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The Guardian issues awkward Seamus Heaney correction

Seamus Heaney (Photo: Bernard Gotfryd / Library of Congress)

The Irish poet Seamus Heaney had a brilliant way with words, so you would almost certainly want his thoughts on the passing of the Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, who died this week.

Perhaps that’s why the Guardian decided to quote the poet paying tribute in their obituary for the singer yesterday. The paper wrote, ‘Seamus Heaney, the renowned Irish poet, tweeted: “A great Irish poet and singer left us today. She was beautiful, courageous and wore her heart on her sleeve.’”

A lovely tribute indeed. But with only one problem: Heaney died a decade ago in 2013, and certainly didn’t tweet about Sinead O’Connor yesterday.

So what happened? Did the Guardian decide to pull out an ouija board to communicate with the long-dead poet, rather than doing the normal job of quoting living musicians and critics? Or could poetry lovers perhaps dream of a Heaney resurrection?

Unfortunately not. Instead, it turns out the paper had been quoting a fan account, rather than the actual poet. All of which is quite impressive considering that Heaney was perhaps Ireland’s most famous cultural export in the last 50 years.

Eventually the paper caught on, and belatedly issued the following correction:

‘This article was amended on 26 July 2023. Owing to an editing error, an earlier version included a tribute to Sinéad O’Connor from a Twitter fan account dedicated to Seamus Heaney, who died in 2013.’

Heaney once said that the ‘the gift of writing is to be self-forgetful’. Mr S is glad to see the Guardian following his advice so well…

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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