He is one of Queen’s University’s best-known graduates. He even has a library at the Belfast campus named after him.
But when Seamus Heaney decided to donate his collection of literary papers — estimated to be worth millions — he chose to give them to the National Library of Ireland in Dublin.
The Nobel Laureate, who hails from Co Londonderry but now lives in Dublin, presented the collection which spans his literary career at a reception in the city.
The world-renowned poet personally packed up 12 boxes of his manuscripts and notebooks containing draft poems and essays.
And he drove from his home in Dublin to the National Library yesterday with his son Michael to deliver them.
Seamus Heaney, (72), handed the library this priceless collection of his literary archive free of charge — having admitted that he could have earned a fortune if he had put it up for international auction.
“I had no qualms about it,” |he said.
A spokeswoman for his alma mater, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), played down the fact that it did not receive the donation. On the contrary, the QUB spokeswoman said the university “is delighted to learn that Seamus Heaney has donated a collection of his literary papers to the National Library of Ireland”.
“In common with Queen’s, which holds The Seamus Heaney Beowulf Manuscript Collection, the National Library has a close relationship with Dr Heaney,” she said.
“Dr Heaney’s donation to the National Library will ensure that this valuable archive will remain on the island of Ireland as a unique resource for scholars and researchers.”
The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University was named after its world-renowned student who obtained a First Class Honours in English language and literature in 1961 before going on to train as a teacher and lecturer.
The collection spans Dr Heaney’s literary career, from the publication of his first major collection, Death of a Naturalist (1966), to 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).
Many institutions and libraries around the world, not just Queen’s, would have been actively hoping for this donation and it is believed several universities in the USA would have made lucrative offers for the collection.
John Killen, chief librarian at the Linenhall Library in Belfast, said he believed the National Library of Ireland is an appropriate place for the collection.
“I can understand why Seamus has chosen the National Library,” he said. “He is a very important person in our culture and the National Library is an appropriate place to donate his papers.”
Frances Clark, archivist in the National Library’s Irish Department of Manuscripts, said Seamus Heaney had a close relationship with the library and had actually written some poems in its reading room.
“It’s a great day for the library and we are absolutely delighted to have acquired the collection,” he said.
“It’s basically working drafts of all of his major poetry collection, some of his prose collection and his dramas.”