Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the death of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney today has brought a “great sorrow to Ireland” and only the poet himself could describe the depth of his loss to the nation.
Heaney died this morning at the Blackrock Clinic aged 74 after a short illness.
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He was admitted to the clinic for a procedure but died prior to the operation
President Michael D Higgins said Heaney’s contribution “to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense”.
“As tributes flow in from around the world, as people recall the extraordinary occasions of the readings and the lectures, we inIreland will once again get a sense of the depth and range of the contribution of Seamus Heaney to our contemporary world, but what those of us who have had the privilege of his friendship and presence will miss is the extraordinary depth and warmth of his personality,” he said.
Mr Higgins, himself a published poet, described Heaney as warm, humourous, caring and courteous.
“A courtesy that enabled him to carry with such wry Northern Irish dignity so many well-deserved honours from all over the world,” he said.
“Generations of Irish people will have been familiar with Seamus’ poems. Scholars all over the world will have gained from the depth of the critical essays, and so many rights organisations will want to thank him for all the solidarity he gave to the struggles within the republic of conscience.”
Both men alluded to the loss of confidence brought about by the implosion of the economic bubble.
Just before lunchtime today, actor Adrian Dunbar led a round of applause at the bust of Heaney in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, while a book of condolences is to be opened in the Guildhall in Derry.
Heaney’s work has been taught in schools in the Republic, in Northern Ireland and in Britain with lines of verse still resonating years later from the likes of Digging and Tollund Man.
The Nobel prize-winner was born in April 1939, the eldest of nine children, on a small farm called Mossbawn near Bellaghy in Co Derry, Northern Ireland, and his upbringing often played out in the poetry he wrote in later years.
He was educated at St Columb’s College, Derry, a Catholic boarding school, and later at Queen’s University Belfast, before making his home in Dublin, with periods of teaching in the US.
Heaney was an honorary fellow at Trinity College Dublin and last year was bestowed with the Seamus Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing at the university, which he described as a great honour.
His world renowned poetry first came to public attention in the mid-1960s with his first major collection, Death Of A Naturalist, published in 1966. As the Troubles took hold later that decade, his experiences were seen through the darkened mood of his work.
Heaney was the most significant Irish poet of his generation and described by fellow poet Robert Lowell as the “most important Irish poet since Yeats”.
Along with being a poet of immense stature, he was also a well-known public figure and a member of Aosdana since its foundation.
Heaney said writers had a detached attitude to the “forms of success that have failed spectacularly and disastrously.