One of the most interesting posthumous Seamus Heaney publications to appear since the great Irish poet’s death has just debuted in the shape of Seamus Heaney: Five Fables, an iPad app “based on Seamus Heaney’s translations of Scottish poet Robert Henryson’s fables, recently adapted and animated for the BBC,” according to the app’s introduction from Northern Ireland Screen. “A partnership between Touch Press, Faber and Flickerpix, funded by Northern Ireland Screen’s Ulster–Scots Broadcast Fund, the app presents an immersive, interactive experience.” The app even has its own website, here.
Robert Henryson was a late 15th-century Scottish poet, part of the extraordinary Renaissance flowering of Scottish letters that preceded the Elizabethan revolution in England. Closer in style and subject matter to Geoffrey Chaucer than to the later Elizabethan writers, Henryson is sadly inaccessible to most modern readers, and Heaney’s work goes a little way towards redressing that.
Based on Henryson’s The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian, the Five Fables app takes five of the thirteen versified fables in Henryson’s original “and renders them in fresh, modern language, shedding new light on the ancient stories.” These versions are described as “translations” in the app’s materials, although the originals are still just about comprehensible to modern readers with the help of extensive annotations and cribbing. Readers “can explore both the original Scots and the modern English version in parallel texts and watch the stunning animations that were broadcast on the BBC, narrated by actor and comedian Billy Connolly.” Both the original Scots and the modern English versions are given full audio narrations.
The app also counts as one of Heaney’s last contributions to the literature of Scotland, Ireland, and the entire English-speaking world. “Five Fables was one of the last projects that Seamus Heaney worked on before his death in 2013 and he took close interest in the development of the programme, personally choosing Billy Connolly as narrator and working with him on the language throughout the recording,” states the Touch Press press release.
When or whether an Android version of the app will appear is not clear from the materials, but the iPad version is available now, with its launch price due to rise after its first month of publication. Surely an item for Heaney lovers everywhere to snap up, as well as anyone interested to see just how far modern ebook and app versions of classic works can go.