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  • Sep 15, 2014
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IRELAND

Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney dies aged 74

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 7:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 3:10am

Seamus Heaney, one of the world's top poets and winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for literature, has died aged 74 after a short illness, his family said yesterday.

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Heaney was renowned for his mastery of Irish and Gaelic sources, as well as Old English, the Anglo-Saxon tongue from which he translated in 1999 a much-praised version of the medieval epic Beowulf.

Irish President Michael Higgins - himself a published poet - said Heaney's contribution "to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense".

"I have described Seamus Heaney as a national treasure, but he was an international treasure, a colossus of literature," said Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness.

The leader of Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt, described Heaney as a man of global significance.

"We all remember how US president Bill Clinton chose Heaney's great phrase about when 'hope and history rhyme' from Heaney's play The Cure At Troy in his speech in Londonderry, and went on to use it for the title of his book detailing his vision of the US in the 21st century," he said.

Although wary of being compared to Irish poet William Butler Yeats - who died in 1939, the year Heaney was born - he acknowledged his kinship with a compatriot who also dug deep into ancient Irish traditions while reflecting modern conflicts.

For the last 40-odd years, Heaney's poems have crystallised the story of our times, in language which has bravely and memorably continued to extend its imaginative reach
Andrew Motion, former British poet laureate

Heaney was born into a Catholic family in County Derry, Northern Ireland. His father was a farmer, while his mother's family worked in the linen industry.

The oldest of nine children, he became a boarder at St Columb's College in the city of Derry, where he studied Latin and Gaelic.

Heaney went on to take English language and literature at Queen's University in Belfast, which became his home until 1972 and where he came under the influence of the British writer and teacher, Philip Hobsbaum.

His first published work was Eleven Poems in 1965, the year he married Marie Devlin, a writer about whom he penned some of his finest poems. They had two sons and a daughter.

In 1972, at the height of "the troubles" in Northern Ireland, Heaney moved to Dublin, which was to be his home base for the rest of his life.

After a spell devoted only to writing, he resumed teaching in 1975, speaking as a guest lecturer in US universities and in Britain. Between 1989 and 1994 he held the coveted post of professor of poetry at Oxford University.

The following year he became the fourth Irish writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature, the three others having been Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925) and Samuel Beckett (1969).

"For the last 40-odd years, Heaney's poems have crystallised the story of our times, in language which has bravely and memorably continued to extend its imaginative reach," said Andrew Motion, Britain's then-poet laureate and the chairman of the judges.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters

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