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No less than four Irishmen have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: William Butler Yeats (1965-1939), George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) and Seamus Heaney (1939-2013).

Yeats (1923): A Dubliner, poet, essayist, letter writer and playwright, and the son and brother of painters, Yeats attended the School of Art in Dublin, but abandoned art to devote himself to literature. A nationalist interested in Irish legends and traditions, in addition to the occult, Yeats dedicated himself to the creation of the National Theatre of Ireland, especially after the staging of the play The Countess Cathleen (1899), published in Brazil in 1963.

Shaw (1925): Another Dubliner, freethinker and advocate for women’s rights, Shaw was as versatile as he was prolific. He wrote fiction, essays, literary, theatrical and musical criticism, conferences, letters and more than 50 plays, especially Mrs. Warren’s Profession (1902) and Pygmalion (1913). The extensive and famous prefaces to the plays demonstrate the author’s reformist heterodoxy, humour and biting brilliance.

Beckett (1969): Born near Dublin, Beckett studied English, French and Italian at Trinity College Dublin before becoming a lecteur d’anglais at the École Normale Superieure in Paris. Beckett met Joyce, whose work led to his first published essay. After teaching at Trinity, Beckett resided in Germany, France and London before settling in France. His work encompasses translation, literary criticism, poetry, short and long fiction, as well as theater, especially Waiting for Godot (1953) and Endgame (1957), which give rise to his association with Theatre of the Absurd and intrigued the Brazilian people.

Heaney (1995): Born in Northern Ireland, Heaney attended Queen’s University Belfast. Afterwards, he was a Professor at Queen’s, Harvard and Oxford. A playwright, translator, essayist and poet, his first poetry is rooted in youth experiences, expressed with subtlety, conciseness and lyricism. His subsequent poetry explored the words’ cultural and historical implications, as well as their employment in social and political contexts, and contains touching elegies. In Brazil, it is worth mentioning the collection Poems – 1966-1987 (1990). Asked what it was like to receive the Nobel in the wake of Yeats, Shaw and Beckett, Heaney replied: “It’s like being a little hill at the foot of a mountain range.”