Seamus Heaney was “a poet of the in-between”. He lived in a time of great division between England and Ireland, North and South, Catholic and Protestant; but he always strived for subtlety and nuance. As a university student, he used the pseudonym “Incertus” — Latin for “uncertain”. But one thing was for sure: he and his work were deeply rooted in Ireland. So much so that when one of his poems was included in a British anthology, he responded with the lines: “Be advised my passport’s green. / No glass of ours was ever raised / to toast the Queen.” In 1995 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”
In his first major published collection, Death of a Naturalist, Heaney explores his provincial upbringing on a farm in 20th century Northern Ireland. But through his careful descriptions of nature, he touches on more universal human themes — such as death, love and hard work.
Insect extinction threatens ‘collapse of nature’
According to a shock report, Earth’s insects could be wiped out in the next 100 years — with “catastrophic” consequences for humankind. Scientists say drastic action is needed to avert disaster.
Outcry as dictionary ditches nature for tech
The Oxford Junior Dictionary is dropping earthy words like 'heather' and 'acorn' for more technical vocabulary like ‘analogue' and 'cut and paste’. Are we losing touch with nature?
Britain’s greatest living painter turns to landscape
Yesterday, tickets went on sale for a huge new David Hockney exhibition. The world famous painter is revitalising landscape art. Why are we so fascinated by nature?
Heaney has been called the “most important Irish poet since Yeats” and his writing frequently explores the culture, tradition and politics of his home country, particularly during the violent period known as the Troubles from 1968-1998.
Prince and Irish rebel set old enmity aside
A brief meeting between Prince Charles and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has been seen as historic. Does it add to the chances of a lasting reconciliation in Northern Ireland?
McGuinness: IRA leader turned peacemaker
It was an extraordinary personal journey. Martin McGuinness went from being a militant IRA commander to a “courageous” peacemaker. Now he has died aged 66. How should he be remembered?
Easter 1916: ‘a terrible beauty is born’
This weekend marks the centenary of the Easter Rising, the defining event of modern Irish republicanism and the inspiration for one of the greatest poems ever written. But was Yeats right?
Ireland is a country with a rich — and often violent — history. During the Troubles, Heaney resented the fact that people looked to him for comment and guidance. He refused to make his position clear — but he tried to understand his country’s “current unrest” by looking into its past.
Battle lines drawn over WWI commemorations
The First World War left 16 million dead and paralysed much of the globe. One hundred years later, politicians and historians debate how best to remember ‘the war to end all wars.’
The Queen makes historic visit to Ireland
The two countries are close neighbours and trading partners. Yet no British monarch has visited Ireland for 100 years. Behind the cheerful welcome is a history of violence and hate.
First evidence of human violence found
Archaeologists in Spain have discovered the first known victim of a fatal human attack, dating back 430,000 years. Is violence an inescapable part of human nature?
In his poems “Digging” and “Follower”, Heaney considers his relationship with his father, a rural farmer just like his father before him. Heaney knew that he would take a different path — but his writing is deeply rooted in his childhood, family and community.
‘Moral’ young people put family first
Religion, broader society and even other relationships lose out in a new survey of teens and young adults – looking after family is seen as the best measure of morality.
Sporting star in Father’s Day tribute
On Father’s Day, golfer Justin Rose thanked his father, now dead, for spurring him on to success. But family groups say negative stereotypes of ‘hopeless’ dads are too common.
Father’s Day: from ‘fake mums’ to ‘new dads’
What is fatherhood? The accepted answer has changed hugely over the past 100 years. Now experts say that finally the role has found its healthiest and happiest definition. Can they be right?
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Heaney said that the best poems were “a retuning of the world itself”, like a thump which fixes a flickering TV set or the shock which sets a heart beating again. Can words really change the world?
Poems can be secret weapons, claims new book
Can poems change the world? Today is National Poetry Day, and according to a new book poems can improve our health. Some think poetry is even powerful enough to cause political change.
Shakespeare intervenes in refugee crisis
The British Library has digitised a powerful speech in Shakespeare’s own handwriting: a heartfelt plea for the humane treatment of refugees. Does the bard have an answer to Europe’s crisis?