The famous Irish poet Seamus Justin Heaney (1939-2013) died at age seventy-four in a Dublin hospital after a brief illness. Born the eldest of nine children in County Derry, Northern Ireland, on April 13, 1939, he ultimately published nearly thirty collections of original poems; translations of Greek, Latin, Irish Gaelic, Old English (Anglo-Saxon), and Middle Scottish poems; two plays translated from ancient Greek writers; four books of critical essays; and a book on the writing process.
His formative years were spent on the family farm, Mossbawn between Castledawson and Toomebridge. His father, Patrick Heaney, was a farmer but was more engaged in cattle-dealing, which was practiced in Ireland for thousands of years. Patrick was an orphan whose uncles had introduced him to the trade.
His mother, Margaret, was more firmly rooted in modern times as multiple members of her family, the McCanns, worked in a local factory and one aunt was a domestic servant for the family who owned the factory. Seamus Heaney keenly felt his parents left him with one foot in two worlds: the Irish countryside of cattle drovers on the one hand and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution on the other. He also felt torn between his father’s reticence and his mother’s gregariousness.
As a small boy, he saw American troops on maneuvers, preparing for the Allied invasion of Normandy, the first stage in the liberation of France. They were stationed at an aerodrome (airfield) near his father’s farm.
When he was twelve years old, he won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, a Catholic boarding school in the city of Derry, which the English call Londonderry, some forty miles away from Mossbawn. While he was at St. Columb’s College, his four-year-old brother, Christopher died in an accident, an event referred to in the poems “Mid-Term Break” and “The Blackbird of Glanmore,” as recounted in The Irish Times. In the mid-1950s, his family moved away from Mossbawn, because Patrick Heaney inherited The Wood, a farm near the village of Bellaghy in County Derry, a bequest of his uncle, Hugh Scullion.
Between 1957 and 1972, he lived in Belfast as a student, lecturer, poet, essayist, husband, and father. The countryside of County Derry remained part of his mental backdrop.
Heaney won a scholarship to Queen’s University, Belfast, and studied teaching St. Joseph’s Training College (which later merged into St. Mary’s University College) in Belfast. As a student-teacher, he taught briefly at St. Thomas’s School, where Headmaster Michael MacLaverty encouraged him as a writer. He lectured at St. Joseph’s Training College, joined a circle of Belfast poets, and contributed to magazines before he married Marie Devlin, a schoolteacher and writer, in 1965.
Initially, he published poems under the nom de plume Incertus in three newspapers: the Belfast Telegraph, The Irish Times, and the New Statesman. In 1965, Festival Publications, Queen's University published his first collection of poems, Eleven Poems, a chapbook, as part of a poetry festival.
In 1966, Faber & Faber in London published his second book, Death of a Naturalist, which won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Faber & Faber published most of Seamus Heaney’s books, prose as well as poetry, but throughout his career other publishing houses also published his works.
That same year, he became a lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast, and his first child, Michael, was born. Seamus Heaney would serve as a lecturer at Queen’s College, Belfast from 1966 to 1972.
He joined a circle of writers called the Belfast Group, founded by the English poet and critic Philip Hobsbaum (1932-2005), then a lecturer at Belfast. The circle included the poet Michael Longley and the novelist Bernard MacLaverty.
In 1968, Seamus and Marie had a second child, Christopher. In 1969, Phoenix Pamphlets Poets Press in Manchester published A Lough Neagh Sequence. That same year, Faber published Door into the Dark.
In 1970, Sceptre Press in Farnham, Surrey published Boy Driving His Father to Confession in an extremely limited edition: 150 copies. That same year, Richard Gilbertson in Crediton, Devon published Night Drive. In 1971, Red Hanrahan Press in Detroit published Servant Boy.
In 1970-71, Seamus & Marie Heaney visited the U.S. when he taught as a guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkley. Heaney returned briefly to the faculty of Queen’s University, Belfast before he moved his family south to Glanmore, County Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland, and would later deny they had moved to Eire to flee The Troubles in Belfast.
Heaney did much of his writing in a den on the top floor of this house. The Emperor & Empress of Japan once visited him at this residence.
In 1973, his daughter Catherine Ann was born. Two years later, Heaney and joined the faculty of Carysfort College, a teacher-training college.
He became Head of English at Carysfort College and acquired a second residence in Sandymount, Dublin in 1976. During this decade, he made the book program Imprint for RTÉ radio.
Faber published Wintering Out in 1972 and North in 1975. The latter won the E.M. Foster Award and the 1975 Duff Cooper Memorial Prize.
In 1975, Ulsterman Publications also published Stations and Rainbow Press in London published Bog Poems. In addition, Oxford University Press published his first collection of essays in 1975, The Fire i' the Flint: Reflections on the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.