by Frances Clarke, Archivist of the Seamus Heaney Literary Papers, 1963-2010

In November 2011 the National Library of Ireland acquired one of its most important donations for many years – the literary papers of the Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. The papers have since been catalogued (I was fortunate to work on this collection) and are now accessible to researchers in the Department of Manuscripts. The archive as a whole is a wonderful resource, as it spans Heaney’s career from his contributions to the poetry workshop, the Belfast Group in the early 1960s, right through to his 2010 poetry collection Human Chain. Alongside almost fifty years of poetry manuscripts (from multiple autograph and typescript rewrites through to the printer’s proofs) is a similarly extensive collection of drafts, lectures, essays, plays and reviews.

Blackberry Picking

Belfast Group submission containing a typescript draft of ‘Blackberry Picking’ (MS 49,493/1)

While working on the archive, I was particularly interested in its series of bound notebooks. These notebooks intrigued me because they so frequently include a very unpredictable and broad range of subject matter: a mixture of drafts of poems, reviews, occasional but nevertheless significant diary entries, doodles (often provided by his children) and jottings in which Heaney reflects on his ideas, preoccupations and the progress of his writing. In contrast to the files of worksheets – which are so focussed, organised and rarely contain any unconnected annotations – his notebooks show a different approach. Many were in use for long periods of time, were sometimes set aside and returned to after lengthy gaps, and could potentially contain just about any element from his extensive literary output.

An early notebook dating from January 1966 (MS 49,493/5), with its assortment of draft poems, text for a radio broadcast, reviews, notes and a single diary entry, is a case in point. Some of the poems drafted in this volume went on to be published in the collections Door Into The Dark (1969), Wintering Out (1972), North (1974) and Seeing Things (1991).

Child Lost

Manuscript drafts of ‘Child Lost’ dated January 1966, with marginal notes in which Heaney works out the poem’s meter (MS 49,493/5)

The single diary entry in this notebook relates to Heaney’s visit to Dingle, Co. Kerry and is dated 19 August 1966. It provides an account of his visit to Gallarus Oratory, which, on the day in question was packed with tourists – ‘all cameras and loud talk’. Heaney’s concluding remarks record his disappointment in the visit – ‘It was the kind of place where one could have sat alone, just in the presence of the past. But not to-day’.

Galarus Oratory

Diary entry of 19 August 1966 (MS 49,493/5)

Nevertheless, Gallarus was clearly a source of inspiration for him as is evident from his poem ‘In Gallarus Oratory’, collected in Door Into The Dark (1969).

There is a definite sense that Heaney used his notebooks to document significant, standout moments in his life and career. He records news of his appointment to the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in June 1989 in a notebook that for the most part contains drafts of poems later collected in Seeing Things (MS 49,493/91). Later, on September 12, and in a different notebook, he records his plans to ‘make a first stab at the writing of the Oxford inaugural’. This statement of intent is followed by a vivid and eloquent analysis of the writing process, of his strategy for working and teasing out ideas for his first lecture as Professor of Poetry, and is later followed by a draft of the inaugural lecture in question titled ‘The Redress of Poetry’, which he delivered at Oxford on 24 October 1989.

Redress of Poetry

Diary entry of 12 September 1989 (MS 49,493/185)

Heaney also used the notebooks to log new or challenging literary undertakings. A notebook which contains drafts of the poem sequence ‘Mycenae Lookout’ (published in the collection The Spirit Level in 1996) includes a diary entry for 31 October 1994 in which he outlines his intention to ‘Break through the concrete. Unbreak my nerve.’ and ‘get started with the figure of the watchman in the Agamemnon.’ (MS 49,493/110).

Mycenae Lookout

Drafts of the poem sequence ‘Mycenae Lookout’, written 1994 (MS 49,493/110)

Similarly, in another notebook, he records his plans to start writing the ‘Station Island’ sequence of poems, later published in the collection of the same name in 1984. His diary entry on 4 September 1979 states ‘On Saturday … I began what I hope will be a large undertaking, the poem I have been thinking about set on Lough Derg – a big open form that will turn like a wheel’. (MS 49,493/57)

A subsequent diary entry (16 November 1980) records his frustration at his stalled progress with the ‘Lough Derg poem’ which he describes as ‘a building site, abandoned in November. Cold. Mucky. Puddled’. This notebook also provide us with evidence that Heaney returned to the ‘Station Island’ sequence by the following January and in a subsequent progress note, dated 16 January 1981, he writes of his having achieved ‘some grip’ on the sequence.

Station Island

Notes regarding his plans for ‘Station Island’ dated 16 January 1981 (MS 49,493/57)

Heaney also uses his notebooks to make fleeting but nevertheless interesting references to family life and the importance and value he placed on friendship. This more personal element is most evident in the notebook series than in any other aspect of the archive. In fact some of the notebooks themselves are presents from his children and contain their inscriptions and drawings. A brief diary entry on 25 December 1973 in one such present describes his family’s different activities on Christmas morning.

Christmas Day

Diary entry for 25 December 1973 (MS 49,493/142)

The same notebook remained in use up to 1989, and contains drafts of poems and essays on poets Philip Larkin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ezra Pound and W.B. Yeats, alongside a diary entry for 15 July 1988 in which he writes of his re-examination of poems he had written in early 1975 and the pressures of ‘poetry endeavour’.

The importance of his friendships with other poets and writers is also evident from an examination of the notebooks. Heaney records his thoughts on hearing of the death of American poet Robert Lowell in September 1977, and follows it with an account of the last time he and Lowell met.

Robert Lowell

Note, in which Heaney records the death of Robert Lowell dated 13 September 1977 (MS 49,493/11)

Later, in November 1980, when writing of his struggles to conclude ‘Station Island’ he recalls the positive and sustaining effects of his contact with the poet Ted Hughes and playwright Thomas Kilroy (MS 49,493/57).

This collection – which proved so engrossing to catalogue – is a wonderful record of Seamus Heaney’s life as a writer, and is a tremendous addition to the National Library’s already great collection of Irish literary papers.

The National Library is planning to launch a ‘Seamus Heaney Archive Project’ which aims to bring this tremendous archive to a wider audience.


by Pól Ó Duibhir, retired and family history researcher

The Connection    The day was 16 June 1946. The man in the sweetshop collapsed and died on the spot. There would be no cartoon of this event. But it was not easily forgotten in the sweetshop owner’s family. The man was Gordon Brewster, artist and cartoonist for Independent Newspapers, and the sweetshop owner was my mother. And that is how, when I started off on my family history research in recent years, I determined to check out a few things about Gordon Brewster. Did he actually die in The Gem in Howth village or was he just taken ill there? What sort of an artist was he, and what were his cartoons all about? Who was this man, at all?

The Gem, Howth

The Gem sweetshop is just under the bridge in this photo of a Howth tram, March 1959. NLI ref. ODEA 10/2

First the death cert. I now knew where to find this sort of stuff, and sure enough he died in the shop, just as I had been told (I was just under 2 at the time).

Then the cartoons. A former colleague, Felix M. Larkin, had just written a book on the Shemus cartoons, a collection of which are in the National Library of Ireland. Felix introduced me to Honora Faul, who has charge of  the collection of Brewster cartoons in the library. Yes, there is such a collection of his cartoons, the bulk of which span the period 1922-32. We are fortunate that Brewster insisted that the newspapers, mainly the Evening Herald, return his cartoons to him after publication, so there was such a collection in his personal effects.

The Collection  –  It took me a while to get around to checking out the collection. It wasn’t at the top of my to do list and I only got in to the library just before Christmas. Honora was great. She just let me at it. There are 500 cartoons in the collection, all mounted and boxed. As I was coming at this from scratch I figured that rather than spending time mulling over individual cartoons, I should do the whole sweep at one go and try and get an initial impression of the man. I arrived just after lunchtime and had looked at the last of the 500 just as the room  was about to close for the day at 5 p.m.

Insight into the period  –  For that whole afternoon, I was in another world. I was transported back to the foundation of the State and met the main characters who are now part of our history. I met our former British rulers, whose actions were still so important to us and through whose eyes we still saw much of the outside world. I even met Santa, who in a few weeks’ time was due to again visit a very different world  from Brewster’s.

The selection below is a small subset of those that particularly appealed to me. I would like to have included more but there are just so many and they are all good ones. So the choice below is personal and perhaps a little quirky.

Evening Herald

The Two Voices by Gordon Brewster. Evening Herald, 6 June 1931. NLI ref. PD 2199 TX 356

What with the Lotto and all that, I had nearly forgotten that great economic pillar of the new State, the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes. This was basically an illegal lottery, or should I say an illegally marketed lottery. While lots of the Irish at home bought tickets, the main focus of the operation was the U.K. and U.S.A., where tickets were surreptitiously sold in vast numbers. The authorities in those countries were not amused.

Relevance to today  –  But what really blew my mind was the relevance to today of so many of the cartoons. They could have been drawn yesterday.

Evening Herald

The Merrion St Distorting Mirror by Gordon Brewster. Evening Herald, 8 April 1926. NLI ref. PD 2199 TX 37

Inflated public sector salaries at the taxpayer/citizen’s expense is a recurring theme in the cartoons. And what could be more current today?

Sunday Independent

The Old Age Pensioner's Treatment by Gordon Brewster. Sunday Independent. NLI ref. PD 2199 TX 425

Sense of humour  –  This one really made me smile. I’d have laughed were it not for the hush around me as I went through the collection. It is really a beauty – the subtle way he has worked in his signature.

Evening Herald

A Wind Fall by Gordon Brewster. Evening Herald, 11 August 1928. NLI ref. PD 2199 TX 207

And this portrayal of George Bernard Shaw out after the doctors’ scalps is a hoot. It is a great take on G.B.S. and, I have to say, a  theme which resonates with me to this day.

Sunday Independent

G.B.S. Out For Scalps by Gordon Brewster. Sunday Independent. NLI ref. PD 2199 TX 426

Attention to detail  –  The cartoons, as you will have seen by now, are beautifully and carefully drawn. So, it is no wonder he wanted them back after they were printed.

In attending to detail in this view at Dollymount Strand, Gordon Brewster hasn’t missed the Sutton Martello (No. 1 Northside) which really brings the location alive for those that know it.

Evening Herald

The Bather's Death Trap at Dollymount by Gordon Brewster. Evening Herald, 21 September 1929. NLI ref. PD 2199 TX 232

Overview  –  It was a real privilege to get to go through this collection of cartoons. As I’ve already said, I charged through them to get an overall impression of the man. To do them justice you would need to linger over each one. Don’t forget that they appeared individually in the paper of the day and dealt with issues with which the reader would have been familiar at the time. So they probably were lingered over and deservedly so.

Gordon Brewster’s cartoons have been made available online by the National Library of Ireland so that they can be seen and appreciated worldwide. Maybe someday a book will result? And it is well to remember that this collection is probably only a part of Brewster’s output both as a cartoonist and an artist. There may be a lot more to come. From somewhere…

Evening Herald

March Many Weather by Gordon Brewster. Evening Herald, 2 April 1931. NLI ref. PD 2199 TX 339

My thanks to Honora Faul for access to the cartoons and for suggesting this post which Carol Maddock, who runs the blog and tweets the National Library’s path through the undergrowth, acceded to with  blessed alacrity.


by Josh Hughes, NLI project intern and MPhil in Digital Humanities and Culture, TCD

On Thursday, 21 March 2013, the National Library of Ireland will host its third collection day on behalf of the Europeana 1914-1918 project. In an effort to preserve and make available to the public the stories, artefacts and photographs that many families have from the Great War, the project has been running a series of these “Roadshow”-style events across Europe, with thousands of items now available for viewing on the Europeana website. Last year’s event in Dublin was such a success that this year there is a smaller scale rerun to facilitate visitors who were turned away due to time constraints last March.


A very full house at our first WWI collection day, 21 March 2012

As an intern for the project, as part of an MPhil in Digital Humanities and Culture in Trinity, I have been involved in editing and uploading some of the content from last year that was still outstanding. This killed two birds with one stone, so to speak, as it meant that this material was dealt with, while allowing me to familiarise myself with the processes involved in doing this. On Thursday I will be recording and cataloguing the material that people bring in, while in the aftermath of the day there will be lots more editing, tagging and uploading to be done. Perhaps the most rewarding part of this is some of the interesting material that comes up.

Pocket Watch

Pocket watch belonging to Major Edward Sherlock

For example, some of the stories from last year include that of a Major Edward Sherlock and his pocket watch, shown here. The watch was presented to him at some time during or after the Great War but went missing – presumed stolen – shortly after his death in 1953. Over fifty years later, a man was apprehended by Gardaí for possession of stolen goods with the watch among them. From the inscription (“To Maj. E. Sherlock M.C. from officers NCOS and men of D/161 Bde. R.F.A. with luck and best wishes”) they managed to seek out Sherlock’s daughter and return the item to its rightful owner.


Crucifix that deflected a bullet and saved the life of Private James Burke in March 1918

Another miraculous story was that of a Private James Burke, who benefited from two rather amazing strokes of luck, according to a friend of the family by the name of Dan Mullan who came to last year’s event. Burke was wounded by a German bullet while fighting in March 1918 – a bullet which would have almost certainly killed him had he not been wearing a metal crucifix that deflected it. Stranded in No Man’s Land, and surely done for, he was then saved by a young German officer who pulled him out and brought him to a field hospital where he recovered before becoming a prisoner of war. The crucifix that saved Private James Burke’s life as well as other memorabilia from his time as a soldier can be seen here.

We are very excited to see what this year’s event will bring. Keep checking back to the Europeana 1914-1918 website over the coming weeks and months to see for yourself – and don’t forget that you can upload your own family memorabilia and stories directly to the website.