Belfast Telegraph

Michael Longley's creative genius earns poet keys to his native city

By Rebecca Black

Michael Longley, the award-winning Belfast poet is to be offered the freedom of his home city, it can be revealed.

Michael Longley has written evocatively for more than half-a-century, taking inspiration from Greek mythology, the military career of his father, the city of Belfast, the Troubles, Sligo and nature.

His work has won some of the top literary prizes in the world, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, the Wilfred Owen Medal, the Whitbread Prize, and the TS Eliot Prize.

The 75-year-old received a CBE from the Queen in 2010 and is now expected to become a freeman of his native Belfast.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that he has been nominated for the honour by SDLP councillor Claire Hanna, and that the proposal sparked a rare moment of harmony across the chamber with all parties giving the nod of approval.

Ms Hanna's proposal recognises Mr Longley as "one of the greatest living poets in the English language".

The minutes of a meeting of the council's strategic policy and resources committee on January 23 show that each of the party leaders on the council have been consulted about the proposal, and notes that "it would appear that there is unanimous support".

The council approached Mr Longley, and the minutes of the meeting record that he would be "honoured to accept" if the council agreed to offer the honour to him.

A special meeting of the council is expected to be called next month to hold a formal vote on the matter.

If approved, the council will then hold a special event to confer the honour on Mr Longley later this year.

The event will probably include a celebration of poetry, prose and music.

Belfast singing legend Van Morrison was the last person to be given the freedom of the city.

The honour was conferred on him during a free concert at the Ulster Hall in November 2013.

Before that, athlete Dame Mary Peters received the freedom of Belfast in May 2013, and previous recipients include the Merchant Navy, poet John Hewitt and former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

Educated at Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Trinity College, Dublin, Longley developed literary friendships with the late Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney and Armagh-born Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner Paul Muldoon.

He is regarded as a leading light in a generation of poets in Ireland who brought about a renaissance in Irish writing from the 1960s onwards.

He counts Martin McGuinness among his fans. The Deputy First Minister once described Longley as "one of the most talented poets of our time".


Awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2001, Michael Longley's first poetry collection was No Continuing City: Poems 1963-1968. The Echo Gate was published in 1979, and pivotal Gorse Fires in 1991, which won the Whitbread Poetry Award. The Weather In Japan, in 2000, won the Hawthornden Prize and the TS Eliot Prize. He was described by Seamus Heaney as "a keeper of the artistic estate, a custodian of griefs and wonders" and by others as a forceful figure during his time at the Arts Council.


"I get down on my knees and do what must be done

And kiss Achilles' hand, the killer of my son."

An excerpt from Ceasefire, published in 1995, inspired by the end of the Troubles

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