Sally Hayden wins An Post Irish Book of the Year award for My Fourth Time, We Drowned

Journalist wins third major award for her first book, which highlights how Europe is failing refugees

My Fourth Time, We Drowned by Sally Hayden, an exposé of the West’s moral failure to deal humanely with the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, has been named as the An Post Irish Book of the Year 2022.

My Fourth Time, We Drowned is a moving, compelling and vitally important book,” said Maria Dickenson, chair of the judging panel and general manager of Dubray Books. “Sally Hayden is an outstanding Irish journalist who has taken her place on the global stage with her incisive journalism, and she has written a book that is as ground-breaking as it is humane. In it, she gives a powerful voice to vulnerable refugees, and holds the highest offices accountable for their plight.”

David McRedmond, chief executive of sponsor An Post, said: Sally Hayden’s book can take its place as one of the great nonfiction books for many years. She never strays from her journalistic discipline but underpins the story of migration with profound empathy.”

Hayden, who reports from Africa for The Irish Times, said: “I’m honestly astounded that My Fourth Time, We Drowned has won. It feels like a huge recognition of the importance of journalism, nonfiction writing and mostly the topic of the book: how the rich world is cementing its borders to shut out people who need help. Crimes against humanity and war crimes are ongoing on the edges of Europe, and they’re being done in our names with the aim of keeping us comfortable. That situation has not changed, and actually seems to be getting worse.

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“This award was possible because of the bravery of my sources in North Africa and elsewhere, who risked their lives to send evidence about what they were going through. I hope it will encourage more people to read the book, and that reading it might make them begin to question the world we’re living in.

“I’d also like to say a massive thanks to my Irish Times editors, Chris Dooley and the late Dave McKechnie, who were the first people to publish my reporting on Libya and the Central Mediterranean and supported me while this book came together.”

My Fourth Times We Drowned has already won the Orwell Prize for Political Writing and the Michael Déon Prize and been shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize.

Accepting the Déon prize at the Mansion House in September, Hayden admitted that she had reservations about the prize because it was sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs, “given that they are implicated in the human rights abuses that my book documents”. However, she decided to participate because the prize would help to spread awareness about the book and the topic. She is also distributing the Déon and Orwell prize money among victims directly.

Hayden is an award-winning journalist and photographer who focuses on migration, conflict and humanitarian crises. She has a law degree from University College Dublin and a Master’s in International Politics from Trinity College, Dublin.

My Fourth Time, We Drowned is her first book. It was triggered by a Facebook message she received asking for help from an Eritrean refugee held in a Libyan detention centre. The book includes dozens of first-hand narratives from people living in such centres, revealing that they were all incarcerated as a direct result of European policy.

“This is a book of evidence, an indictment of a guilty continent,” Christopher Kissane wrote in his Irish Times review. “It will make you feel sick, and it should.” Fellow author Sally Rooney called Hayden’s book “the most important work of contemporary reporting I have ever read”.

The other award judges were Elaina Ryan – CEO of Children’s Books Ireland; Madeleine Keane, literary editor of the Sunday Independent, Laura Hackett, deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times; and author and reviewer Rónán Hession. Hayden’s book had won nonfiction book of the year at last month’s Irish Book Awards. The other category winners shortlisted for book of the year were Trespasses by Louise Kennedy; Time and Tide by Charlie Bird, with Ray Burke; Kellie by Kellie Harrington, with Roddy Doyle; Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes; and Girls Who Slay Monsters by Ellen Ryan, illustrated by Shona Shirley Macdonald.

Last year’s Irish Book of the Year was We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole. A fellow Irish Times writer and Orwell Prize winner, he wrote of Hayden’s book: “Sally Hayden’s heart-stopping account of the plight of contemporary refugees is both a compelling epic and an intimate encounter with exact personal experience. She achieves what all great writing hopes to do — the restoration of humanity to those who have been deprived of it.”

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times