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Seamus Heaney was born in April 1939, the eldest member of a family that would eventually contain nine children. His father owned and worked a small farm of some fifty acres in County Derry in Northern Ireland, but his real commitment was to cattle-dealing. Heaney's mother came from a family called McCann whose connections were more with the modern world than with the traditional rural economy; her uncles and relations were employed in the local linen mill and an aunt had worked ‘in service’ to the mill owners' family.
Heaney commented on the fact that his parentage contained both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution; indeed, he considered this to have been a significant tension in his background, something that corresponded to another inner tension also inherited from his parents, namely that between speech and silence. His father was notably sparing of talk and his mother notably ready to speak out, a circumstance Seamus Heaney believed to have been fundamental to the "quarrel with himself" out of which his poetry arose.
Heaney grew up as a country boy and attended the local primary school. As a very young child, he watched American soldiers on manoeuvres in the local fields, in preparation for the Normandy invasion of 1944. They were stationed at an aerodrome that had been built a mile or so from his home and once again Heaney has taken this image of himself as a consciousness poised between ‘history and ignorance’ as representative of the nature of his poetic life and development.
Even though his family left the farm where he was reared (Mossbawn) in 1953, and although his life since from that point was a series of moves farther and farther away from his birthplace, the departures were more geographical than psychological: rural County Derry was the ‘country of the mind’ where much of Heaney's poetry remained g...