POET and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has been remembered as one of Ireland’s finest literary minds after his death at the age of 74.
The poet and playwright passed away yesterday in hospital in Dublin, the city where he’d lived for the past four decades.
He was revered as the greatest Irish poet since WB Yeats and won numerous awards during his glittering career, including the Nobel Prize for Literature.
A statement from Heaney’s publisher, Faber and Faber, said: “We cannot adequately express our profound sorrow at the loss of one of the world’s greatest writers. His impact on literary culture is immeasurable. As his publisher, we could not have been prouder to publish his poetry over nearly 50 years.
“He was nothing short of an inspiration and his friendship over many years is a great loss.”
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it would take Heaney himself to describe the depth of loss Ireland would feel. “He is mourned – and deeply – wherever poetry and the world of the spirit are cherished and celebrated. For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people.”
Actor Liam Neeson, a fellow Northern Irishman, said: “With Seamus Heaney’s passing, Ireland, and Northern Ireland especially, has lost a part of its artistic soul. He crafted, through his poetry, who we are as a species and the living soil that we toiled in. He defined our place in the universe. May he rest in peace.”
Fellow Northern Irish poet Michael Longley said: “I feel like I’ve lost a brother and there are tens of thousands of people today who will be feeling personally bereaved because he had a great presence. Just as his presence filled a room, his marvellous poems filled the hearts of generations of readers.”
Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, described Heaney as “a great poet, a wonderful writer about poetry and a person of truly exceptional grace and intelligence.”
Born in April 1939, Heaney was raised on a farmhouse in Bellaghy, County Derry, and had spells as a teacher and university lecturer before becoming a professional writer.
Heaney, who had been suffering ill-health for some time, had recovered enough from a stroke in 2006 to keep on writing, with his later work inspired by his health troubles.
The eldest of nine children, Heaney was educated at St Columb’s College, a Catholic boarding school in Derry, and later Queen’s University Belfast, where he read English language and literature, before making his home in Dublin, with periods of teaching in the United States.
While he was at teacher training college in Belfast, he was introduced to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh and started to publish his own work in 1962, the year before a joined The Group, a gathering of young Belfast poets.
He first came to prominence in 1966 – the year after marrying his wife Marie – with his poetry collection Death of a Naturalist. That year he was appointed to a lecturer at Queen’s University.
In 1995, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, following in the footsteps of fellow Irish writers Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925) and Samuel Beckett (1969).
In one of his last interviews earlier this year, Heaney described the feelings of discovering poetry at university.
He said: “It was the voltage of the language, it was entrancing.
“I think the first little jolt I got was reading Gerard Manley Hopkins.He was kind of electric for me – he changed the rules with speech and the whole intensity of the language was there and so on.”
Heaney is survived by wife Marie and children Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.