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Seamus Heaney went to the local primary school at Anahorish. He received a scholarship to secondary school at St Columb’s College in Derry, where he was a boarder. He went on to  Queen’s University, Belfast and graduated with a BA in English Language and Literature. In 1962 he completed a diploma course at St Joseph’s College of Education and started work as a schoolteacher.
Seamus Heaney started writing while still studying at Queen’s University Belfast and was a member of The Belfast Group, a gathering of young Northern Irish poets who met weekly to share and develop their work, under the guidance of poet and Queen’s lecturer Philip Hobsbaum.
In 1964, three of Heaney’s poems – including possibly his best-known, ‘Digging’ – were published in The New Statesman magazine. Their appearance prompted the Poetry Editor of Faber and Faber, Charles Monteith, to contact the young poet and see if he had a manuscript – and in May 1966 his debut, Death of a Naturalist, was published.


Over the next four decades, Seamus Heaney would publish eleven more volumes of original poetry with Faber and Faber. Heaney’s early volumes included Door Into the Dark, Wintering Out and the landmark North, published in 1975 after the poet and his family moved from Belfast to Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland, as sectarian violence erupted in Northern Ireland. These early collections are firmly rooted in the landscapes and traditions of Heaney’s native Derry, but in poems such as ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’ and ‘The Tollund Man’, they also reflected the turmoil of the times.
Field Work, Station Island and The Haw Lantern followed, all of which engaged with the themes of history (both personal and political), place and the ‘everyday miracles’ that the Swedish Academy would later recognise in the citation for the Nobel Prize. Heaney’s 1991 collection Seeing Things was viewed as another departure as the poet – then just in his fifties – found ‘Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten’. In this and his later volumes The Spirit Level, Electric Light, District and Circle and Human Chain, the poet continued to mine his personal past while exploring themes of loss, memory and the changing world of the 21st century.

Translations, plays and prose

Seamus Heaney was also an accomplished translator. His 1999 version of the Old English epic poem Beowulf became an international bestseller. Other works include translations from Middle Irish, such as Sweeney Astray and The Midnight Verdict (published by The Gallery Press, run by his friend Peter Fallon) and a limited edition of late translations of the work of Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli. His translation of Virgil’s Aeneid Book VI – a work that has fascinated him since his schooldays – was published posthumously in 2016.
In addition to his poetry, Heaney wrote two plays, The Cure at Troy and The Burial at Thebes, which were adaptations of Sophocles’ ancient Greek dramas Philoctetes and Antigone, respectively.
Heaney was admired as a critic and essayist. He published three collections of prose, Preoccupations, The Government of the Tongue, and Finders Keepers, as well as The Redress of Poetry, a collection of the lectures he gave as Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1989-1994. While often overshadowed by his poetry, Heaney’s prose illustrates his gifts as both a critic and teacher, and in many ways these pieces serve as his manifesto for poetry’s place and relevance in the modern world.