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Poets join Merriman Summer School role call

ONE of four Irishmen to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Seamus Heaney is coming to Clare.
The poet will be taking part in the Merriman Summer School in Lisdoonvarna on Friday, August 16 and will be accompanied by his friend and fellow poet, Michael Longley.

The theme of Merriman this year is Ireland North and South: Two Societies Growing Apart and it will examine politics, society and culture in the 26 counties and the six counties in the 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

A Derry man, Heaney was born in 1939, not long after partition and just as the Second World War was beginning.

Books such as Wintering Out and North in the early and mid-70s dealt with the Troubles. One reviewer said Heaney had “written poems directly about the Troubles as well as elegies for friends and acquaintances who have died in them; he has tried to discover a historical framework in which to interpret the current unrest and he has taken on the mantle of public spokesman, someone looked to for comment and guidance.”

When he was 12-years-old, Heaney won a scholarship to St Columb’s College, a Catholic boarding school, 40 miles from his home. He lived in Belfast from 1957 to ’72 and then moved to the Republic, which became his home. He has also spent long spells teaching in the US.

He won the Nobel Prize in 1995, for what the Nobel committee described as “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”. At the time, Heaney was on holiday in Greece and was out of reach of the media and indeed his own children. When asked how it felt to be in the Nobel pantheon alongside William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, he responded, “It’s like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range. You hope you just live up to it. It’s extraordinary.”

Heaney published Requiem for the Croppies in 1966, 50 years on from the Easter Rising and it commemorated the rebels of 1798. He has read it to both Catholic and Protestant audiences and speaking about it, he commented, “To read Requiem for the Croppies wasn’t to say ‘Up the IRA’ or anything. It was silence-breaking, rather than rabble-rousing.”

As well as being one of the world’s greatest poets, he is also a translator and his translation of Beowulf was the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2000. His works of drama include The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes and The Burial at Thebes.

Longley was also born in 1939 and is a former winner of the Whitbread Poetry Prize. He was also a winner of the Irish Times Literature Prize for Poetry, the Hawthornden Prize and the TS Elliot Prize. In 2001, he was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

Among the other speakers during the summer school will be Fianna Fáil leader Mícheal Martin; former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Sir Ken Bloomfield; Marian Harkin MEP; Church of Ireland primate Archbishop Richard Clarke; Alliance East Belfast MP Naomi Long; director of the Irish School of Ecumenics Geraldine Smyth and journalists Fintan O’Toole and Dan O’Brien.

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