Seamus Heaney, poet and Nobel Laureate was born on 13th April 1939 at Mossbawn near Castledawson and attended Anahorish primary school. He won a scholarship to St Columbs College, Derry and at that time, the family moved to Bellaghy. He studied English Language and Literature at Queens’ University Belfast from where he graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in 1961.
During his teacher training at St Joseph’s Teacher Training College, he went on placement to St Thomas’ in West Belfast where he met and was greatly influenced by the distinguished Irish author Michael McLaverty.
While lecturing at St Joseph’s in 1963, he came to the attention of Philip Hobsbawn, an English lecturer at Queens, who had established a group of young local poets that included Derek Mahon and Michael Longley. This was to prove a most influential group in terms of supporting and encouraging creativity.
Seamus married Marie Devlin, a school teacher from Ardboe, in 1965 and published his Eleven Poems in November of that year to coincide with the Belfast Festival.
Seamus was appointed lecturer in Modern English Literature at Queens in 1966 and in that year published his first volume of poetry Death of a Naturalist which would go on to win many awards.
In 1969 he published Door into the Dark.
He was, for a period, guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley before returning to Queens in 1971. He went to Co Wicklow in 1972 and in that year published Wintering Out. Over the next few years he travelled throughout Ireland, Britain and America giving readings.
North, his fourth volume, was published in 1975.
In 1976, he became Head of English at Carysfort College, Dublin and he and his family moved to Dublin that same year.
Heaney’s next volume, Field Work, was published in 1979 followed by Selected Poems and Preoccupations: Selected Prose in 1980.
In 1981, he became visiting professor at Harvard University and in 1982 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Queens’ University Belfast.
Along with Brian Friel and Stephen Rea he co-founded Field Day Publishing in 1983 and in 1984 published Station Island.
Seamus was elected to the Boylston Chair of Rhetoric and Oratory in 1984. In 1987 he published The Haw Lantern in which he deals with the loss of his mother Margaret Kathleen who passed away in 1984. His father Patrick died in 1987 and in his 1991 volume Seeing Things there are poems dedicated to his father.
In 1988, he published The Government of the Tongue and in 1989 he was made Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, a post he held for five years. In 1990, The Cure at Troy was published to great acclaim.
Seamus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 for ‘works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past’
The Spirit Level was published in 1996 and in 1999 his translation of Beowulf won him the Whitbread Prize and further acclaim
Electric Light was published in 2001, District and Circle in 2006 and Human Chain in 2010.
Seamus Heaney died in Blackrock Clinic on 30th August 2013. He was 74. His funeral was held at Donnybrook, Dublin on 2nd September 2013 and he was buried later that evening at his home village of Bellaghy, in the same graveyard as his parents, young brother and other family members.
Throughout his life, Seamus was awarded numerous prizes and accolades for his work. He was a humble man, able to converse equally with Presidents, Monarchs and school children.
He was always very much a part of Bellaghy and South Derry and despite having lived in Dublin and America and travelled even further afield, he was always faithful to his origins, his ‘home ground’ and its people.
Speaking in Dublin in 1979 he said ‘I’m very close to home. I’ve two homes: this house and the house where I was brought up. When I go back, I merge into it.’