Seamus Heaney


'Walk on air against your better judgement'

Seamus Heaney is buried in the family plot at Bellaghy Cemetery, Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.


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 College 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 Heaney's work has also drawn inevitable comparisons with W.B Yeats.

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 and politicians.

History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

The Cure at Troy (adapted by SH)






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