Belfast Telegraph

How Belfast Telegraph gave Seamus Heaney an early break

BY CLAIRE HARRISON

Seamus Heaney once told how the Belfast Telegraph was a vital support to his fledgling career – and was even the first to publish one of his poems.

The Derry poet cited this newspaper, along with the Irish Times and the Kilkenny Magazine, as publications which were important champions of his early work.

Speaking on Desert Island Discs in November 1989, Heaney was asked if he considered that his work had been supported better by the London media, rather than in Dublin, when he was starting out in the 1960s.

"I wouldn't want to say I wasn't championed in Ireland because very important to me was the Irish Times, the Belfast Telegraph and the Kilkenny Magazine," the writer told the radio programme.

He added that Karl Miller, then literary editor of the New Statesman, was instrumental in launching his career by publishing a number of poems in the UK.

The Belfast Telegraph became the first to publish a Heaney poem when Tractors was included on Saturday, November 24, 1962, at the bottom of page five and was the first time a poem was published to a wider audience under Heaney's real name.

Speaking to an RTE documentary about his early career, Heaney said he previously had five or six poems published in a Queen's University magazine under the name Incertus (Uncertain).

He said at that stage he never entirely took himself seriously and came to the conclusion "well, I don't have anything much".

But the Bellaghy man said he later came to a sudden realisation – through contemporary Irish poetry from writers such as Patrick Kavanagh – that his work may have a place.

"'(I thought) Hey, this material of my own from County Derry is workable'," he said.

"And up comes Tractors, a poem about tractors.

"That was the first poem to be published in a public forum. It was accepted by the Belfast Telegraph in November. That was very important to me."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph