Seamus Heaney on Mad Sweeney the king cursed by a saint and condemned to live as a bird until his death.

Seamus Heaney's latest book 'Sweeney Astray', a combination of verse and prose, is his version of the old Irish tale 'Buile Suibhne'. 

Heaney explains that elements of the story which had historical reality. The story begins at the Battle of Moire, a historical and crucial battle in seventh century Ulster.  While there is no record of a High King called Sweeney existing, the characters who surround him are all historical figures. Sweeney is a literary creation placed in a historical situation. 

This is a new poem in the English language which Seamus Heaney has worked on for eleven years, during which time language has changed set against the political and social change in Northern Ireland. Heaney has been liberal with his translations particularly those on place names in order to be inclusive to readers.

Look at Sweeney now alas 
His body mortified and numb
Unconsoled and sleepless
In the rough blast of the storm.

Seamus Heaney outlines some similarities he has in common with Sweeney, from the rhyming of their surnames to a joint sense of displacement. 

This episode of 'Folio' was broadcast on 22 November 1983. The presenter is Patrick Gallagher.