Don't often ask for retweets but hoping Irish Twitter will do its thing. Years ago I found this letter from Seamus Heaney inside a 2nd hand book I bought in Belfast. I wonder if the owner would like it back? pic.twitter.com/Qax46RfVfp— StewartL64 ?? (@StewartL64) July 3, 2018
A resident of Belfast, Ireland, achieved something that would have been considered next to impossible a few years ago. He delivered a letter, written 45 years ago, to its rightful owner, armed with extremely limited knowledge, all thanks to Twitter.
Stewart Law was browsing through a charity shop eight years ago when he chanced upon a book that was on bargain. When he got home later that day and opened up his purchase, a letter fell out from its pages. The letter was addressed to someone named “Sophie” but what was more remarkable was that it was signed by Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney.
The letter, addressed to a “Dear Sophie,” was dated Sept. 3, 1973 and revealed a sweet and warm friendship between a scholar and a tutor. It mentioned a job application, urged Sophie to “give us a call” if she was in the vicinity and mentioned “Ango-Irish literature is thick on the ground here – the cottage was once a forester’s lodge on the Synge estate, but I think J.M. was a poor relation.”
Unfortunately, eight years ago, Law did not think it was possible to find the owner, with just a name on the letter. The Belfast man lost the letter after he moved a few houses but was recently sorting through some of his books when the letter once more appeared in front of him. Law got the idea that he may be able to trace the owner if he posted the letter on social media but was hesitant because it was a private missive. However, since it contained “no serious personal information,” he decided to test his luck with Twitter.
“I wonder if the owner would like it back?” he asked.
And lucky he did, because thanks to the power of Twitter, the owner identified herself in less than 30 minutes.
Yes, it was to me! I am the Sophia Hillan who was at Irish Studies and would love to have it back. I am pleased and touched that the finder thought to contact me. Seamus was a kind and loyal friend until his untimely death.— Sophia (@HillanSophia) July 3, 2018
Turned out, the letter was sent to Dr. Sophia Hillan, who is quite a famous writer in Ireland and has written numerous books. She is also a lecturer and former Assistant Director of QUB Irish Studies, according to her Twitter bio. Hillan told BBC she kept in touch with Heaney and contacted him when she was finishing her postgraduate studies.
Informed of the Twitter search by her son’s friend, Hillan was pleasantly surprised and moved that someone would go to the trouble of delivering her a long-lost letter from a friend.
“I read the letter and suddenly I was back in 1973 as I hadn't seen it since then,” she said. “I don't know how I missed it. It would've been usual for me to keep those things. It could've been in a book.”
As luck would have it, Law bought the book on Belfast's Lisburn Road, not far from where Heaney and his wife lived in the 1960s.
The letter resurfaced just around the time an exhibition to honor Heaney is about to be held by Irish President Michael D. Higgins. The exhibition explores the life and works of the Nobel laureate, who passed away five years ago.
There couldn’t have been a better time for the letter to be found.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: David Levenson/Getty Images