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Politics, religion and the work of Seamus Heaney

Steele, Sarah (1999) Politics, religion and the work of Seamus Heaney. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86108) (KAR id:86108)


The aim of this thesis is to examine Heaney's 'political' poetry and to demonstrate how the political, religious and social pressures of Ireland, since the outbreak of the Troubles in nineteen-sixty-nine, influence his work. Within . these parameters a study of the changes in Heaney's work is undertaken, which develops in three well defined phases of his career. The thesis concentrates on the period prior to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, through the years of violence, to the current uncertain peace. Heaney's poetry reflects a general historical and political awareness of the conflict surrounding him. He is concerned about the role and responsibility of the poet in society, and in particular in societies fractured by violence. Heaney wishes to avoid restrictive discourses which recapitulate established agendas which fuel the cycle of internecine violence. Throughout the three phases of his career, his perception about the role of the poet and the function of poetry changes, reflecting the situation in Northern Ireland. Heaney examines his Irish heritage, he becomes disillusioned with the impotent, ideological preconceptions of both tribes, the empty rhetoric of politicians, and with the dogmatic, enervating Roman Catholic Church. Heaney is forced into the position of public spokesman by the political convulsions of his time. This creates an agonising self-division, an ongoing struggle between embracing poetic responsibility or accomplishing the tribal duty of political commitment. Heaney reaches some resolution in the third phase of his career. - He accepts that art has limitations, but still believes in the efficacy of poetry. He enlarges his poetic scope by viewing Northern Ireland in relation to other areas of turmoil in the world. He finally resolves the dilemma of an artist in a tumultuous society by being artistically free and socially responsible, by encompassing the inter-dependency between the visionary and the actual

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: McLellan, David
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86108
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Political science
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:28 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2022 14:58 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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