The 4 Bedroom Heaney House
Seamus Heaney was born on 13th April 1939 in Co Derry in Northern Ireland, one of 9 children born to Margaret and Patrick Heaney.
When he was 12 he won a scholarship to St. Columb’s College boarding school in Derry, and at 18 he travelled to Belfast to study English Language and Literature at Queen’s University. He then trained as a teacher in St. Joseph’s Teacher Training College. After working for a time as a guest lecturer in the University of California at Berkley, Heaney returned home to Ireland in 1972, settled in Wicklow and began writing full-time as well as giving readings of his work throughout Ireland, the UK and the US. He would later become a visiting Professor at Harvard University and received a tenure position, becoming Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory.
While on placement to St Thomas’s Secondary School in Belfast during his teacher training, he met his mentor writer Michael Mc Laverty, who assisted him in publishing his first work in 1962, and his first major volume Death of a Naturalist was published in 1966. Every reader who studied English at an Irish secondary school will recall 2 poems in particular; you may have learned them by heart if your English Teacher had their way:
Extract from Mid-Term Break
“I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close
At two o’clock my neighbours drove me home”
Heaney wrote this poem for his younger brother Christopher, who died as a result of a car accident when he was 4.
Extract from Digging
“The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests
I’ll dig with that”
Heaney has affirmed that all of his poems generate from biographical sources, giving us an insight into his childhood and adult life. His poems often reflect his political leanings and “Irishness” – although Heaney was born in Northern Ireland, he always identified himself as Irish. He has received a litany of awards during his illustrious career, including the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature.
He was elected Saoi of Aosdana (literal meaning “wise one” – historically the title of the head of a bardic school) in 1997, which is the highest honour bestowed by Aosdána, a state-supported association of Irish creative artists.
Seamus Heaney died on the 30th August 2013 in Blackrock in Co. Dublin and he is buried in his home village of Bellaghy. The day after his death, Heaney was honoured with a 3-minute applause by 81,000 supporters at an All-Ireland football match in recognition of his enormous contribution to Irish culture.
5 Interesting Facts about Seamus Heaney:
- According to the BBC, at one time Heaney’s books accounted for two-thirds of the sales of living poets in the UK.
- His last words “Noli Timere”: Latin for “Don’t be afraid” were texted to his wife minutes before his death. Heaney often used Latin in his writing as a shorthand caption.
- Heaney was a fan of American rapper Eminem, aka Marshall Mathers. In 2003 he quoted: “He has created a sense of what is possible. He has sent a voltage around a generation. He has done this not just through his subversive attitude but also his verbal energy.”
- Former President Bill Clinton visited him in hospital after Heaney had suffered a stroke in 2006. Clinton was in Ireland for the Ryder Cup Golf Competition, and took the time to drop into the Donegal hospital where Heaney was convalescing. He also visited the wards and chatted amiably to the staff and patients.
- Heaney turned down the position of Laureateship of the United Kingdom, becoming one of 4 poets in 4 centuries to decline – Thomas Gray, Samuel Rogers, and Walter Scott all historically refused the post. The Poet Laureate is appointed by the current Monarch of the British Throne and is expected to write prose for significant national occasions.