Seamus Heaney & the End of Catholic Ireland takes off from the poet’s growing awareness in the new millennium of "something far more important in my mental formation than cultural nationalism or the British presence or any of that stuff—namely, my early religious education." It then pursues an examination of the full trajectory of Heaney’s religious beliefs as represented in his poetry, prose, and interviews, with a briefer account of the interactive religious histories of the Irish and international contexts in which he lived. Thus, in the 1940s and 50s, Heaney was inducted into the narrow, punitive, but also enabling Catholicism of the era. In the early 1960s he was witness to the lively religious debates from the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich’s Honest to God to the seismic disruptions of Vatican II. When the conflict in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants broke out, Heaney was forced to dig deep for an imaginative understanding of its religious roots. From the 1980s on, Heaney more and more proclaimed his own religious loss while also recognizing the institution’s residual value in an Irish society of rising prosperity, weariness with the atrocities of a partly religion-inspired IRA, and beset by the scandals of sex abuse among the clergy.
Kieran Quinlan sees Heaney as an exemplar of this period of major change in Ireland as he engaged the religious issue not only in major writers such as James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Philip Larkin, and Czeslaw Miłosz, but also in a diverse array of less familiar commentators lay and clerical, creative and academic, believers and unbelievers, Irish and international. Breaking new ground by expanding the scope of Heaney’s religious preoccupations and writing in an accessible, reflective, and sometimes provocative manner, Quinlan’s study places Heaney in his universe, and that universe in turn in its wider intellectual setting.
"Heaney is a canonical figure and hence there is a definite audience for this book. Any undergraduate courses where his work is taught should be directed to this work, as it is an indispensable reference point."~Eamon Maher, Director, National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies, Irish Institute of Technology
"In this informative study, Kieran Quinlan proposes that Seamus Heaney’s poetry and prose occupy a central place in the revaluation of Irish Catholicism and Catholic culture that has marked the decades since Heaney’s birth in 1939. Weaving together biography, interviews, informed readings of the poems, and significant insights by Heaney’s major critics, Quinlan makes the case that Heaney responded to matters of faith and ritual not only in his early collections but throughout his career. Quinlan shows effectively that Heaney sought to represent his early faith-filled adherence to Catholic ritual and thought, his growing hesitancies and doubts, and his later loss of faith (but not his love of ritual) in his poetry."~Joseph Heininger, Dominican University
"Kieran Quinlan’s fascinating study examines not just the impact of religion on Seamus Heaney’s poetry but the worldview of 1950s Irish Catholicism ‘from the inside.’ This book complicates Heaney’s somewhat familiar journey from cradle Catholic to cultural Catholic by attending to his poetic, political, and philosophical allegiances as well as his urge to ‘secularize or Joyceify’ himself. With its accessible style, sensitive close readings, and nuanced assessment of the changing contexts of Irish Catholicism, Seamus Heaney and the End of Catholic Ireland is a timely and illuminating contribution to Heaney studies."~Geraldine Higgins, Emory University
"In this book, Kieran Quinlan discusses the issue of Catholicism, a substratum which coheres across all of Heaney’s writing, thinking, and preoccupations. In ways Heaney’s progress through Catholicism mirrors that of the country as a whole, and Quinlan forensically probes the different aspects of this process. Looking at poetry prose and interviews, this book traces the full complexity of Heaney’s relationship with his religion. It is a necessary piece of research for any serious student of Heaney’s work, and while very well researched, is written in an accessible and clear style. I enjoyed it and benefited from it."~Eugene O'Brien, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick
"Quinlan thinks and writes with a clear and watchful eye...an engrossing, perceptive, and – its genuine scholarly heft notwithstanding – moving book"~The Catholic Herald
"The combination of sophisticated analysis alongside personal and historical context is accessible for the non-specialist reader: Quinlan clearly displays how Heaney’s writing changed in response to a mutable Catholic culture and a personal crisis of faith over the course of his career."~English Studies