Heaney was educated initially at Anahorish Primary School in Toome, County Antrim. When he was twelve-years-old, he won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, a Catholic boarding school situated in the city of Derry. At St. Columb's, he was taught Latin and Irish, and these languages, together with the Anglo-Saxon which he would study while a student of Queen's University, Belfast, were determining factors in many of the developments and retrenchments which have marked his progress as a poet.
Heaney's brother, Christopher, was killed in a road accident at the age of four (while Heaney was studying at St. Columb's). Heaney wrote two poems reflecting on the death of Christopher
"Mid-Term Break"  "The Blackbird of Glanmore".
In August 1965 he married Marie Devlin, a school teacher and native of Ardboe, County Tyrone. (Devlin is a writer herself and, in 1994, published Over Nine Waves, a collection of traditional Irish myths and legends.) Seamus Heaney's first book, Eleven Poems, was published in November 1965 for the Queen's University Festival. In 1966, Faber and Faber published his first major volume, called Death of a Naturalist. This collection met with much critical acclaim and went on to win several awards. Also in 1966, he was appointed as a lecturer in Modern English Literature at Queen's University Belfast and his first son, Michael, was born. A second son, Christopher, was born in 1968. In 1968, with Michael Longley, Heaney took part in a reading tour called Room to Rhyme, which led to much exposure for the poet's work. In 1969, his second major volume, Door into the Dark, was published.
Selected Poems 1965-1975 and Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 were published in 1980. In 1981, he left Carysfort to become visiting professor at Harvard University. He was awarded two honorary doctorates, from Queen's University and from Fordham University in New York City, in 1982. At the Fordham commencement ceremony in 1982, Heaney delivered the commencement address in a 46-stanza poem entitled "Verses for a Fordham Commencement".
As he was born and educated in Northern Ireland, Heaney has felt the need to emphasise that he is Irish and not British. For example, he objected to his inclusion in the 1982 Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry by writing: "Be advised, my passport's green / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen."
Following the success of the Field Day Theatre Company's production of Brian Friel's Translations, Heaney joined the company's expanded Board of Directors in 1981, when the company's founders Brian Friel and Stephen Rea decided to make the company a permanent group. In 1984, Heaney was elected to the Boylston Chair of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard. Later that year, his mother, Margaret Kathleen Heaney, died. His father, Patrick, died soon after publication of the 1987 volume, The Haw Lantern. In 1988, a collection of critical essays called The Government of the Tongue was published.
In 1989, he was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, which he held for a five-year term to 1994. The chair does not require residence in Oxford, and throughout this period he was dividing his time between Ireland and America. He also continued to give very popular public readings. In 1986, Heaney received a Litt.D. from Bates College. So well attended and keenly anticipated were these events that those who queued for tickets with such enthusiasm have sometimes been dubbed "Heaneyboppers", suggesting an almost pop-music fanaticism on the part of his supporters.
In 1990, The Cure at Troy, a play based on Sophocles' Philoctetes, was published to much acclaim. In 1991, Seeing Things was published. Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 for what the Nobel committee described as "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past". In 1996, his collection The Spirit Level was published and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He repeated that success with the release of Beowulf: A New Translation.
In 1998, Heaney officially opened the library of Saint Catherine's College, Armagh.
In 2002, Heaney was awarded an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University and delivered a public lecture on “The Guttural Muse”.
In 2003, the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry was opened at Queens University, Belfast. It houses the Heaney Media Archive, a unique record of Heaney's entire oeuvre, along with a full catalogue of his radio and television presentations. That same year Heaney decided to lodge a substantial portion of his literary archive at Emory University. He also composed a poem called Beacons of Bealtaine for the 2004 EU Enlargement. The poem was read by Heaney at a ceremony for the twenty-five leaders of the enlarged European Union arranged by the Irish EU presidency.
In 2003, when asked if there was any figure in popular culture who aroused interest in poetry and lyrics, Heaney praised controversy-ridden rap artist Eminem for his verbal energy.
There is this guy Eminem. He has created a sense of what is possible. He has sent a voltage around a generation. He has done this not just through his subversive attitude but also his verbal energy.
Heaney suffered a stroke from which he recovered in August 2006, but cancelled all public engagements for several months.  Heaney's latest volume of poetry, District and Circle, won the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize.
In 2008 Heaney became artist of honour in Østermarie, Denmark. Seamus Heaney Stræde was therefore named after him in the center of Bornholm, another green island. In February 2009, Heaney was presented with an Honorary-Life Membership award from the UCD Law Society, in recognition of his remarkable role as a literary figure. In 2009 he was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature.
But despite the inherently Irish flavour of his language, Heaney is a universal poet, admired in every country and every other linguistic tradition. His influence on contemporary poetry is immense. Robert Lowell called him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats." A good many others have echoed the sentiment. His books make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in the UK.
Seamus and Marie Heaney at the Dominican Church, Kraków, Poland, 4 October 1996