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date: 28 February 2021

Heaney, Seamus Justinfree

  • Gerald Dawe

Seamus Justin Heaney (1939–2013)

by Peter Edwards, 1987-8

Heaney, Seamus Justin (1939–2013), poet, translator, and literary critic, was born at Mossbawn Farm, near Castledawson, co. Derry, Northern Ireland, on 13 April 1939, the oldest of nine children of Patrick Heaney (1910–1986), farmer, and his wife, Margaret Kathleen, née McCann (1911–1984). He was educated at Anahorish primary school (1944–51) and St Columb's College, Derry (1951–7), and awarded a state exhibition scholarship to Queen's University, Belfast (1957–61), graduating with first-class honours in English language and literature in 1961.

An Ulster Catholic

Heaney was not a poet of linear thematic ‘progression’; rather he was a poet who circled back and recorded his past life. As a poet of memory, of retrospection rather than introspection, he consistently returned to the imaginative roots of his own life growing up in rural co. Derry during the 1940s and 1950s. His childhood experience of living on a working farm with a large family is critically definitive in understanding his abiding sense of place and the relationship between belonging, cultural self-knowledge, and the issues of community and political identity, all of which are central to understanding his personal life and his literary achievement.

As a Catholic, educated in Catholic schools in what was a predominantly protestant civic society in Northern Ireland, Heaney's experience on leaving co. Derry in 1957 and moving to Belfast to attend Queen's University, and eventually setting up home in Belfast as a lecturer in English in the 1960s, was recounted in great and loving detail in Stepping Stones (2008), a self-portrait based upon a series of interviews with a fellow poet, Dennis O'Driscoll. Asked how he recalled the family home at Mossbawn, Heaney replayed in his mind's eye the view:

For a start, the windows are small, and set comparatively low. From the back window, you'd see the yard and the byre; from the front, the boxwood hedge with a young chestnut tree in it, the front garden, the alder trees along the road. If you were outside you could look south-west to Slieve Gallion on the horizon: our hill of longing.

Stepping Stones, 15

After his graduation from university Heaney undertook teacher training at St Joseph's Teacher Training College, Belfast, and taught for a year at St Thomas's Secondary Intermediate School in Belfast's Ballymurphy district, where the headmaster, the novelist and short-story writer Michael McLaverty, was a valuable early literary influence. In 1963 he joined the staff of St Joseph's as a lecturer in English. While there he met the artist T. P. Flanagan and his wife, Sheelagh, who became close friends with both Heaney and Marie Devlin (b. 1940), from Ardboe in co. Tyrone, a graduate of St Mary's College of Education, Belfast, whom he had met at a party at the Queen's University Chaplaincy in 1962. The second of seven children of Thomas F. Devlin, a publican and former county athlete, Marie was the granddaughter of John Sinnamond Devlin, who had acted as Eamon de Valera's northern agent. They married at St Peter's, Moortown, on 5 August 1965, followed by a short honeymoon in London.

Heaney stayed at St Joseph's for three years, until 1966, 'which was the annus mirabilis: our first child, Michael, was born; Death of a Naturalist [his first full collection] appeared; and I got a job in the English department in Queen's' (Stepping Stones, 68). His time lecturing at Queen's would prove to be key to his artistic and professional development. He met there the poet and academic Philip Hobsbaum, who had established a writing workshop which Heaney attended along with the playwright Stewart Parker, the poets Joan Newmann and Michael Longley, and the literary critic Edna Longley, the two latter returning from Dublin, where they had met as students at Trinity College. 'The Group gave the people who attended an audience and a motive for their own writing', Heaney later recalled (ibid., 75).

By the mid-1960s Heaney and Michael Longley, alongside others, including Derek Mahon and James Simmons, were finding a resonant response to their poems in literary journals, newspapers, and national broadcasts from London as much as from Dublin or Belfast. Their ‘group’ identity, which included older figures such as John Hewitt and John Montague, though probably more of a local coincidence than much else, is generally identified as the beginning of the Northern Irish poetry revival of the late 1960s through to the 1980s. Certainly, during his time at Queen's, and when he had temporarily ‘taken over’ the group as Hobsbaum left Belfast and moved to Glasgow University, Heaney would become a hugely important mentoring presence for an upcoming generation of student poets attending the university, including Frank Ormsby, Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian, and Paul Muldoon.

The marvellous in the ordinary

With the publication by Faber and Faber of Heaney's first volume of poems, Death of a Naturalist, the critical and popular response was positive and established a pattern that would be maintained throughout the next almost fifty years of his writing life as a poet. The poems are physically vibrant visions of his boyhood life—blackberry-picking, digging turf, the churning day—but mindful too of the personal tragedies of growing up, as in one of Heaney's best-known early poems, 'Mid-Term Break', which poignantly recalled the tragic death of his younger brother, Christopher, in a car accident, very close to the family home:

Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in his cot,No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year.

New Selected Poems, 1988–2013, 2014, 7

Death of a Naturalist is also full of the lifestyle of the working community in which Heaney grew up, a landscape and ethos that were to become increasingly relevant to the older poet as he considered the nature of his mother and father's generation and their conflicted sense of being free to speak their mind in a repressive society divided by religious belief and political affiliation. 'Argumentation, persuasion, speech itself, for God's sake, just seemed otiose and superfluous to them. Either you were an initiate in the code or you weren't', as he later remarked (Cole, interview, Paris Review).

With the publication in 1969 of Heaney's second volume of poetry, Door into the Dark, dedicated to his parents, there is greater depth to the poems of home and place, but also an edgier sense of how poetic knowledge is produced. 'The Forge', from which the collection's title came, is about different kinds of knowledge, and how the making of things for use, such as the traditional skills of the blacksmith—who, like the thatcher and other artisans, featured in Heaney's early work—produces its own kind of art: the 'short-pitched ring', the 'fantail of sparks' (Door into the Dark, 19). These art forms have more or less passed away, in the mind of the blacksmith as much as in the mind of the poet who is witnessing the making of a 'new shoe': 'He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter/Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows'. The 'new' world of cars has supplanted the traditional manner of 'bellows' being worked and 'real iron' beaten out. But there is something else going on in 'The Forge', both literally and metaphorically, that is a harbinger of one of Heaney's greatest artistic traits, as 'The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,/Horned as a unicorn'. The forge becomes momentarily a mysterious place of fable—that 'unicorn'—and in its darkness and in the rituals of the blacksmith there is too a sense of the sacred at play, for the anvil is likened to 'an altar/Where he expends himself in shape and music'. This sense of seeing the marvellous in the ordinary Heaney would fathom in the twelve individual collections that followed Door into the Dark.

Heaney's growing reputation towards the end of the 1960s was recognized with the Somerset Maugham award (1969), the first of many such recognitions and acknowledgements. With the award, the family, now including a second son, Christopher (b. 1968), spent two months travelling in France and Spain, followed by a year when Heaney was a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley—a widening of vistas which was neatly reflected in the opening out of the poems to different kinds of experience and landscape; an eager relish to engage with the new, even while the pressure of ‘home’ was not too far behind.

In the final poem of Wintering Out (1972), the poet finds himself 'Westering' 'in California' (Wintering Out, 79–80), while facing up in 'Summer Home' to the (for Heaney, uncharacteristically explicit) private stresses of married life: 'I hear her small lost weeping/through the hall, that bells and hoarsens/on my name, my name./O love, here is the blame' (ibid., 59). Wintering Out also marked the deepening of Heaney's imaginative fascination with the mythical possibilities of the Northern Irish landscape, as he described bogland and riverbank within the wider frame of physical, archaeological, and cultural reference inflected by his reading of P. V. Glob's study The Bog People (1965). And as the soundings of local names impart an aural value outside the enunciation of standard English, Heaney had found another way in to the language of his home place, literally down the road as in 'Anahorish': 'soft gradient/of consonant, vowel-meadow,/after-image of lamps/swung through the yards/on winter evenings' (ibid., 16).

The ‘troubles’

By the time of the family's return to Belfast in 1971 the political situation in Northern Ireland had rapidly deteriorated, with intensifying street violence, sectarian assassinations, and bombings, leading many to believe that the ‘troubles’ (as the crisis would be universally known) were entering a new and possibly irreconcilable endgame. Heaney's growing consciousness of the political and religious sensitivities, based upon his own northern Catholic upbringing, and of how these were related to the divided loyalties of the Northern Irish state, sat uneasily with his sense of duty as a poet to the word. The influence of major European poets, such as Osip Mandelstam and Czesław Miłosz, whose work was being translated and made available throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, played a key and possibly underestimated part in the development of Heaney's political consciousness as a writer.

After the IRA bombing of Lavery's Bar on 21 December 1971 and the death of the proprietor, John (Jack) Lavery, as he attempted to remove the bomb from the premises on the Lisburn Road, near the Heaney home in Ashley Avenue, and a threatening phone call to a shocked and concerned in-law, the impetus Heaney felt to move from Belfast to somewhere else in the north, or to a rural part of the Republic, gathered momentum. So, when the literary historian Ann Saddlemyer made available a cottage on the Synge estate in Ashford, co. Wicklow, for a peppercorn rent, the family moved south in 1972. It was from this temporary home that Heaney launched himself as a freelance writer, presenting radio programmes on RTE, the Irish national broadcasting station, and also maintaining his connection with BBC Northern Ireland, while writing journalism in the form of reviews for numerous Irish and British journals and newspapers, as well as giving readings and lectures in various literary and academic platforms, something he would continue to do for the rest of his working life.

The freelance life in Glanmore Cottage—which the family ultimately bought and which Heaney referred to as 'the absolute haven' (Stepping Stones, 374)—lasted for three years. During his time in the Wicklow cottage he saw possibly his most controversial collection, North, published in 1975. The volume reflected the deepening crisis in Northern Ireland, to which the Heaneys returned regularly on visits to family and friends throughout some of the worst violence. Precious wonder that car journeys, mostly through the north, featured in many of the poems, with a complicated sense that the past of his upbringing was looking increasingly detached from the radically changing present.

What makes this revisited territory so memorable and alive, however, is the manner in which Heaney populates it with dramatic events, as simple yet as culturally loaded as in the poem 'A Constable Calls', the second in a sequence called 'Singing School' that concludes North. The ‘troubles’, by this stage in their seventh year, had entered their bloodiest phase. Against this background it is clear, with hindsight, that Heaney was working through the consequences of sectarian division and community conflict, the toxic local manifestations of which, when mixed up with state policy and power, were lethal. What ‘role’ poetry could have in such a situation reverberates throughout North.

The psychology of 'A Constable Calls' deserves attention because of the characteristic manner in which Heaney recounted a seemingly ordinary event—the legal registration of crops. But the ‘ordinary’ here takes on ominous dimensions as the boy in the recollection of the older poet watches both men in the poem—father and local policeman. The most striking thing about the poem is the story it doesn't tell—the 'shadow' that 'bobbed in the window' is a shadow from the past, yet as the Royal Ulster Constabulary man's bicycle moves off, the 'tick' seems to resound even when the poem ends, as if ticking into the future. While the view of the policeman is painterly, it is a portrait of a man through whom we see a society at work. In the clipped adjectives and adverbs Heaney catches the formal and stilted nature of the encounter between his father and the official representative of 'the state'. There is little ease in the poem. The questions and the son's auditing of his father's evasion produce a markedly uncomfortable feel to the entire moment: the 'fat black handlegrips' of the bicycle, 'the pedal treads hanging relieved of the boot of the law', the 'cap … upside down/On the floor', the policeman's 'slightly sweating hair', the 'heavy ledger'. These terms convey an oppressive mood. As Heaney quoted elsewhere in the sequence, echoing the words of Michael McLaverty, 'Description is Revelation'. The reader can almost smell the physical presence of the armed policeman and the tense interest of the young boy in the policeman's revolver: 'holster', 'flap', 'braid cord', 'revolver butt', 'baton-case', 'belt'; a fascination that is in itself loaded. The details are all condensed in that 'ledger', the 'domesday book' that is snapped within the carrier spring as the policeman's 'boot' pushes off. The 'boot' is of course 'the boot of the law', but is there the hint of ‘jackboot’ just audible?

The exchange between the two men in 'A Constable Calls', though courteous, is best kept to a minimum, while the young boy remains silent. In the recalling mind of the poet, 'I assumed/Small guilts and sat/Imagining the black hole in the barracks'. These small guilts and the boyish anxiety of being imprisoned for his father's 'evasion' about the 'line of turnips' is no match for the inscrutably dark shadow of the law embodied in the individual policeman, and the disturbing sound of that final estranging line, 'And the bicycle ticked, ticked, ticked' as the dynamo lights the constable's way. But it is in the homely detail, and connivance not to reveal all, that the poem finds its critical point as the constable prepares to leave: 'Fitted his cap back with two hands,/And looked at me as he said goodbye'. Is it a gesture of assertion and authority and somewhat intimidating, or is the policeman conniving in the evasion?

In 'The Ministry of Fear', also from the same sequence, other policemen appear. This time we have moved on a decade or so. The boy has grown up and is returning home from college, and the tone is much more sinister and ‘political’:

And heading back for home, the summer'sFreedom dwindling night by night, the airAll moonlight and a scent of hay, policemenSwung their crimson flashlamps, crowding roundThe car like black cattle, snuffing and pointingThe muzzle of a sten-gun in my eye:‘What's your name, driver?’‘Seamus …’Seamus?

Instinct with signs

Now with a growing family of two boys and a daughter, Catherine Ann (b. 1973), Heaney returned to academic life as a lecturer and eventually head of English at Carysfort College of Education in Dublin, and to a new home in Sandymount, not far from where W. B. Yeats had been born. In his next collection, Fieldwork (1979), the partial collapse of Northern Irish society—where a person's name could spell serious trouble—is charted through the innocent casualties of conflict, such as Colum McCartney, the murdered son of a cousin of Heaney's father, to whom the poem 'The Strand at Lough Beg' is dedicated.

Placed alongside these tragedies, however, Heaney found a path to some measure of reconciliation between the damage done to individual and civic life by politically motivated violence and the restorative values of art, often in unlikely settings. 'The Harvest Bow', one of his best-known poems, is about the making of art as a redemptive activity, a form of emotional redress. It also touches upon a theme with which Heaney, during this midpoint of his career, was becoming greatly preoccupied in both his poetry and his critical prose such as The Government of the Tongue (1988), which included the text of his 1986 T. S. Eliot lectures.

Heaney's attention turned to the way people who feel, in a cultural and/or political sense, disenfranchised, learn how to keep to themselves, share their own codes of address, and reserve communication to symbolic gestures, nuances, and half-said things. In 'The Harvest Bow' the reticence is personal and concerns his father's traditional making of a harvest bow, and how, in creating one, he is identified with the timeless act of celebration and honouring of nature, as man-made things fall into disrepair and become useless—long discarded 'old beds and ploughs in hedges'. The 'harvest bow' leads the narrator into a reverie of a time past, remembering an evening with his father fishing. But this look back, as the father 'Beats out of time', is rendered magical and mystical—the 'corona', a circle of light, has a quasi-religious feel to it, while the past is itself special, unselfconscious, pre-language, 'instinct with signs', as Heaney said elsewhere (The Sense of Place, Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968–1978, 1980, 134). The terms of the poem—'I spy', 'the mellowed silence', and 'the unsaid' which is gleaned 'off the palpable'—the reflexes of language, and the tentative secrecy of signs are characteristic of Heaney as he moved deeper into a much more challenging sense of the meaning of the past. Here the recollected time with his father is about being out in the countryside, on the land, intuitively seeing and sensing each other's luminous presence, but not saying anything: 'tongue-tied'. The emotional focus of the poem is just a little blunted by the intervening 'educated' voice that quotes the line of Coventry Patmore, 'The end of art is peace', and comments, 'Could be the motto of this frail device/That I have pinned up on our deal dresser', but it captures justly the balance between the two men and the educational gulf that separates them, if it is allowed to.

Another of Heaney's ‘father’ poems, 'A Call', in The Spirit Level (1996), illustrates his sense of home and the household, the domus, and how typical it is of his poetry that the father is shown by what he is doing, rather than by what he says. In the poem the 'rueful' shows up as a messenger, a presentiment of life passing along with the 'ticking', this time of the clocks, and 'the phone … unattended in a calm/Of mirror glass and sun-struck pendulums …'. But the silence and decorum of the setting is broken as the poet asserts that he 'found myself then thinking: if it were nowadays,/This is how Death would summon Everyman', and concludes with the utterly convincing emotional revelation as the silence is broken: 'Next thing he spoke and I nearly said I loved him'. That ‘nearly’ contains a whole world of assumptions and human conduct. For the psychology of this poem works its way right through Heaney's art—of how we convey what we feel or enigmatically refrain from saying anything; in this case, a classic example of emotional reticence; politically, because of fear or suspicion.

International recognition

With the publication of Field Work (1979), followed shortly by his first collection of prose writing, Preoccupations (1980), Heaney's international reputation was growing apace. Long and lasting friendships developed with many of the leading poets of the time: in Britain, including Ted Hughes; in Europe, including Miłosz and others; and in the United States, including Robert Lowell, Louis Simpson, Derek Walcott, and Joseph Brodsky. Alongside his Irish friends, the dramatists Brian Friel and Thomas Kilroy, the actor Stephen Rea, the poets and critics Tom Paulin and Seamus Deane, and the musician Davy Hammond, Heaney was very involved in the Field Day Theatre Company, set up by Friel and Rea in Derry in 1980.

Having spent the spring term of 1979 in Harvard on leave from Carysfort College, Heaney found that the Carysfort job 'had become a big drag', with a great deal of additional teaching and administrative duties as head of the English department (Stepping Stones, 265). When an approach was made by Harvard University for him to teach in its English department on a more regular footing, he agreed. Initially on a temporary contract, he was appointed Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory in 1984 and started a somewhat bi-located life between home in Dublin (and Glanmore) and work at Harvard, which he was to continue for almost thirty years; he resigned from the chair in 1996 but subsequently held the post of Emerson poet in residence, 'a non-teaching role requiring a six-week visit on alternate years' (ibid., xxix).

In 1988 Heaney was appointed professor of poetry in Oxford University, and throughout the remaining decades of the twentieth century he contributed lectures and readings to various academic and literary fora. He had received numerous accolades for his poetry, including the Cholmondeley award (1968) for Death of a Naturalist, both the W. H. Smith and the Duff Cooper prizes for North (1975), the Whitbread award (1987) for The Haw Lantern, and again for The Spirit Level (1991), the Whitbread book of the year (1999) for his acclaimed translation of Beowulf, the T. S. Eliot prize in 2007 for District and Circle, and the Forward poetry prize, the Irish Times Poetry Now award, and the Griffin poetry prize for what would be his final collection, Human Chain (2010). He had also seen his achievement as poet, translator, anthologist—he was co-editor with Ted Hughes of The Rattle Bag (1982) and The School Bag (1997), both aimed at younger readers—and critic recognized with the bestowal of honorary doctorates in Ireland, Britain, the United States, and throughout Europe, including his election as an honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts.

In 1995, following in the steps of his fellow Irish writers George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, and Samuel Beckett, Heaney was awarded the Nobel prize for literature, 'for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past'. To mark the award of the prize and to celebrate Heaney's achievement on the world stage, the Arts Councils of Ireland (north and south), along with three universities (Queen's, Trinity College, Dublin, and University College, Dublin), established the Ireland chair of poetry in his honour in 1998; he suggested that it be named ‘Ireland’ rather than ‘Heaney’. In 2004 he did allow his name to be given to the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, a creative and critical hub based in Heaney's alma mater, Queen's University. In 2011 he was presented with the Ulysses medal, the highest award presented by University College, Dublin.

Final years

In August 2006, attending a party to celebrate the birthday of Anne Friel, the wife of one of his closest friends, the playwright Brian Friel, Heaney suffered a stroke. During his rehabilitation in Dublin, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, visited him. Heaney recovered but some time later experienced a depressive episode before making a full recovery. With the abiding care of family and friends, his valiant return to good health was met with great relief by the public in Ireland and worldwide, testament to the respect in which he was held. In Human Chain (2010), his final collection, the meditations on mortality merge with the classical allusiveness of Virgil's Aeneid in 'The Riverbank Field' and 'Route 110', as the poet recalls bus journeys returning home as a young student, counterbalanced with the birth of a grandchild, Anna Rose, to whom the poem is dedicated: 'as a thank-offering for one/Whose long wait on the shaded bank has ended,/I arrive with my bunch of stalks and silvered heads' (New Selected Poems, 210).

After Heaney suffered a fall medical tests discovered an acute divided aorta, necessitating a serious and challenging operation. Moments before the operation, at the Blackrock Clinic, Dublin, Heaney texted his wife, Marie, 'Noli timere' ('be not afraid'), but he slipped out of consciousness and died, on 30 August 2013, before the operation could take place.

'In Time', the final poem Heaney had drafted, barely two weeks before his death, is dedicated to his granddaughter Siofra and concludes: 'At play for their own sake/But for now we foot it lightly/In time, and silently' (New Selected Poems, 218). The poem echoes the lines chosen for his headstone in his home place of Bellaghy, co. Derry, where he was buried on 2 September, after an extraordinary outpouring of national and international grief at the loss of such a beloved and universally respected poet: 'So walk on air against your better judgement' (The Gravel Walks, New Selected Poems, 91). In Ireland his funeral was broadcast on the national television station; further tributes throughout the international media followed. The Seamus Heaney Home Place was built in co. Derry to house a library and heritage centre, while in Sandymount, Dublin, his home for much of his family life, Carolyn Mulholland's sculpture of Heaney sits in the shade of Sandymount Green, facing a sculptured head of that other poet associated with the neighbourhood, W. B. Yeats. On the day of its unveiling Paul Durcan read his poem in honour of Heaney's seventy-second birthday, in which he has Heaney remark: 'The main thing/Is to write for the joy of it', and recounts how the older poet 'obeyed his mother's pleas/“Be sure and dance with the girls who are not asked”' (P. Durcan, Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have My Being, 2012, 128).


Throughout his life Heaney mediated between joy and injunction with a wry and knowing intelligence for what truly mattered. Responding to a request from the British poet Carol Ann Duffy to contribute to a memorial anthology in The Guardian marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, Heaney chose Edward Thomas's 'As the Team's Head-Brass' and composed, two months before his own death, 'In a Field'. Set in the familiar landscape of his Derry childhood, he imagines being taken by 'one who arrived/From nowhere' to 'lead me back/Through the same old gate into the yard/Where everyone has suddenly appeared,/All standing waiting'.

It is the journey that runs through all Heaney's work as poet and writer, a dance to the music of time. For many readers of poetry, and for those to whom poetry retains a special mystique, Seamus Heaney's name embodies worldwide the value and connectedness of the art form with a global audience. The conviviality of the man, the quality of his loyalty to family and friends, the critical astuteness of his negotiating often painful political crises on his own doorstep—what John Carey described as Heaney's 'thirty-year struggle with the demon of doubt' (Sunday Times, 14 April 2002)—was matched by his fascination, even obsession, with poetry of all kinds, from many different languages and times.

Heaney personified the integrity of poetry to survive into the twenty-first century as its multivalent traditions came under the increasingly diffusive pressure of popularizing suspicions that the art of poetry is ‘élitist’. Heaney would have none of this: he spanned both popular and critical audiences and so his achievement is all the more telling. His final published work was a posthumous translation of Virgil's Aeneid Book VI, 'the result' (as he tells his readers in his 'Translator's Note') 'of a lifelong desire to honour the memory of my Latin teacher at St Columb's College, Father Michael McGlinchey'. He continued: 'The set text for our A level exam in 1957 was Aeneid IX but McGlinchey was forever sighing, “Och, boys, I wish it were Book VI”' (Aeneid: Book VI, 2016, vii). He maintained his lifelong commitment to poetry without compromise, but with a sense of fun and lasting pleasure in the written and spoken word.


  • E. Andrews, The poetry of Seamus Heaney: all the realms of whisper (1988)
  • M. Parker, Seamus Heaney: the making of the poet (1993)
  • B. O'Donoghue, Seamus Heaney and the language of poetry (1994)
  • S. Heaney, Crediting poetry: the Nobel lecture (1995)
  • J. W. Foster, The achievement of Seamus Heaney (1995)
  • A. Murphy, Seamus Heaney (1996)
  • H. Vendler, Seamus Heaney (1998)
  • N. Corcoran, The poetry of Seamus Heaney: a critical study (1998)
  • S. Heaney, Finders keepers: selected prose, 1971–2001 (2002)
  • K. M. Moloney, Seamus Heaney and the emblems of hope (2007)
  • R. Brandes and M. J. Durkan, Seamus Heaney: a bibliography, 1959–2003 (2008)
  • D. O'Driscoll, Stepping stones: interviews with Seamus Heaney (2008)
  • B. O'Donoghue, The Cambridge companion to Seamus Heaney (2009)


  • Emory University Libraries, Atlanta, USA, papers, 1951–2004
  • NL Ire., literary papers, 1963–2010


  • BFI NFTVA, interview, documentary and light entertainment footage
  • Poetry Foundation, ‘In Human Chain, Nobel-winning poet Seamus Heaney digs into the past’,
  • Ulster in Focus series, BBC Northern Ireland: ‘A Christmas garland’ (9 Dec 1970), ‘The loughsiders: Lough Erne’ (14 June 1972), ‘Bogland’ (11 Feb 1976), ‘The Boyne Valley, pt. 2: the new arrivals’ (9 June 1981)
  • Study Ireland Poetry series, BBC Northern Ireland, Feb–March 1999
  • interview and performance footage,
  • Seamus Heaney: a tribute, BBC2, 18 Sept 2013


  • BL NSA, performance, documentary, and interview recordings
  • Poetry Foundation, interview and performance recordings,
  • RTE archives, ‘Poetry taught me to trust Derry as well as Derrida’, 2008,
  • Seamus Heaney: collected poems, 15 CD box set, 2009
  • Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 19 Nov 1989,
  • ‘Seamus Heaney: poetry was entrancing’, 2013,


  • C. Mulholland, bronze bust, 1967, Sandymount Green, Dublin, Arts Council of Ireland
  • R. McKenna, bromide print, 1969, NPG
  • photograph, 1970, ITV / Rex Features
  • E. McGuire, portrait, 1974, NG Ire.
  • B. Hanvey, photograph, 1985, priv. coll.
  • G. Newson, bromide fibre print, 1986, NPG
  • P. Edwards, oils, 1987–8, NPG [see illus.]
  • photograph, 1995, Times Newspapers / Rex Features
  • M. Gerson, modern bromide print, 1996, NPG
  • photograph, 2010, Kazam Media / Rex Features
  • M. Carlini, photograph, 2012, Getty Images
  • J. Sutton-Hibbert, photograph, 2012, Getty Images
British Library, National Sound Archive
private collection
National Library of Ireland, Dublin
National Portrait Gallery, London
National Gallery of Ireland