Summer Palace, 2010), were published to praise and respect, consolidating a reputation for warm, witty, deeply-felt and well-turned poems. Amid a writing career given over largely to facilitating the creativity of others - she led the Ballycastle Writers Group and was Director of the extraordinary Rathlin Island residential festival, Let Me Take You To The Island - she had been finalising the manuscript for her third collection, There Is More To Life Than Making Soup. She read from her work widely across Ireland in venues such as the John Hewitt Spring School in Carnlough, the Wild Geese Festival in Strangford and the Belmullet Writers Weekend, as well as in group settings.
Heather’s energy in supporting anyone and anything to do with literature was renowned. She brought to Ballycastle and Rathlin people who wouldn’t normally have come there, including musicians and songwriters such as Christy Hennessy, Brian Kennedy, Juliette Turner, Brigid O’Neill and Colm Sands and writers such as Dermot Bolger, Claire Keegan, Macdara Woods, Martin Lynch, Damian Gorman, Lemn Sissay and Ted Deppe.
Poet and publisher Kate Newmann of Summer Palace Press said: “Her creative generosity was memorable. Once, on Rathlin, she and the Ballycastle Writers had a vision of a festival with a difference – they hired a marquee and provided strawberries and cream and fizzy wine. It was an extraordinary cross between Wimbledon and a graduation, and no one who attended will ever forget it.”
Poet, editor and critic Nessa O’Mahony said of Heather’s work in Poetry Ireland Review in 2005 that she was “quick to see the connections between things: the pattern repeating in the bedroom wallpaper reminds her of her father’s heartbeat, in the poem ‘Room with a Bed’.”
Writer Martin Lynch described A Purse of Shadows as “a mature, sure-handed, well-wrought collection of poems. Whether she is remembering the negative impact of religion on her early years, remembering her older family members or any range of random childhood memories, we are never short-changed. The short, sharp journey we are taken on for each separate bunch of words is never less than precise, powerful and beautiful.”
Poet and friend Moyra Donaldson described Heather’s poetry as “vibrant and finely drawn, full of observation and kindness towards the world, reflective and thoughtful.”
Heather is survived by her husband Cathal, her six children, 15 grandchildren, large family circle and will be mourned this weekend by a very wide community of friends.
Her funeral leaves her late home on Saturday 2 December at 11.30 for Requiem Mass at St Brigid’s Church, Ballycastle, at noon.