Books newsletter: Listowel honours Stephen Rea; Irish on Dylan Thomas Prize longlist

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

In this Saturday’s Irish Times, Declan Burke celebrates his favourite fictional detectives; there’s a Q&A with Tamil author and poet Meena Kendasamy; and Elaine Farrell and Leanne McCormick, authors of Bad Bridget: Crime, Mayhem and the Lives of Irish Emigrant Women, lift the lid on the book inspired by their hit podcast.

Reviews are Christopher Kissane on The Holocaust: An Unfinished History by Dan Stone; Vona Groarke on Bad Bridget: Crime, Mayhem and the Lives of Irish Emigrant Women by Elaine Farrell and Leanne McCormick; Alan Titley on Gaelic Neighbours: Scotland and Northern Ireland 1918-2021 by Vincent McKee; Declan O’Driscoll on the best new translations; Elizabeth Wassell on All Sorts of Lives: Katherine Mansfield and the art of risking everything by Claire Harman; Rory Kiberd on Tough Guy: Life of Norman Mailer by Richard Bradford; Paul Clements on the best new local history; Martina Evans on Toy Fights: A Boyhood by Don Paterson; Lucy Sweeney Byrne on Becky by Sarah May; Una Mannion on The Cloisters by Katy Hays; and Sarah Gilmartin on My Father’s House by Joseph O’Connor.

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson is this weekend’s Irish Times Eason offer, just €4.99 with your paper, a €5 saving.



Stephen Rea is to be presented with the John B Keane Lifetime Achievement Award on the opening night of Listowel Writers’ Week, with a citation that will celebrate his contribution to Irish theatre.

Having worked with Nobel Prize winners Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, playing Clov in Beckett’s Endgame in the Royal Court Theatre in 1976, with Beckett himself present in the rehearsals, Rea’s theatre credits places him among the most important actors of the last 50 years.

The citation and celebrations will have a particular focus on his work as a founding member of Field Day Theatre Company, along with Brian Friel. With 2023 being the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and with responses to Brexit causing political impasses on the island, his Field Day Theatre Company work is as relevant as ever.

Stephen Connolly, recently-appointed Festival Curator at Listowel Writers’ Week, said: “Working on the programme for Listowel Writers’ Week has been a dream come true. I have been buoyed by the enthusiastic welcome I have been given in the town and have been diligent in my research into the ethos upon which the festival was founded. It is remarkably similar to what I have been doing in Belfast over the last 15 years.

“To be able to be part of the process to honour Stephen Rea for his ground-breaking work in Irish theatre, and in particular the Field Day Theatre Company, has refreshed my commitment to the cause of Irish writing and its ability to open new ways of thinking about the world around us. His contribution to Irish culture and how we, as Irish people, are seen around the globe, cannot be overstated. I have spent time thinking of him as a young man being given performance notes for Endgame in the Royal Court Theatre in 1976 by Samuel Beckett himself; it’s a reminder of the importance that Irish writing plays in culture at large, and, frankly, it is humbling.

“The first poet who will read on the first day of the festival, after the opening night, is William Keohane. He is a young writer from Limerick, and I cannot think of a better person to represent the vitality of new talent from Munster. The festival was started to celebrate established talent while also encouraging new writers. I hope that I am doing justice to the lofty goals of John B. Keane, Bryan MacMahon, Danny Hannon and the founding members of Listowel Writers’ Week.’

Catherine Moylan, Chair of Writers’ Week, said: “We are delighted at the opportunity to celebrate Stephen Rea’s many achievements and acknowledge his generous contribution to the Arts; his role as an actor, patron and contributor to the Arts spans over six decades and we look forward to celebrating the John B Keane Lifetime Achievement Award with him in Listowel this June.”

On June 1st, Rea will lead a staged reading from The Translations of Seamus Heaney, edited by Marco Sonzogni. It includes The Cure at Troy, a translation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, a play first directed by Stephen Rea for Field Day Theatre Company. It will also feature Seamus O’Hara, who played Manus in the recent National Theatre production of Brian Friel’s Translations, along with leading poets Victoria Kennefick, Ciara Ní É and Seán Hewitt.

Other festival highlights include a headline poetry reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Muldoon, who was recently appointed as the Professor of Poetry for Ireland, and an event featuring 2022 US National Book Award for Fiction winner Tess Gunty, author of The Rabbit Hutch, and Jean Hanff Korelitz, author of The Latecomer and The Plot, in conversation with A Crooked Tree author Una Mannion. Muldoon will be in conversation with Paul Brady about his autobiography Crazy Dreams. Debut Belfast novelist Michael Magee and Acts of Desperation author Megan Nolan will be in conversation with Trespasses author Louise Kennedy. An event featuring the authors of Bad Bridget: Crime, Mayhem and the Lives of Irish Emigrant Women will take place in the town’s courthouse.

A full schedule, including the closing night fiction headline writer, will be released in early spring, and will include poetry workshops led by Rooney Prize-winning Stephen Sexton, Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Tess Taylor and fiction workshops with Wendy Erskine and Susannah Dickey. Tickets will soon be on sale for some headline events at

Seven Steeples by Sara Baume, published by Tramp Press, and Phantom Gang by Ciaran O’Rourke, published by Irish Pages Press, have made the longlist for one of the world’s largest literary prizes for young writers – the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize. With authors hailing from Britain, Ireland, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Lebanon and Australia, this year’s longlist of 12 features eight novels, two poetry collections and two short story collections, an even split of debut and established names, with African diaspora and female voices dominating.

The other titles listed are Limberlost by Robbie Arnott; God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu; Desmond Elliott prize-winnerMaps Of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer; Things They Lost by Okwiri Oduor; Losing the Plot by Derek Owusu; I’m a Fan by Sheena Patel; Edhe Hill Prize winner Send Nudes by Saba Sams; Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire; Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens; No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib

American poet, novelist and essayist Patricia Lockwood received the award in 2022 for her inventive debut novel, No One Is Talking About This. The shortlist will be announced on March 23rd and the winner on May 11th.

Poetry Day Ireland, an annual island-wide celebration of poetry, will take place on Thursday, April 27th. Martina Evans, this year’s curator, has chosen ‘Message in a Bottle’ as this year’s theme, reminding us, in the words of Paul Celan, that “a poem can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the – not always greatly hopeful – belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense too are under way: they are making towards something.”

Evans said of the theme: “Paul Celan’s idea of a poem as a message in a bottle reminds us that no poem is an island, it needs a reader to complete the process. Poems are waiting for the reader to uncork the bottle and rediscover the poem, experience that intimate connection across oceans real and metaphorical. No special equipment is needed, only a willingness to participate and connect. A poem must be compact to float within the walls of its container, yet the possibilities are miraculously endless, it’s a song but it can also tell a story or a joke, paint a picture, bring news, pass on wisdom, give shelter, advice or knowledge, travel time, praise, lament or incant – the reader just needs to open that bottle!”

Individuals and organisers can register their Poetry Day event starting next Thursday, February 2nd on with registration closing on March 19th.

Martina Evans grew up in Co Cork and trained in St Vincent’s, Dublin as a radiographer before moving to London in 1988. She is the author of 12 books of poetry and prose. American Mules, (Carcanet 2021) won the Pigott Poetry Prize in 2022. She is a Royal Literary Fund Advisory Fellow and an Irish Times poetry critic.


A new exhibition by Irish artist Niamh McCann, inspired by the work of Belfast poet Ciaran Carson, takes place at Centre Culturel Irlandais (CCI) Paris from February 2nd until March.

Hairline Crack [a dialogue] is a new body of work that responds to the 100th anniversary of the institutionalisation of a border on the island of Ireland. Combining sculpture, collage and video, the exhibition’s title is inspired by a poem of the same title from Belfast poet Ciaran Carson’s Belfast Confetti (The Gallery Press, 1989).

“Making is a form of challenging narrative,” McCann states “it’s a way of revisiting what might be missing from the archival record, of instinctively involving yourself with subject, materials and scale to a degree that risks and reinstates a reality more truthful to the fragmented, messy and disjointed nature of life, than fact”.