An Post renews Irish Book Awards sponsorship; Spiritual Wounds by Síobhra Aiken wins Whitfield Prize

Books newsletter: a preview of tomorrow’s pages and a wrap of the latest literary news

Rachel Connolly talks to Niamh Donnelly in this Saturday’s about her excellent debut novel Lazy City and there is a Q&A with Andrea Carter about her latest crime novel, Death Writes.

Reviews are Edel Coffey on Ootlin by Jenni Fagan and The Stirrings by Catherine Taylor; Tony Clayton-Lea on the best new music books; Martina Evans on the best new poetry; Mia Levitin on Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life by Anna Funder; Éilís Ní Dhuibhne on Sing, Wild Bird, Sing by Jacqueline O’Mahony; Aimée Walsh on Anam by Andre Dao; Anne Haverty on Blind Dogs by Michael Kane; Ruth McKee on Beethoven’s Assassins by Andrew Crumey; Matthew Richards on Second Self by Chloë Ashby; Paul Clements on local history books; and Sarah Gilmartin on Open Up by Thomas Morris.

This Saturday’s Irish Times Eason offer is The Close by Jane Casey. You buy this bestselling crime thriller for just €5.99, a €5 saving, with your paper at any branch this weekend.

An Post has renewed its headline sponsorship of the Irish Book Awards, which began in 2018 and will now be extended until at least 2025.


Now in its 18th year, the awards bring together a community passionate about books – readers, authors, booksellers, publishers and librarians – to recognise the best of Irish writing talent.

The awards feature new and established writers across 18 categories, including Novel of the Year, Children, Cookbook, Crime Fiction, Popular Fiction, Non-fiction, Sports, Lifestyle, Short Story, Irish language, Poem, Newcomer, Teen and Young Adult, Irish Published and Biography.

In addition to category winners, the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award recognises the contribution of distinguished Irish writers and poets, and winners have included Anne Enright, Sebastian Barry, Colm Toibín, Thomas Kinsella, Eavan Boland, John Montague, JP Donleavy, Paul Durcan, John Banville, Maeve Binchy, John McGahern, Edna O’Brien, William Trevor and Séamus Heaney.

An Post has also launched a new writing competition called ‘New Voices: The An Post Writing Prize’. This year, the focus is on the Irish-based Ukrainian community, with writers from this community aged 16+ invited to compose a new and original short story, essay or poem describing their experiences of flight and exile in no more than 1,000 words. The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on November 22nd.

David McRedmond, CEO at An Post, said: “An Post loves the written word, and the transformational power of reading. Books are essential to good living, and we fulfil our purpose to act for the common good” by sponsoring these awards. An Post has supported Ukrainian refugees with free postage and other services, in fraternity with our colleagues in UKRPoshta. Now we recognise the unique contribution they can make in Ireland with this new prize for new literary voices, which this year focuses on Ukrainian refugees.”

Maria Dickenson, an Irish Book Awards board member, said: “We are delighted that An Post will be sponsoring the Irish Book Awards until 2025. Since 2018, An Post and The Irish Book Awards have worked closely together to promote reading and to celebrate and highlight the wealth of both new and established writers and illustrators in Ireland. The Irish Book Awards is a landmark event in the bookselling calendar and every year, brings together the vast Irish literary community. We are excited that An Post is continuing on our journey with us as the Irish Book Awards goes from strength to strength.”

The shortlist for the awards will be announced on October 19th, while the winners will be presented with their trophies at the awards ceremony in the Convention Centre Dublin on November 22nd. A television programme will be broadcast on RTÉ One television in December, culminating in one of the 2023 winning titles being announced as the An Post Irish Book of the Year 2023.

Síobhra Aiken has been awarded the 2023 Whitfield Prize by the Royal Historical Society for her book, Spiritual Wounds: Trauma, Testimony and the Irish Civil War, published by Irish Academic Press. The prize is awarded annually to the best first book in British or Irish history and is described as ‘one of the most sought after book prizes for early career historians’.

Dr Aiken is a lecturer in Roinn na Gaeilge agus an Léinn Cheiltigh (Department of Irish and Celtic Studies) in Queen’s University Belfast.

Her book is the second work of Irish history to be awarded the Whitfield Prize since its establishment in 1976 (following Niamh Gallagher’s 2020 award for Ireland and the Great War: A Social and Political History).

Spiritual Wounds challenges the prevailing view that the events of the Irish Civil War were shrouded in silence by uncovering a wealth of previously neglected testimonies written in both English and Irish, including testimonies that were published under a veil of fiction.

The judges said that “the book shows how the code of silence around the Irish Civil War was culturally constructed, and it adopts and historicises the framework of ‘trauma’ for its study, offering a model for others to follow. Aiken’s afterword presents fascinating comments on the researcher’s own subjectivity, and the challenges of writing about topics which ‘defy straightforward empathic identification’. It is a powerful contribution to our understanding of the legacy of war, and of historical practice and the role of the historian”.

Dr Aiken said: “The award a real endorsement of not only the calibre of Irish historical scholarship, but also of the merits of multilingual research and interdisciplinary historical approaches (through the examination of both archival and literary sources in order to study the past). The award also gives due recognition to publishers like Irish Academic Press who publish first-rate academic works and make them affordable and accessible to the general public.”

Spiritual Wounds is based on Dr Aiken’s doctoral dissertation from the Centre for Irish Studies, University of Galway, which was awarded the Adele Dalsimer Prize by the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS) in 2021. Spiritual Wounds appeared in the Times Literary Supplement’s Books of Year 2022 and was awarded the Michael J. Durkan Prize for Books in Language and Culture 2022 by the ACIS.

Dr Aiken isworking on another research project which is a study of the efforts by early 20th-century immigrants in the industrial city of Springfield, Massachusetts to sustain an Irish-speaking enclave in their adopted home.

The programme for the 61st Belfast International Arts Festival has been officially launched. This year’s festival returns from October 12th until November 5th.

This October, Belfast International Arts Festival will open simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic as its collaboration with Cahoots NI on the company’s latest stage show, The Vanishing Elephant, opens at the New Victory Theatre on Broadway in New York. Back home in Belfast, Gary Mitchell’s new play, Burnt Out (11th October – 4th November), which is set to be staged at The Lyric, will officially open the festival to local audiences.

Earlier in the summer, the festival announced a number of this year’s signature events, including a triple bill at the Grand Opera House which will play host to An Evening with The Belfast Ensemble and Marc Almond (17th October), a special two-part event that sees the ensemble joined by Canadian soprano Rebecca Caine in the first half to perform music from the award-winning Abomination: A DUP Opera, and international pop icon Marc Almond in the second as he performs the multi-award-winning song cycle, Ten Plagues.

Theatrical highlights include the return of the formidable Pat Kinevane and Fishamble Theatre Company with the critically acclaimed King (27th–28th October); the hugely entertaining and provocative work.txt (24th–25th October) from one of the UK’s brightest young playwrights, Nathan Ellis and a new and innovative adaptation of Rhinoceros – Rhino – by Eugene Ionesco and from Tinderbox Theatre Company (18th–29th October).

Discussing their latest literary releases as part of this year’s talks and ideas strand are authors Gary Younge (17th October), Jacqueline Crooks & Santanu Bhattacharya (31st October), Keina Yoshida (1st November), Claire Kilroy & Mike McCormack (2nd November), Rachel Connolly & Nicole Flattery (3rd November), Megan Nolan & Paul Murray (4th November) and many others.

The shortlists for the Irish-Language Book of the Year Publishing Awards were announced live on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, this week by An tOireachtas, in conjunction with Foras na Gaeilge. The awards consist of three categories - Gradam Uí Shúilleabháin (Book of the Year for Adults), Gradam Réics Carló (Book of the Year for Children) and Gradam de Bhaldraithe (Book of the Year for publications translated into Irish).

The publishing houses shortlisted include An tSnáthaid Mhór; Barzaz; Cló Iar-Chonnacht; Cló Léann na Gaeilge (CLÓ); Dalen Éireann; Futa Fata; Leabhar Breac; LeabhairCOMHAR agus Picnic Press.

“The requisite set of skills for successfully stewarding a book on its journey from the author’s first draft all the way into the hands of the reader is a multifaceted one in the fast paced world of today”,  said Máirín Nic Dhonnchadha, CEO of An tOireachtas, “and we are fortunate to have so many leading edge publishers bringing beautifully crafted Irish-medium books to the market.   I congratulate the publishing houses appearing on this year’s shortlists as well as the authors, illustrators, editors, designers and translators involved in the publication of all of these exceptional books.   Readers will be spoiled for choice with the range and diversity of works shortlisted which include novels, collections of essays and poetry, picture books for our young readers and exquisite translations from other languages.”

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony at the end of September 2023. A collective prize fund of €17,000 will be awarded. Details of all publications are available at

The winners of the first ever TikTok Book Awards UK and Ireland have been revealed. Bolu Babalola’s novel Honey & Spice took home the Book of the Year award, Holly Jackson was voted Author of the Year and Eden Victoria was crowned Creator of the Year.

Thousands of BookTok fans took to TikTok to vote for their winners, based on a shortlist curated by some of the UK’s biggest literary figure.

Portobello Bookshop, Edinburgh won Indie Bookshop Of The Year; Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen won Best BookTok Revival; Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton won Best Book to End A Reading Slump; and Heartstopper: Volume One by Alice Oseman was voted Best Book I Wish I Could Read Again For The First Time

There were two Irish shortlisted entries Chapters Bookstore for ‘Best Indie Bookshop Of The Year’, and Normal People by Sally Rooney for ‘Best Book I Wish I Could Read Again For The First Time’.

Babalola said: “This is actually the first award I’ve received for anything I’ve written. It means the world to me, especially because it’s from people who read, who have a passion for books, and actually for love as well. I feel so supported by the BookTok community, creators... they galvanise me, I love how much you thirst for Malakai - it makes the late nights worth it!”


Unform, a new arts event with a difference, is an affordable, informal art market which is being held in Juno, 58 Dorset Street Lower, Dublin 1 on Sunday, August 27th. Artists and makers will be selling a diverse range of works, and DJs will play through the day. Shorter Stories will also be hosting a creative sharing space from 3pm to 5pm, where people will be able to appreciate various forms of storytelling in a friendly environment. The market is free. Shorter Stories costs €8.

An evening of poetry inspired by the Decade of Centenaries featuring poets Carole Farnan, Angela Graham, Maria McManus, Julie Morrissy, Stephen Sexton, and Dominic J. Sweeney takes place at the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry on August 26th at 7pm. Stephen Sexton will join Julie Morrissy to discuss ‘The Head of a Man’, a commemorative poem commissioned by UCD Library in partnership with Poetry Ireland and Arts Council Northern Ireland. Tickets via Eventbrite or on the door.