Queen's Centenary Celebrations

Seamus Heaney receives Lifetime Achievement Award as centenary celebrations go with a bang at Queen's

A festival of fireworks and song greeted Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney at Queen’s University on December 2 when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award during the University’s Centenary Charter Day celebration.

The former Queen’s lecturer received his award after the world premiere of Anahorish, a piece of music inspired by Heaney’s poem of the same name.

Commissioned by Queen’s Graduates’ Association (QGA) to honour one of its most notable living graduates, the piece was composed by Queen’s graduate Deirdre Gribben, whose father William is originally from Anahorish. The piece was sung by soprano Linda Barrett, one of a quartet formed for the occasion.

Also present at the centenary celebration was Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, and well known broadcaster Nick Ross, a former deputy president of Queen’s Students’ Union.

The special guests were joined by over 300 of the University’s staff, students, graduates and friends at the dinner which took place in the Sir William Whitla Hall at Queen’s.

'One hundred years ago today, Queen’s officially became a university in its own right when King Edward VII granted its Royal Charter,' Queen's president and vice-chancellor, professor Peter Gregson explained on the eve of the dinner. 

'Throughout our Centenary year we have celebrated with students, staff and alumni from around the world. During a royal visit earlier this year, Her Majesty the Queen unveiled the Centenary Stone, on which is carved the Centenary Stanza, penned to mark the occasion by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, one of our most distinguished graduates.

'I am therefore delighted that Seamus will be with us tonight to receive his lifetime achievement award. His impact on arts and literature has achieved global recognition and his contribution to Queen’s University has been immense. I cannot think of a more fitting way to close our Centenary celebrations than by honouring one of the most eminent graduates in the University’s one hundred year history.

'Tonight is also an international gathering, a point reinforced by the presence of our guest of honour, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma.

'International connections are vital in today’s higher education environment and we have welcomed visitors from around the world to help celebrate our centenary. This includes those who attended the Mitchell Conference in May, when honorary degrees were conferred upon former UK and Irish premiers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, while in July Nelson Mandela joined the Queen’s family when he became the University’s Centenary Honorary Graduate. 

'As we enter our second century, we are looking towards a future in which our presence will be felt even more strongly on the world stage. We do so with confidence, recognising the enormous support of all our graduates, partners and stakeholders.'

After receiving his award, Heaney recited the centenary stanza he wrote especially for the University’s Centenary year.

The quartet performing Anahorish consisted of Simon Mawhinney, pianist, School of Music at Queen’s; Cliona Doris, harpist, Dublin Institute of Technology; Niamh McGowan, violin, from Royal Northern College, Manchester and Linda Barrett, soprano, Methodist College, Belfast.