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Seamus Heaney

1 of 24 portraits of Seamus Heaney

© Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation; Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation

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Seamus Heaney

by Rollie McKenna
bromide print, 1969
5 7/8 in. x 6 5/8 in. (149 mm x 169 mm) image size
Given by Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation, 2011
Primary Collection
NPG P1672

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Rollie McKenna (1918-2003), Photographer. Artist or producer of 63 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In Autumn 2018, five years after Seamus Heaney's death, the Royal Society of Literature and the National Portrait Gallery celebrated the lasting power of Heaney's verse, his ability to 'credit marvels', and his enduring presence in the work of poets writing now. Poets Inua Ellams and Sinéad Morrissey, as well as novelist and friend of Seamus Heaney, Andrew O'Hagan, were commissioned to respond to portraits of Seamus Heaney held by the National Portrait Gallery, drawing upon both the images themselves as well as the ways in which Seamus Heaney's writing has influenced their own work. We are grateful to the T. S. Eliot Estate for sponsoring this project.

You are your own lit lantern here, bright as a Sturgeon's Moon against the ravenous blacks she's chosen to accentuate: Door into the Dark your backdrop where you've toiled to fix the wash of Annahorish in sticky verbs - slapped, flexed, licked, spawned - and where atrocity (so far) has been field-bound, buttery, rain-soaked, of the Parish.

Apprentice in your own workshop of salves and fixatives.

In Belfast, out of your natural element, every diagonal is stacked against you: its boxy gable-ends and outhouses, families ranged in single rooms like soldiers in a field hospital. Sky so low it's sitting on the ground.

Percy, Beverley, Dover, Bombay: streets like the one you're standing on, where what's threatening will happen.
You, glancing left. You, who have gone alone into the island / and brought back the whole thing - practised, steady, steeled, flexing, waiting.
Sinéad Morrissey

See also NPG 6261 and NPG 7003

Events of 1969back to top

Current affairs

The Open University is established, based on the vision of Michael Young. Its aims were to offer the chance to study for higher education qualifications on a part time and distance learning basis, giving people who were unable to attend a traditional university because of family, work commitments or disability the opportunity to achieve university degrees.

Art and science

The comedy sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus is first broadcast. The Pythons performed surreal sketches that reinvented the comedy tradition, eschewing punch lines for a stream-of-consciousness structure and incongruous authorial interventions: 'and now for something completely different'.
Kenneth Tynan's Oh! Calcutta amuses and shocks audiences with full nudity on stage, taking advantage of the recent end to censorship laws.


Neil Armstrong takes 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' when he becomes the first man on the moon.
Concorde makes its first supersonic flight. The plane was designed, developed and manufactured by a joint treaty between the French and English governments.

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