|Seamus Heaney is buried in the family plot at
Bellaghy Cemetery, Bellaghy, County Londonderry,
Seamus Heaney's Grave
© The Belfast Telegraph
Heaney was born in Mossbawn in County Derry in 1939 - the
first of nine children. His childhood was a happy one - surrounded by his close
family and pervaded by the Catholic faith.
He did well at school and progressed to St Columb's
as a border when he was 11. He then gained a place at
Queen's University in Belfast to study English - where he
graduated with a First Class Honours degree. After
leaving university he worked for a while at St Thomas' Secondary
School in Belfast where the headmaster and writer,
Michael McClaverty, was an important early influence.
(Heaney would later dedicate Fosterage in
North to him.) Heaney gave up teaching in 1966 to
become a freelance writer.
In 1965 he married Marie Devlin - who was also a
writer - with whom he would have three children
(Michael, Christopher and Catherine Ann).
His collection Death of a Naturalist was
spotted by the Irish-born Charles Monteith at Faber and
Faber and was published in 1966. In one of the poems -
Digging - Heaney described his father working in
the garden and recalled how his grandfather also cut
turf at Toner's Bog - but concluded that, instead of
digging himself, he would use his pen: 'Between my finger
and my thumb/The squat pen rests./I'll dig with it.' In
many ways, this was his mission statement - for much of
his work remained rooted in the countryside
of his childhood. He also wrote a number of remarkable
poems about the bog people including: The Tollund Man
and The Grauballe Man. Like Gerard
Manley-Hopkins before him, Heaney believed that
'description was revelation'.
Heaney's work was influenced by fellow Irish poets
such as Louis MacNeice,
Patrick Kavanagh but also by
Ted Hughes and
R.S. Thomas. It was reading
a copy of Hughes' Lupercal which inspired him to
write poetry. Heaney admired the violence in Hughes'
language and the lack of irony. The lyrical quality of
has also drawn inevitable comparisons with
Although not overtly political in tone, Heaney's work
was also able to reflect upon the troubles -
particularly in his collection North (1975) where
poems such as Whatever You Say Say Nothing and
Funeral Rights address the violence and murder
taking place in the province at the time.
Heaney became Oxford Professor of Poetry in 1989 and was
awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.
Heaney's work reached a wide audience and his book
sales far exceeded those of other contemporary
poets. In Ireland he was affectionately known as 'famous
Seamus'. His funeral was attended by writers, musicians