The Blackbird Logo

Blackbird

The Seamus Heaney Centre’s blackbird logo was designed by Jeffrey Morgan and is inspired by a ninth-century piece of Irish marginalia, sometimes given the title ‘The Blackbird of Belfast Lough’.

We don’t know the author, but the poem could have been written at Bangor Abbey, situated on the southern shore of Loch Laíg (Belfast Lough). The Abbey was founded in 559 by St Comgall and and by the time he died, in 601, as many as three thousand monks looked to the Abbot for guidance. The Abbey was one of the finest places of learning in Europe, producing renowned scholars and missionaries. Perhaps its most famed associate was St Columbanus (540 – 615) who founded prominent monastic communities in Luxeuil (Burgundy) and Bobbio (Northern Italy).

Ciaran Carson, director of the Seamus Heaney Centre, has written on the significance of ‘The Blackbird of Belfast Lough’ for the first volume of The Yellow Nib, the journal of the Seamus Heaney Centre:

It was the occasional practice of Irish scribes so to divert themselves from the copying of ecclesiastical texts. This poem looks like a typical piece of marginalia, in its brevity and clarity, its sudden, focused attention to the natural world….
‘The Blackbird of Belfast Lough’ … has been much translated into English. The versions [below] are but two possibilities. There are, to paraphrase Wallace Stevens, at least thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird; and the blackbird can be heard in many ways. Poetry resides in that ambiguity, and that is why the blackbird has been chosen as the emblem of the Seamus Heaney Centre, and its yellow beak, or neb, or nib, as the title of the Centre’s journal.

Int én bec
ro léc feit
do rinn guip
glanbuidi

fo-ceird faíd
ós Loch Laíg,
lon do chraíb
charnbuidi

9th Century Irish

The small bird
chirp-chirruped:
yellow neb,
a note-spurt.

Blackbird over
Lagan water.
Clumps of yellow
whin-burst!

Seamus Heaney

the little bird
that whistled shrill
from the nib of
its yellow bill:

a note let go
o’er Belfast Lough -
a blackbird from
a yellow whin

Ciaran Carson



Carson, Ciaran, ed. The Yellow Nib: The Literary Journal of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. Vol. 1. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2005.

Edmonds, Columba. "St. Columbanus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 28 Jan. 2009 http://www.newadvent.org/ cathen/04137a.htm.