Heaney’s ingenious poem conflates two sites miles apart in space and time (Whitby a seaside town in north-east England and the Moyola river that flowed close to Heaney’s childhood home mid-Ulster) and two individuals one of whom became a saint and the other an anonymous Mossbawn cowman who shared Caedmon’s veterinary talents. The poem is topped and tailed with direct reference to 7th century poet-herdsman, Caedmon, working in a north Yorkshire abbey  whom Heaney came to know (alongside Beowulf) through his Old English undergraduate studies. Similar characters frequented Heaney’s Mossbawn farm not least Irishman John Dologhan ‘the best milker ever to come about the place’ in Montana from the Electric Light collection. The standards of perseverance and compassion amongst cowmen, […]