Heaney Donates Archive to the NLI

Seamus Heaney Donation 2011Seamus Heaney Donation 2011

The Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny TD, accompanied by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Mr Jimmy Deenihan TD, attended a reception on Wednesday 21st December to mark the hand-over of the literary papers of Irish Nobel laureate Dr Seamus Heaney to the NLI. Speaking in the NLI Reading Room, the Taoiseach singled out the Archive’s “mixture of the familiar and the unknown”, describing it as “an invaluable resource which offers an extraordinary insight into how poetry is imagined and elaborated before it appears in print”.

Minister Deenihan called the donation “a thread of continuity between writers and the National Library, where Dr Heaney himself, like many great Irish writers before him, has researched, worked and written.”

The reception was attended by Dr Heaney, his wife Marie and members of their family. 

At the heart of the Archive are the manuscripts of Seamus Heaney’s poetry – a comprehensive and vast collection of loose-leaf, typescript and manuscript worksheets and bound notebooks that span Heaney’s literary career from the publication of his first major collection Death of a Naturalist (1966), onto volumes such as Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975), right through to Station Island (1984), Seeing Things (1991) and his most recent publications District and Circle (2006) and Human Chain (2010).

The Archive also illuminates Dr Heaney’s extensive career as a teacher, academic, broadcaster, literary critic and man of letters. Included are typescript and manuscript drafts of his prose works including The Government of the Tongue (1988) and the early drafts of lectures, delivered as Oxford Professor of Poetry, which were subsequently collected and published in The Redress of Poetry (1995).

Similarly represented in the Archive is Dr Heaney’s work as a translator – notably his collaborations with Stanislaw Baranczak on an English language translation of the poems of Polish poet Jan Kochanowski, published in 1995, and his translations from the poetry of Brian Merriman published in 2000. His re-workings of the work of Sophocles also feature in drafts of his first play The Cure at Troy which was produced by the Field Day Theatre Company in 1990, of which Heaney has served as a Director, and his second dramatic work The Burial at Thebes which was commissioned by the Abbey Theatre for its centenary year.

This fascinating literary archive, the working papers of one of Ireland’s greatest living writer, is an extraordinary addition to the NLI’s treasures It complements collections which include the literary papers of several internationally acclaimed contemporary Irish writers, including Marina Carr, Roddy Doyle, Paul Durcan, Brian Friel, Hugo Hamilton, John Montague, Edna O’Brien and Colm Tóibín. It also holds the papers of Maria Edgeworth, George Moore, Kate O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan, Benedict Kiely, Christy Brown, James Plunkett and James Joyce. Welcoming the donation, the Director of the NLI, Fiona Ross said that Dr Heaney’s extraordinary gift as a poet enriches us all and is a source of great honour and pride to Ireland.

“The archive is an extraordinary record of a lifetime’s work by one of the leading Irish writers of his generation, the best-known poet in the English-speaking world. It is unique in its comprehensiveness, its range and multiplicity. Given the move to electronic records, it may be one of the last paper archives of a major writer to become available. It is likely to attract many researchers, cultural tourists and other visitors to Dublin for many years to come. The NLI is proud to become a centre for Heaney scholarship and we look forward to making this collection available to scholars and researchers from all over the world”, Ms Ross concluded.

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