Ian Hickey and Caroline Magennis share literary prize; writer sought for Krakow residency

A preview of Saturday’s books pages and a round-up of the latest literary news

In this Saturday’s Irish Times, Donal Ryan takes Roisin Ingle on a tour of his Tipperarey homeland to discuss his latest novel, The Queen of Dirt Island. Kit de Waal talks to Seamás O’Reilly about her childhood memoir, Without Warning and Only Sometimes: Scenes from an Unpredictable Childhood.

Reviews are Ian Duhig on Without Warning and Only Sometimes by Kit de Waal; John Self on The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan; Declan Hughes on the best new crime fiction; Una Mannion on The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty; Keith Duggan on Two Brothers: the Life and Times of Bobby and Jack Charlton by Jonathan Wilson; Roisin Kiberd on Epic Annette: A Heroine’s Tale by Anne Weber, tr. Tess Lewis; NJ McGarrigle on Nailing it by Rich Hall; Rory Kiberd on The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid; Eilis Ni Dhuibhne on The Swimmers by Chloe Lane; and Sarah Gilmartin on Haven by Emma Donoghue.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney is this weekend’s Irish Times Eason offer, just €4.99, a €5 saving, when you buy a newspaper.

The British Association of Contemporary Literary Studies has awarded its annual Monograph Prize jointly to Ian Hickey for Haunted Heaney: Spectres and the Poetry (London: Routledge, 2021) and Caroline Magennis for Northern Irish Writing after the Troubles (London: Bloomsbury, 2021).


The judges said of Haunted Heaney: “This book is rigorous, sensitive, written with clarity, and evinces a passion for Heaney’s work which is compelling. Readings were vigorous and revealing throughout and provide an original approach to the work.”

The citation for Northern Irish Writing after the Troubles was: “It’s clear from the start that you are in the hands of an expert reader, but also someone who loves these books and can take you deep inside the emotions they convey. There is much here for readers who are completely new to the authors represented here as well as to those already familiar with some of the texts considered.”

The BACLS Postgraduate Essay Prize went to Katie Harling-Lee for Caught in the Regime: Classical Music and the Individual in the Contemporary Novel (Open Library of Humanities 7:2 (2021))

The Heaney-Miłosz Residency, a new literary residency programme, has been launched in Krakow, Poland, by the Estate of Seamus Heaney, the Embassy of Ireland in Poland and Krakow Festival Office (KBF). This residency will take place for four to six weeks in autumn 2023 at the former apartment of one of Poland’s most renowned writers and Nobel Laureate, Czesław Miłosz, in Krakow.

The residency aims to celebrate the friendship between Seamus Heaney and Czesław Miłosz, by providing the time and space for an early to mid-career writer, based in Ireland, to develop their writing. The call for applications and the application form are available at literaryresidenciespoland.pl. Applications are open until September 30th, with the selected writer to be announced in December.


The Kennedy Summer School will explore the life of Bridget Murphy, the great-grandmother of President John F Kennedy, and the woman behind the turnaround in the family’s fortunes in the US.

Bridget emigrated from Wexford, escaping the ravages of the Famine. There she met fellow Wexfordman Patrick Kennedy. In 1849 they married but just nine years later he died, leaving Bridget alone to raise their four children.

In a new book, The First Kennedys, US author Neal Thompson explores the story of the often overlooked Bridget. Neal says, “I think of her as the forgotten hero of that family and their history. Everything about the legend of that family has been so focused on the men. But when you sort of peel back where it all began, it really started with this tenacious, widowed, entrepreneurial female, Bridget.”

Thompson will join the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross this September 8th to 10th. S ee kennedysummerschool.ie for details and tickets.


The Most Natural Thing in the World by Hennessy Literary Award winning short story writer Desmond Traynor, which he describes as a meditation on childlessness and the child-free existence as well as a kind of apologia pro vita sua, is launched this month by Beir Bua Press. Éilís Ní Dhuibhne called it “a highly original essay from a master stylist. With brutal honesty Desmond Traynor weaves the enthralling story of his personal experience with philosophical musings on the ethics of reproduction. Provocative, profound, and ultimately very balanced.” Rob Doyle described it as “a sweeping, personal, at times grippingly candid examination of perhaps the most fundamental decision a human being will ever make: whether or not to beget new life.”

The Last of the Light by Marc Ó Riain is a newly-published collection of short stories, memories and images, capturing the essence of the Loop Head peninsula, Co Clare. The stories capture the endless play of light on the surrounding Atlantic – its birdlife, fish, its moods and its power, all crafted from the lived experience of the area and drawn from the shadowlands of memory. It is also a testament to the bond of brotherhood - beneath the writing flows a submerged narrative: the loss of an absent brother, whose light the author, a Kilkee native, says still lingers. A book that strongly evokes the bond between person and place and place. €30 from bairneachpublications.com


The Irish Writers Centre is set to open its doors for an Autumn Open Day on Saturday, August 27th to inform those interested in writing about the variety of services, courses, and resources available at the organisation. Propelled by a new five-year strategy, the centre has plans to enhance opportunities for people across all communities to explore and participate in creative writing.

Running from 10.30am until 4pm, the day will feature a range of events including open invitations to join the Inkslingers and New Irish Communities writing groups, a range of free workshops, a panel discussion on how ‘Place Shapes us as Writers’, an information session on the Novel Fair writing competition and much, much more. There will also be lots of opportunities to meet and chat with other like-minded people who have an interest in books and writing. Register for the Autumn Open Day.

Columba Books has released a new book by veteran journalist Mary Kenny. The Way We Were: Catholic Ireland Since 1922 looks at the social and personal history of Ireland since the formation of the Irish State in 1922, with a focus on the Catholic identity of Irish culture. The book is a rounded social history with a perspective on context and comparative social changes elsewhere.

On September 7th, Mary Kenny will be in conversation with Derek Scally, Irish Times journalist and author of The Best Catholics in the World, on the topic of Catholic Ireland: A proud legacy or a shameful debacle?, moderated by RTÉ Radio 1 broadcaster Sean O’Rourke. The event will be hosted at Hodges Figgis, Dawson St. at 6pm. On September 15th, Kenny will be launching her book in the presence of Sabina Coyne Higgins at United Arts Club, Fitzwilliam St. Upper at 6.30pm.


Audiobooks remain the fastest growing sector of publishing, with the Audio Publishers Association reporting a further 25% expansion this year. Far from cannibalising print sales, research suggests audiobooks are helping to grow the overall book market. The picture isn’t all good news however. Many smaller independent presses publishing literary fiction and non-fiction are often excluded from this growing market, given the added costs of production and marketing, and the algorithm-led, transactional marketplace style of Amazon’s dominant Audible (which can offer you an audiobook as a reward for buying a hedge strimmer).

A new independent venture, Spiracle, is challenging this status quo, providing a curated platform for modern and contemporary literary titles. Away from algorithms, bestsellers and self-help titles, this platform seeks to be a haven for book lovers. The curated offering is like having a trusted friend recommending surprising and inspiring audiobooks to you each month, quite different from predictable and narrow algorithmic suggestions based upon past choices.