Defining the layers : Seamus Heaney's metaphor of layers of colonisation in Ireland : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English Literature at Massey University, New Zealand
Seamus Heaney is arguably Ireland’s most notable poet. Receiving the Nobel prize for
Literature in 1995, Heaney is recognised as one of Ireland’s most prominent writers. In
particular, Heaney’s poems in the context of the Troubles have provided insight into why
these events have occurred. He is, alongside Michael Longley, one of the foremost poets of
the Troubles, and used his writing to try and understand the events of the time. Heaney grew
up in Derry, Northern Ireland, and personally experienced the Troubles, however, the
majority of his poetry which he wrote in context of this era, was written after he had moved
to the Republic of Ireland.
It is within the context of the Bog that Heaney searches for answers to the effects of
colonisation on the Irish. Heaney explores the loss of culture as a result of colonisation by
the British, but he also looks at how the Irish culture has evolved over the past two millennia.
Within the poetry that he wrote during the Troubles, Heaney explores the concept of the
Vikings’ culture of violence and retribution, suggesting that it lives on in the psyche of
present-day Irish. In addition, his poems contemplate the hybridity of contemporary Irish
culture, showing how the Irish, regardless of religion are one and the same, making the
atrocities between sectarian groups pointless.
Although Heaney was a Catholic Irish Nationalist, his vision for Ireland was one of an
inclusive Ireland where all Irish were the same regardless of their religion. His exploration of
religion and its creation of division of communities in Ireland is a major theme in his poems,
and one which he links back to many of the ills of Irish history.