Poets, literary experts and writers mourned the death of Irish poet Seamus Heaney in August, believing it to be the end of a literary era. The faculty of OU’s expository writing and English departments, however, believe it to be a new beginning.
Heaney, the winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature, died after a career lasting more than 45 years. He is most widely known for his translation of “Beowulf” and several collections of poetry.
While his death was a blow to the academic world, it coincided with the announcement of OU’s new Irish studies minor.
OU expository writing director George Cusack and English professor Ronald Schleifer decided to celebrate the new minor while commemorating Heaney with an Irish wake, a ceremony associated with death.
“It was really a coincidence that the wake for Seamus Heaney also became a launch event for the Irish studies minor,” Cusack said. “When Heaney passed away this past August, it seemed appropriate to hold an event to mark his passing.”
While the event was planned within the last month, the same cannot be said about the Irish studies minor.
“The minor has been in the works for around two years now,” Cusack said.
Cusack and Schleifer, co-founders of the Irish studies minor, received approval to enroll students in the Irish studies minor this fall.
The Irish studies minor may be under the English department, but the minor itself is interdisciplinary, with approved courses in English, history and expository writing, Cusack said.
Courses with an Irish emphasis include an expository writing course, “The Irish Question,” and “History of Ireland,” Cusack said. However, many other departments have shown interest in being a part of the program, including sociology, political science, and anthropology.
Schleifer said expository writing faculty members are excited to announce the new Irish studies minor. In the words of Seamus Heaney, “If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”
At the wake, OU faculty from different departments read excerpts of Heaney’s pieces, including selections from Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.
Stephen Regan, professor and director of The Centre for Poetry and Poetics at Durham University, spoke at the event about Heaney’s style and significance as an Irish poet. He cited some of Heaney’s works, such as “Digging,” “The Tollund Man” and “Casualty.”
Regan also discussed some of his favorites pieces and lines from Heaney’s works, sharing his interpretation of Heaney’s words that often referenced his experiences as a child in northern Ireland.