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This Prize Was Quite A Surprise Vacationing Poet Won The Nobel But Didn’t Know It

Sun., Oct. 8, 1995, midnight

Like any concerned father on holiday, Seamus Heaney phoned home to find out how the kids were doing. Fine, said his son, Christopher. Then: “Did you hear? You’ve won the Nobel prize.”

Heaney recounted the shock to Irish television Saturday, the day after he found out he won the Nobel literature prize and hours before he returned to Ireland from Greece, where he and his wife Marie were vacationing.

“It’s a strange thing to break to your father over the phone, that he’s won the Nobel Prize,” said Chris Heaney, son of the 56-year-old poet.

“He’d just rang in to say hello,” his son said. “Once I heard his voice, I immediately began to congratulate him.”

The Nobel committee on Thursday honored Heaney for works “of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”

“It’s an awesome dimension of a thing to have happened,” Heaney said in an interview filmed in the Greek port of Kalamata, where he was organizing his way home after cutting his vacation short.

Irish Prime Minister John Bruton greeted Heaney on the Dublin airport tarmac Saturday night, and the poet then visited President Mary Robinson to receive her congratulations.

About 15 minutes after learning he had won, Heaney called his sister-in-law, Ann, at her rural home northwest of Belfast.

“He seemed so excited. The news had just blown his mind,” she said. “He seemed very keen to make sure that someone had videotaped the news shows.”

Soon after, he called his publisher, Faber and Faber, to issue a statement: “It is a great personal joy and deep satisfaction. It is also, I am sure, a recognition by the Swedish Academy of the extraordinary achievements by Irish poets over the past three decades.”

Heaney, a Catholic, emerged from a school of Catholic and Protestant Northern Ireland poets and Belfast’s Queen’s University in the mid-1960s. They sought a Northern Ireland identity beyond sectarianism.

“I am proud to have been part of that action and of the whole endeavor by Irish writers and artists, north and south,” he wrote in his statement.

He told the television his poetry was home-grown.

“I think all you have to work with as a writer is your sense of the world,” he said.

“My sense of the world was given to me within a certain community, with a certain sense of values, within a northern context that was a pluralist one, within a family that had terrific realism and terrific truth about it.

“There is something in the family I grew up in and in the community I grew up in - a thoroughness and a straightforwardness and a dedication to the un-phony - which I cherish.”


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