Colin Barrett wins Rooney Prize for ‘Young Skins’ short story collection

‘A shimmering debut’ from a ‘dazzling writer’

At Provost House, Trinity College, at the awarding of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature were Patricia Rooney, the winner Colin Barrett and former US ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

At Provost House, Trinity College, at the awarding of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature were Patricia Rooney, the winner Colin Barrett and former US ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Mon, Sep 1, 2014, 20:50

There was at least one happy Mayo man on the planet last night, even if he has listed football as one of his interests, “playing as well as watching. I find it therapeutic.” Doubtful, just now.

Colin Barrett (32) is, unlike his native county’s senior football side, sweeping all before him in the prizes stakes with his debut collection of short stories, Young Skins. Last July, he became only the second Irish writer to win the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the other being Edna O’Brien. Last night he was awarded the 2014 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and he has been long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award.

Not bad for a lad from Knockmore, home of one of the most successful GAA clubs in Mayo and of county forward Kevin McLoughlin who, also, had to endure what was foul as fair last Saturday.

But it was all bells and whistles from that fairest of referees, Trinity College provost Dr Patrick Prendergast, at Provost House at 1 Grafton Street in Dublin last night. He praised the prize, now in its 38th year, for “its frequent endorsement of spectacular talent”. He praised founders, former US ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia, Prof Terence Browne who was standing down as selection committee chair and his successor Prof Gerald Dawe, as well as the committee members.

In the citation committee member Jonathan Williams described Young Skins, which comprises seven short stories, as “a shimmering debut” and Barrett as a “dazzling writer” with “a whiplash wit,” comparing him to Guy de Maupassant, Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. The prize (valued at €10,000) was presented to the writer by Mr Rooney along with a Pittsburg Steelers T-shirt.

Uttering the single word “strange”, Barrett thanked the Rooneys and the committee for its “perspicacity and good taste”. He read the first paragraphs (“before its gets filthy”) from The Clancy Kid, the opening story in Young Skins.

But it might have been from another story, In the Air.

“Sunday. Glanbeigh Stephanites boys’ under-16 football training. Morning rain, the parish turf soft underfoot, brown water puddling in the rutted goalmouths. It’s May, but a cold Atlantic gale heaves in over the galvanised roof of the north stand, making a noise like continuously ripping fabric.

“Reserve keeper Danny Tansey sends the ball high and hard into the air. . . Coach blows briny drops of rain from his lips and exhorts the boys to wait for the drop.