Seamus Justin Heaney (IPA: /ˈʃeɪməs ˈʜɪːnɪ/) (born 13 April 1939) is an Irish poet, writer and lecturer from County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. He currently lives in Dublin.
Heaney was born the eldest of nine children at the family farmhouse called Mossbawn, near Castledawson, thirty miles to the north-west of Belfast, in Northern Ireland. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and a nationalist. His family moved to a bigger farm in nearby Bellaghy in 1953.
He was educated initially at Anahorish Primary School in Newbridge. He won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, then a Catholic boarding school in Derry, and it was while studying here as a young teenager that his family moved to Bellaghy. At St Columb's he was taught the Irish language. When he was fourteen, his four-year-old brother Christopher was killed in a road accident, an event that he would later write about in two poems.
In 1957 Heaney travelled to Belfast to study English Language and Literature at the Queen's University of Belfast. He graduated in 1961 with a First Class Honours degree. During teacher training at St Joseph's Teacher Training College in Belfast, he went on a placement to St Thomas' secondary Intermediate School in west Belfast. The headmaster of this school was the writer Michael MacLaverty from County Monaghan, who introduced Heaney to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh. It was at this time that he first started to publish poetry, beginning in 1962. In 1963 he became a lecturer at St Josephs. In spring 1963, after contributing various articles to local magazines, he came to the attention of Philip Hobsbaum, then an English lecturer at Queen's University. Hobsbaum was to set up a Belfast Group of local young poets (to mirror the success he had with the London group) and this would bring Heaney into contact with other Belfast poets such as Derek Mahon and Michael Longley.
Heaney's work often deals with the local — that is, his surroundings and everything inclusive of them. Inevitably this means Ireland, and particularly Northern Ireland. Hints of sectarian violence, which began just as his writing career did, can be found in many of his poems, even works that on the surface appear to deal with something else. Like the Troubles themselves, Heaney's work is deeply associated with the lessons of history, sometimes even prehistory. Many of his works concern his own family history and focus on characters in his own family: they can be read as elegies for those family members. He has acknowledged this trend.
The Anglo-Saxon influences in his work are also noteworthy, his university study of the language having had a profound effect on his work. It also led to a small revival of interest in the verse forms of Anglo-Saxon poetry amongst a number of poets influenced by Heaney. He has also written critically well-regarded essays and two plays. His essays, among other things, have been credited with beginning the critical re-examination of Thomas Hardy. His anthologies (edited with friend Ted Hughes), The Rattle Bag, and The School Bag, are used extensively in schools in the U.K. and elsewhere. Heaney's collection District and Circle won the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize.
In addition to original works, Heaney has published translations, including a version (with Stanisław Barańczak) of Jan Kochanowski's Laments from the Renaissance Polish (1995), a highly-regarded verse translation of Beowulf from the Old English (1999), and a version of Sophocles' Antigone, called The Burial at Thebes (2004).
His influence on contemporary poetry is reckoned to be immense. Robert Lowell has called Heaney "the most important Irish poet since Yeats". A good many others have echoed the sentiment. His influence is not restricted to Ireland but is felt world-wide. His volumes make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain.