Seamus Heaney was born on 13 April, 1939 in rural County Derry, in Northern Ireland. He was the eldest of nine children born to Patrick Heaney, a cattle farmer, and Margaret McCann, and grew up on the family farm of Mossbawn. Heaney’s childhood was a peaceful and simple one: in his Nobel lecture, he called it ‘an intimate, physical, creaturely existence… in suspension between the archaic and the modern’. The people, landscapes and memories of his upbringing would inform his poetry throughout his life.
In 1953, Heaney’s second youngest brother Christopher was killed in a road accident, aged four. This tragic event is commemorated in one of his most famous poems, ‘Mid-Term Break’. After Christopher’s death, the family moved to a new farm, The Wood, outside the village of Bellaghy.
In 1951, Heaney began his studies at St Columb’s College in Derry, leaving the family home to become a boarder there. He poignantly describes the separation from his parents in the poem ‘The Conway Stewart’, from his final collection, Human Chain. Heaney went on to Queen’s University Belfast in 1957 to study English Language and Literature, and graduated with First Class Honours. After earning his diploma from St Joseph’s College of Education in 1962, he began his career as a teacher.
Marriage and family
In 1965, he married Marie Devlin, who had grown up near the poet, in Ardboe, County Tyrone, on the shores of Lough Neagh. Together they had three children, Michael (born in 1966), Christopher (1968) and Catherine Ann (1973). They lived in Belfast until 1972, when they moved to County Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland. In 1975, he took up a teaching post at Carysfort College of Education in Dublin and, the following year, moved with his family to a new home in the city's neighbourhood of Sandymount, where he would live for the rest of his life.
International and public life
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Seamus Heaney’s international reputation grew. His work gained a devoted readership in the US in particular, where, from 1982 onwards, he spent four months every year teaching at Harvard University. As his work was translated into other languages, he also found a readership beyond the English-speaking world. He travelled extensively, delivering lectures, taking part in festivals and summer schools, and giving readings around the world.