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Colgate community recalls strong ties to Irish poet Seamus Heaney

By Tim O'Keeffe on September 3, 2013
Seamus Heaney is pictured speaking at Colgate's commencement in 1994.

Seamus Heaney is pictured speaking at Colgate’s commencement in 1994.

Acclaimed Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who died Friday in Dublin at age 74, was remembered fondly by Colgate faculty and former students for his strong ties to the university and for his commencement address here in 1994.

Fellow poet Peter Balakian, professor of English and director of creative writing at Colgate, called Heaney a longtime friend of the university.

He said he received several emails from former students who fondly remember interactions with Heaney during off-campus study group lectures in London and in lectures at Colgate. Letters to the Colgate Scene from alumni who met Heaney have already been received.

Heaney first lectured to Colgate students for a 1969 London study group directed by English Professor Bruce Berlind. He also lectured for Berlind’s London classes in the ’70s and for the late Professor Terrence Des Pres’ London study group in the early ’80s.

Balakian was able to bring Heaney to James Joyce’s Martello Tower in London for lectures to Colgate students that focused on William Butler Yeats.


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Read Professor Peter Balakian’s personal remembrance of Heaney


Heaney read periodically at Colgate, and, in 1994, he spoke at commencement and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Addressing the Class of ’94 on “Faith, Hope and Poetry,” Heaney said: “Faith, hope and poetry are all manifestations of creative mind, that uniquely human gift . . . held in special trust by those privileged to receive a liberal education at a university like Colgate.”

“Heaney had a profound impact on many Colgate students, and it was a relationship we were all grateful for and that continues to have a legacy,” said Balakian.

Did you ever meet Heaney while you were at Colgate? Please share any recollections in the comments section below.

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1 Comment



  • Lisa Hillenbrand said:

    I met Seamus in 1982 in Dublin when he generously invited a group of students to his home. It was part of Terrence Des Pres’ London Study Group of that year. He was welcoming, warm and wise. He and Terrence were the same age and were kindred spirits demonstrating the power of poetry to push back against evil. Both their voices live on in their work and in those whose lives they touched.