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For a countryman the living landscape is
a map of kinship at one level,
at another, just below this, a chart of use…
So talk of weather is also talk of life,
and life is man and place and these have names.

John Hewitt, ‘Landscape’ in Collected Poems 1932-1967 (1968)

Northern Irish poet, historian, and humanist John Hewitt was a vital figure in the creative scene of Northern Ireland, described by fellow writer Seamus Heaney as ‘a mentor to the imaginative life of the community’. After his death, this stone cairn was erected near Cushendall, County Antrim in his memory, inscribed with the words ‘My chosen ground’. It is a fitting monument to a man who perpetually strove against sectarianism, but remained rooted in the landscape of his birth, carving out the concept of ‘regionalism’, within which Hewitt nurtured the cultural life and historical character of Ulster.

Writing after Hewitt’s death, Heaney described him as having been ‘temperamentally inclined to question consensus and to row against the stream.’ Hewitt was, in Heaney’s words, ‘something of a scientific humanist, leaving his body to be available for purposes of medical research and refusing the usual rites of a funeral service’. In a part of the world in which a strong humanist presence is often overshadowed by an association with religious division, the cairn stands for Hewitt as well as for the many like him – including a number of the writers and artists in whose circles he moved – whose lives were girded not by religion but by humanism.

Image: John Hewitt’s Cairn by Philip Hay. Licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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