‘Miracle’ of Irish literature celebrated as four Booker prize nominees gather in Dublin

Sebastian Barry, Elaine Feeney, Paul Lynch and Paul Murray give selection of readings in city centre

What is the collective name for a group of Irish Man Booker Prize longlist nominees?

A celebration of nominees was held in Books Upstairs in central Dublin with all four in attendance – Sebastian Barry, Elaine Feeney, Paul Murray and Paul Lynch.

It has never happened before that so many Irish writers have been longlisted for the most prestigious prize in English language literature. A country with scarcely one per cent of the world’s anglophone population accounts for almost a third of the 13 Man Booker Prize longlisted nominees.

It might never happen again and, even it does, it might not be possible to gather them all into the same room at the same time.


“Everybody was free on the same date, the authors and the publishers were up for it and they were up for having it at an independent book shop,” said Louisa Earls from Books Upstairs who also acted as compère for the event.

“It was good timing. The idea was broached when their schedules hadn’t got completely rammed yet and everybody wanted the event to happen before the shortlist is announced on September 21st.”

Quite why Ireland is having such a stellar moment in fiction has been much debated – the role of the Arts Council in promoting writers may be one factor; the dynamics of living in a post-Catholic, post-crash society may be another; a third reason may be the enduring respect for the writer in the Irish artistic tradition.

Books Upstairs was packed for the readings by each of the authors. Sebastian Barry, who has been longlisted five times and shortlisted twice, said he was scrubbing floors when he heard about his nomination for it. Old God’s Time follows a murder investigation in which a retired policeman confronts the losses of his past.

“When the news is good from your editor it is like having two kids on the telephone,” said Barry who likened being a Man Booker nominee to a circus that parks up at the end of your road. As the Irish laureate for fiction between 2019–2021 and therefore charged with reading much Irish fiction, Barry says he is not surprised by the number of nominations.

“There is a tremendous number of world-class writers in Ireland now. Let’s leave it at the level of miracle. That’s where it resides.”

Paul Murray, the author of The Bee Sting, was the other Irish nominee present who previously made the shortlist for the prize. He was shortlisted in 2010 for Skippy Dies. “We are doing something right. It seems to be a very fertile time at the moment.”

Murray recalled that there were many prominent Irish writers with acclaimed novels that have not been nominated this time.

Elaine Feeney, the only Irish woman on this year’s longlist will return to the day job as a lecturer in English in the University of Galway this week. Her novel How to Build a Boat is a coming-of-age story set in the west of Ireland. Being longlisted for her is a triumph in itself. She puts recent Irish success down to our “tradition as storytellers. I bring it back to the great tradition of orality in the west of Ireland.”

Paul Lynch’s novel Prophet Song is set in a dystopian future in which the State is taken over by a totalitarian right-wing government. He tries not to worry about being shortlisted as he has no control over the matter.

“As a writer, you have already written your book. There is nothing you can do to advance your cause.”

Five writers will be shortlisted from the 13 on September 21st and the Man Booker Prize ceremony takes place in London on November 26th.

*This article was amended on Monday, September 11th, 2023

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times