Poetic justice for Heaney as gift of archive clears home of clutter


A FEW months ago Seamus Heaney drove into the car park of the National Library of Ireland laden down with cardboard boxes full of manuscripts, notes, drafts and rewrites of his life’s work.

He had arrived to give his entire literary archive to the State. By any measure, it is a priceless treasure trove for academics, scholars and readers of Ireland’s most celebrated living poet. But Heaney didn’t quite see it like that.

Yesterday, at an event to mark the official handing-over of his literary papers, he joked that his house was finally free of 50 years’ of clutter.

“It’s a happiness to feel no regrets at the removal of the stuff from the house, but to feel a cause for gratitude and pride,” the 72-year-old Nobel laureate said.

The archive includes 16 bound notebooks, sheaves of manuscripts, early working drafts, corrections, rewrites and proofs of his poetry, as well as notebooks given to him and signed by his children as gifts. Director of the National Library Fiona Ross said Heaney’s collection was likely to attract researchers, cultural tourists and other visitors to Dublin for many years to come.

“The library 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.”

Staff have begun cataloguing the archive and they hope to make it available in the near future.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who spoke at a reception to mark the occasion, said that as an avid reader of Heaney’s work it was an honour and a privilege to receive the archives of “one of the world’s foremost word sculptors”.

“Two weeks ago, Dr Heaney, you spoke of your friend Ted Hughes as being visionary and patriotic. You called him a poet of England. Today, this nation and its people’s library are honoured to receive the literary archive of another visionary and patriot. This time, the poet is of Ireland,” the Taoiseach said.

“What you see in this archive is the creative process in operation . . . be it The Cure at Troy, The Burial at Thebesor Beowolf.Or Heaney as critic, academic, broadcaster, diarist, man of letters. Or as son, brother, husband, father, grandfather and friend.” Heaney, joined by his wife Marie and children Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann at the reception, said he felt overwhelmed by the “majesty” of the Taoiseach’s address and a sense of pride at handing his material over to the State.

“It is a privilege and an honour to have my own worksheets, drafts, manuscripts and typescripts in our National Library, joining the great writers of the past and present who have also contributed. It is all part of a chain. A written, human chain.”