Ivor Casey remembers Irish poet Seamus Heaney on the tenth anniversary of his death.


His work often centred on the detailed observations of ordinary daily life in Ireland. His themes frequently focused on self discovery and spiritual progression. His poetry regularly reflected on the past, is accessible to all types of reader and is remembered, admired and cherished to this day. This is the work of Seamus Heaney whose poetry paid close attention to how the English language is spoken in Ireland, and whose work will always be hailed as some of the greatest verse of modern times.


This year marks ten years since the passing of the great poet and there is no end in sight for the memory of one of Ireland’s most celebrated writers, as his legacy continues to endure. His successful career as a poet, teacher and translator spanned almost fifty years, from the publication of his first collection of poems, aptly titled Eleven Poems in August of 1965 to his final collection published not long before his death.

Born on 13 April, 1939, into a farming family in Mossbawn, near Castledawson in Co. Derry, Northern Ireland, before they moved to the village of Bellaghy, Heaney was the eldest of nine children born to Margaret Kathleen McCann and farmer and cattle dealer Patrick Heaney.
At the age of twelve, Seamus won a scholarship to the Catholic boarding school St. Columb’s College Derry, where he learned Latin and Irish.

During this time his four-year-old brother Christopher was killed in a road accident, an event which would inspire the poems Mid-Term Break and The Blackbird of Glanmore.
Family history and characters in his family would become recurring subjects through many of his works and while he would move to different places throughout his life, his poetry was often grounded in the place and atmosphere of where he grew up.

In 1957, following his education at St. Columb’s, Heaney studied English Literature at Queen’s University Belfast where he was awarded a First Class Honours degree. During these years he was introduced to the works of Ted Hughes, Patrick Kavanagh and Robert Frost and he began writing his own poetry for various publications under the pseudonym ‘Incertus’, a Latin word for ‘doubtful of oneself’. He began training to be a teacher, working at St. Thomas’ Secondary Intermediate School in Belfast, where the headmaster and writer, Michael McLaverty, helped mentor Heaney with his own literary endeavours.

In the earlier stages of his career Heaney joined the ‘Belfast Group’, a workshop of young poets, where he was brought into contact with fellow writers such as Michael Longley and Derek Mahon. His esteem for composing poetry was combined with lecturing at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast where he met fellow teacher and writer, Marie Devlin, whom he married in 1965, which was the same year his first short collection, Eleven Poems, was published.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own