The Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University Belfast is moving to a new landmark building as part of a brilliant new era. Here, we take a look at its history and relationship with Heaney, a graduate of the university.
Established as a centre for excellence in poetry and research as well as being the home of Creative Writing at Queen's, the Seamus Heaney Centre opened its doors on University Road in 2003.
Seamus Heaney himself attended the opening ceremony and said the Centre was evidence of Queen’s University’s faith in the imaginative and intellectual work that had brought such repute and renown to the university.
In advance of the event, he suggested to the first Director that the Centre might adopt as a motto a line from his poem "Kinship": "This centre holds and spreads".
The present-day Centre appoints three Fellows annually, writers of distinction in any genre or form, including in the first five years Lisa McGee, creator of "Derry Girls", Ivor Novello winning songwriter and Ash frontman Tim Wheeler, Kae Tempest, Roddy Doyle and Doireann Ní Ghríofa, a poet and novelist working across Irish and English.
Regular "Seamus Heaney Centre Presents" events showcase student writing and the work of a special guest that sheds an interesting light on a theme - a watchmaker for the "Seamus Heaney Centre Presents Time", a sculptor for the "Seamus Heaney Centre Presents Rock", a boardgame designer for the "Seamus Heaney Centre Presents Play". The belief is simple: all writers, all makers, can learn from other writers and makers.
All this, of course, merely complements and supplements the core business of teaching students. From the very outset the Heaney Centre, while built around poetry, was the home of Creative Writing at Queen’s.
First offered as an optional module to third-year undergraduates in the mid-1990s, Creative Writing is an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum, having already given rise to a Master’s course and – coinciding with the opening of the Heaney Centre – a PhD, the first of its kind on the island.
Both Master’s and PhD continue to thrive. Recent graduates include Louise Kennedy ("Trespasses", 2022), Michael Magee ("Close to Home", 2023), and Dawn Watson, whose narrative-driven first poetry collection "We Play Here" has just been published by Granta.
As it approaches the 20th anniversary of its official opening, the Centre is moving to a new landmark building a few dozen yards away: a short distance, but an enormous step as it looks to the next twenty years and far beyond.
The new centre will feature an expanded poetry library, a large venue space, teaching rooms, academic offices, workstations for students, and an exhibition area to display the Seamus Heaney archive held by Queen’s.
Queen's University Belfast is a leading institution on the island of Ireland. Founded in 1845 as one of three 'Queen's Colleges' on the island, Queen's is now ranked in the top 200 universities in the world. You can find out more information here and you can also follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.