Seamus Heaney

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Seamus Heaney
Born: 13 April 1939 (1939-04-13) (age 68)
Near Castledawson, Northern Ireland
Occupation: Poet
Literary movement: Modernism
Influences: Patrick Kavanagh, W.B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, J.M Synge, Shakespeare, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Palmer, Keats, Chaucer, Ted Hughes , Robert Frost, Wilfred Owen, Derek Mahon
Influenced: Paul Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian, Eavan Boland.

Seamus Justin Heaney (IPA: /ˈʃeɪməs ˈʜɪːnɪ/) (born 13 April 1939) is an Irish poet, writer and lecturer from County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. He currently lives in Dublin.[1]


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Trivia
  • 4 Bibliography
    • 4.1 Poetry
    • 4.2 Translations
    • 4.3 Essays
    • 4.4 Plays
    • 4.5 About Heaney
  • 5 See also
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 External links


Heaney was born the eldest of nine children at the family farmhouse called Mossbawn, near Castledawson, thirty miles to the north-west of Belfast, in Northern Ireland. He is a Roman Catholic and a nationalist.[2] His family moved to a bigger farm in nearby Bellaghy in 1953.

He was educated initially at Anahorish Primary School in Newbridge. He won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, then a Catholic boarding school in Derry, and it was while studying here as a young teenager that his family moved to Bellaghy. At St Columb's he was taught the Irish language. When he was fourteen, his four-year-old brother Christopher was killed in a road accident, an event that he would later write about in two poems.

In 1957 Heaney travelled to Belfast to study English Language and Literature at the Queen's University of Belfast. He graduated in 1961 with a First Class Honours degree. During teacher training at St Joseph's Teacher Training College in Belfast, he went on a placement to St Thomas' secondary Intermediate School in west Belfast. The headmaster of this school was the writer Michael MacLaverty from County Monaghan, who introduced Heaney to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh. It was at this time that he first started to publish poetry, beginning in 1962. In 1963 he became a lecturer at St Josephs. In spring 1963, after contributing various articles to local magazines, he came to the attention of Philip Hobsbaum, then an English lecturer at Queen's University. Hobsbaum was to set up a Belfast Group of local young poets (to mirror the success he had with the London group) and this would bring Heaney into contact with other Belfast poets such as Derek Mahon and Michael Longley.

In August 1965 he married Marie Devlin, a school teacher who was originally from Ardboe, County Tyrone. (Devlin is a writer herself and, in 1994, published Over Nine Waves, a collection of traditional Irish myths and legends.) His first book, Eleven Poems, was published in November 1965 for The Queen's University Festival. In 1966, Faber and Faber published his first volume called Death of a Naturalist. This collection met with much critical acclaim and went on to win a host of awards. Also in 1966 he was appointed as a lecturer in Modern English Literature at Queen's University Belfast and his first son, Michael, was born. A second son, Christopher, was born in 1968. In 1968, with Michael Longley, Heaney took part in a reading tour called Room to Rhyme, which led to quite a lot of exposure for the poet's work. In 1969 Door into the Dark was published.

After a spell as guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley he returned to Queen's University in 1971. In 1972, Heaney left his lectureship at Belfast and moved to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, working as a teacher at Carysfort College. In 1972 Wintering Out was published, and over the next few years Heaney began to give readings throughout Ireland, Britain and the United States. He was appointed to the Arts Council in the Republic of Ireland in 1974. He became an elected Saoi of Aosdána. In 1975 Heaney published his fourth volume, North. He became Head of English at Carysfort College in Dublin in 1976, and moved his family to Dublin the same year. His next volume, Field Work, was published in 1979.

Selected Poems and Preoccupations: Selected Prose was published in 1980. In 1981 he left Carysfort to become visiting professor at Harvard University, and in 1982 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Queen's University. Heaney was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Fordham University in 1982. At the Fordham commencement ceremony in 1982, Heaney delivered the commencement address in a 46-stanza poem entitled "Verses for a Fordham Commencement".

In 1983, along with Brian Friel and Stephen Rea he co-founded Field Day Publishing, and in 1984 published Station Island. Also in 1984, Heaney was elected to the Boylston Chair of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard. Later that year his mother, Margaret Kathleen Heaney, died. His father, Patrick, died soon after publication of the 1987 volume, The Haw Lantern. In 1988 a collection of critical essays called The Government of the Tongue was published.

In 1989, he was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, which he held for a five-year term to 1994. The chair does not require residence in Oxford, and throughout this period he was dividing his time between Ireland and America. He also continued to give public readings, which were very popular. In 1986, Heaney received a Litt.D. from Bates College. So well attended and keenly anticipated were these events that those who queued for tickets with such enthusiasm have sometimes been dubbed "Heaneyboppers", suggesting an almost pop-music fanaticism on the part of his supporters.[citation needed]

In 1990 The Cure at Troy, a play based on Sophocles' Philoctetes,[3] was published to much acclaim. In 1991, Seeing Things, was published. Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 for what the Nobel committee described as "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past". In 1996, his collection The Spirit Level was published and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He repeated that success with the release of Beowulf: A New Translation.[4]

In August 2006 Seamus Heaney suffered a stroke from which he recovered, but which forced him to cancel all public engagements for several months.[5]


Heaney's work often deals with the local — that is, his surroundings in Ireland, particularly the north, where he was born. Allusions to sectarian difference, widespread in the north of Ireland, can be found in his poems, but these are never predominant or strident. His political sympathies are on the Republican side; this is what he was born into and is a completely natural trait. His poetry is not often overtly political or militant, and is far more concerned with profound observations of the small details of the everyday, far beyond contingent political concerns. Some of his work is concerned with the lessons of history, and indeed prehistory and the very ancient. Other works concern his personal family history, focussing on characters in his family and as he has acknowledged, these poems can be read as elegies for those family members. But primarily, his concern as a poet is with the English language, partly as it is spoken in Ireland but also as spoken elsewhere and in other times; the Anglo-Saxon influences in his work are noteworthy, and his academic studies of that language have had a profound effect on his work. Thanks to Heaney, there has been a minor revival of interest in the verse forms of Anglo-Saxon poetry amongst a number of poets influenced by him.

But despite the inherently Irish flavour of his language, Heaney is a universal poet, admired in every country and every other linguistic tradition. His influence on contemporary poetry is immense. Robert Lowell called him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats." A good many others have echoed the sentiment.[citation needed] His influence is not restricted to Ireland but is felt world-wide. His books make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain. [6]

The Anglo-Saxon influences in his work are also noteworthy, his university study of the language having had a profound effect on his work. It also led to a small revival of interest in the verse forms of Anglo-Saxon poetry amongst a number of poets influenced by Heaney. He has also written critically well-regarded essays and two plays. His essays, among other things, have been credited with beginning the critical re-examination of Thomas Hardy. His anthologies (edited with friend Ted Hughes), The Rattle Bag, and The School Bag, are used extensively in schools in the U.K. and elsewhere. Heaney's collection District and Circle won the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize.[7]

He has also written critically well-regarded essays and two plays. His essays have been credited with having set off the critical re-examination of Thomas Hardy. His anthologies (edited with friend Ted Hughes), The Rattle Bag, and The School Bag, are used extensively in schools in the U.K. and elsewhere. Heaney's collection District and Circle won the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize.[8]


  • A cousin of Heaney's, Calum (or Colm) McCartney, was killed during The Troubles.[citation needed]
  • Heaney was a friend of the late Belfast-born writer, Brian Moore.[citation needed]
  • In 2003, Heaney praised Eminem for his "verbal energy" and for encouraging an interest in poetry among youth.[9]
  • Heaney composed a poem called Beacons of Bealtaine for the 2004 EU Enlargement. The poem was read by Heaney at a ceremony for the twenty-five leaders of the enlarged European Union arranged by the Irish EU presidency.
  • In 2003 the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry was opened at Queens University, Belfast. It houses the Heaney Media Archive, a unique record of Heaney's entire oeuvre, along with a full catologue of his radio and television presentations.[10]
  • Queens University have also honoured the poet by naming a multidiscipline library after him.



  • Eleven Poems (Queen's University, 1965)
  • Death of a Naturalist (Faber & Faber, 1966)
  • The Island People (BBC, 1968)
  • A Lough Neagh Sequence (Pheonix, 1969)
  • Door into the Dark (Faber & Faber, 1969)
  • Night Drive (Gilbertson, 1970)
  • A Boy Driving His Father to Confession (Sceptre Press, 1970)
  • Wintering Out (Faber & Faber, 1972)
  • Stations (Ulsterman Publications, 1975)
  • Bog Poems (Rainbow Press, 1975)
  • North (Faber & Faber, 1975)
  • After Summer (Gallery Press, 1978)
  • Hedge School (Janus Press, 1979)
  • Ugolino (Carpenter Press, 1979)
  • Field Work (Faber & Faber, 1979)
  • Gravities (Charlotte Press, 1979)
  • A Family Album (Byron Press, 1979)
  • Selected Poems 1965-1975 (Faber & Faber, 1980)
  • Poems and a Memoir (Limited Editions Club, 1982)
  • An Open Letter (Field Day, 1983)
  • Verses for a Fordham Commencement (Nadja Press, 1984)
  • Station Island (Faber & Faber, 1984)
  • Hailstones (Gallery Press, 1984)
  • From the Republic of Conscience (Amnesty International, 1985)
  • Clearances (Cornamona Press, 1986)
  • The Haw Lantern (Faber & Faber, 1987)
  • The Sounds of Rain (Emory University, 1988)
  • New Selected Poems 1966-1987 (Faber & Faber, 1990)
  • The Tree Clock (Linen Hall Library, 1990)
  • Squarings (Hieroglyph Editions, 1991)
  • Seeing Things (Faber & Faber, 1991)
  • The Golden Bough (Bonnefant Press, 1992)
  • Keeping Going (Bow and Arrow Press, 1993)
  • The Spirit Level (Faber & Faber, 1996)
  • Audenesque (Maeght, 1998)
  • Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996 (Faber & Faber, 1998)
  • The Light of the Leaves (Bonnefant Press, 1999)
  • Electric Light (Faber & Faber, 2001)
  • District and Circle (Faber & Faber, 2006)
  • Follower


  • Sweeney Astray: A version from the Irish (Field Day, 1983)
  • Sweeney's Flight (with Rachel Giese, photographer) (Faber & Faber, 1992)
  • The Midnight Verdict: Translations from the Irish of Brian Merriman and from the Metamorphoses of Ovid (Gallery Press, 1993)
  • Jan Kochanowski: Laments (Faber & Faber, 1995)
  • Beowulf (Faber & Faber, 1999)
  • Diary of One Who Vanished (Faber & Faber, 1999)


  • Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (Faber & Faber, 1980)
  • The Government of the Tongue (Faber & Faber, 1988)
  • The Place of Writing (Emory University, 1989)
  • The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures (Faber & Faber, 1995)
  • Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture (Gallery Press, 1995)
  • Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001 (Faber & Faber, 2002)


  • The Cure at Troy A version of Sophocles' Philoctetes (Field Day, 1990)
  • The Burial at Thebes A version of Sophocles' Antigone (Faber & Faber, 2004)

About Heaney

  • The Poetry of Seamus Heaney ed. by Elmer Andrews (1993) ISBN 0-231-11926-7
  • "Seamus Heaney" by Helen Vendler (2000) ISBN 0-674-00205-9
  • Seamus Heaney and the Emblems of Hope by Karen Marguerite Moloney (2007) ISBN 978-0-8262-1744-8

See also

  • List of people on stamps of Ireland
  • Faber and Faber (Heaney's U.K. publisher)


  1. ^ Heaney, Seamus. Opened Ground. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: New York, 1998. ISBN 0-374-52678-8
  2. ^ Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1995, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1996
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Beowulf: A New Translation
  5. ^ Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 16 January 2007.
  6. ^ BBC News Magazine "Faces of the week", 19 January 2007.
  7. ^ BBC News "Heaney wins TS Eliot poetry prize", 15 January 2007.
  8. ^ BBC News "Heaney wins TS Eliot poetry prize", 15 January 2007.
  9. ^ BBC News "Seamus Heaney praises Eminem", 30 June 2003 (retrieved September 11, 2006).
  10. ^ The Centre's Website
  • Nobel acceptance speech
  • Audio discussion of some of his major poems
  • RealPlayer recordings of Heaney reading his own work available.
  • Lannan Foundation reading and conversation with Dennis O'Driscoll, October 1, 2003
  • Seamus Heaney Biography
  • Persondata
    NAME Heaney, Seamus
    ALTERNATIVE NAMES Heaney, Seamus Justin
    DATE OF BIRTH 13 April 1939
    PLACE OF BIRTH Castledawson, County Londonderry, thirty miles north-west of Belfast
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