Best new Irish writers: Hennessy Literary Awards shortlists, 2017

We name the 18 nominees for this year’s Emerging Poetry, First Fiction and Emerging Fiction prizes

Let’s begin with Sebastian Barry – a penniless 23-year-old Sebastian Barry, that is, in a tiny room in Paris in 1979, writing and rewriting a story he had no idea was any good and somehow finding enough courage to send it to David Marcus at New Irish Writing.

“A letter came back, in his small black handwriting, telling me he was accepting it,” Barry says. “That transition from you alone in a room, and alone in the very early days of writing, and for someone to raise a flag of approbation, it was immense. I walked around Paris in my poor shoes with a certain warmth.”

Today we announce the names of 18 writers who last year shared a similar sense of warmth when their stories and poems were published in Hennessy New Irish Writing in The Irish Times and are today shortlisted for the Hennessy Literary Awards, which have been running since 1971.

The winners of the 2017 awards will be announced at a gala ceremony on March 28th at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.


With New Irish Writing Marcus in effect created a literary journal that, by being available as part of a national newspaper, helped aspiring writers reach a wide readership. A measure of his success is that New Irish Writing will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, having survived the demise of two newspapers.

After being dropped by the crisis-ridden Irish Press, in 1988, it was revamped under my editorship at the Sunday Tribune. One of the first stories to come our way was by Joseph O'Connor, a young Dubliner, living in London, who had almost given up getting published by the time I telephoned him to say we were accepting The Last of the Mohicans. It was a story of such dazzling talent and hilarious momentum that Piers Paul Read and Brendan Kennelly gave it the 1989 Hennessy First Fiction and New Irish Writer of the Year awards.

Everything happens much faster nowadays. It's not unusual for writers to find publishers almost as soon as their first work appears in New Irish Writing. By the time Sara Baume won the 2014 Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year award for her 2013 story Dancing, or Beginning to Dance, Tramp Press had already brought out her debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Two other winners that year, the poet Simon Lewis and the novelist Henrietta McKervey, also published their first books.

This year is no different. Since appearing in New Irish Writing, in 2016, two of our shortlisted writers, Kerrie O’Brien and Elizabeth Reapy, have been published.

So thank you, David Marcus.

Ciaran Carty is editor of New Irish Writing


Emerging poetry

Deirdre Daly
The Art of Making Macaroons, Bird of Prey

“These poems arrived as I stared at the settled dust on a pasta machine in a kitchen full of hoarded and once-loved objects. The environments people create and the objects they choose to fill them with have always fascinated me. They can offer pleasure and gratification but ultimately represent our shortfalls.”

Deirdre Daly was poetry winner of the 2016 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year competition. Her poetry has been published in Crannóg and her fiction has appeared in various anthologies.

Moya Roddy
Last Fling, Curtain Call, Brothers

“Inspiration is a mysterious thing. It’s not always obvious. Words inspire me: the sound and their ability to convey the nuances of personal experience either beautifully or truthfully. I’m inspired, too, by everyday things that seem to call out for recognition and expression.”

Moya Roddy's collection Other People was longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. She has written for RTÉ, the British Film Institute, Channel 4 and Scottish Television. Her poems have appeared in Crannóg and Stony Thursday

Kerrie O' Brien
Flamingos, Hemingway, Bud

"When I was 16 I discovered the poem The Promise by Sharon Olds, which started my love of poetry. I didn't know poems like that could exist. For me poetry is the most powerful way of expressing what it is to be human, of baring your soul to the world."

Kerrie O' Brien's debut collection, Illuminate, was published by Salmon Poetry in October. It was chosen in the New Statesman, Irish Times and Irish Independent books of the year. She is working on a novel

Paul McMahon
Overseen, Turlough

“My poetry usually begins with a memory, something I’ve witnessed or lived through, that becomes a lyrical narrative between the memory and me remembering it. Sometimes the poem comes immediately, other times a year may pass. The first line almost has to shout itself out before I’m sure that the poem is ready to be written down.”

Paul McMahon's debut poetry chapbook, Bourdon, was published last November. He was awarded the Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize in 2015

Una Mannion
Crouched Burial

“The summer I was 15 a child’s body was found in our field in Culleenamore, in Co Sligo, where there is an extensive oyster midden along the bay. The child, 2,000 years old, was lying in a crouched position, on her side, foetal, arms holding herself. The imprint of her small frame in the earth and details of her burial shaped this poem.”

Una Mannion teaches performing arts at IT Sligo. In 2015 she won the Yeats Society's Seamus Heaney memorial poetry award. This year she won the Cúirt fiction prize

Róisín Kelly
A Massage Room in West Cork, At a Photography Exhibition in New York Public Library, Oysters

“It took the past few years to make me realise that I can write my way out of many emotional situations or difficult periods in my life. The ability to write can transform painful experiences into something tangible and even precious.”

isín Kelly's writing has appeared in Poetry, Stinging Fly and Best New British and Irish Poets 2016. Her first chapbook, Rapture, was published last year

First fiction

Eileen Lynch

“I wanted to capture the state of mind of a teenage girl moving from beneath the protective wing of her mother into the wider world. The scarecrow represents the mother’s attempt to keep at bay a threat she senses but cannot name.”

Eileen Lynch has been shortlisted twice for the RTÉ Francis MacManus Short Story Competition

Clare O'Dea
The Favour

“This story came to me in the voice of Maeve, a person who likes to think she is in control of everything. I wanted to witness her struggle when her true feelings finally broke through.”

Clare O'Dea has lived for 14 years in Switzerland, where she is a writer and translator. Her nonfiction book, The Naked Swiss: A Nation Behind 10 Myths, was published in 2016

Pauline Rooney
Same Again

“This story was born out of a free-writing exercise during a class at Queen’s University Belfast. My character was to meet someone from the past. So I imagined him at a bar on a Friday evening, wrangling with the responsibilities of his life, hoping to bump into an old flame.”

Pauline Rooney's story Counting Strokes was runner-up in the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award. She is working on a collection

Seán Tanner
I Could Have Been a Dancer

“With years of research behind me, hangovers seemed an obvious subject to write about. I was trying to capture some of the abstracted terror and tangential insight that often accompany this fallen state. It was supposed to be light hearted, but in the middle it just ran off on me.”

Seán Tanner works in the amusements industry. He is working towards his first collection

Anne Hayden
Same same but different

“This story started with an image of someone at their twin’s funeral and the line ‘It’s the strangest thing, seeing yourself dead.’ But I became more interested in the question of what happens after. What it’s like to be the one who lives?”

Anne Hayden works in Dublin in journalism. Her short fiction has been published in the Incubator and will appear in the Stinging Fly later this year

Paul Duffy
When the World Was Soft

“This story is rooted in the concept of dying abroad. It comes from reflection on several very personal experiences I had during three years living in Australia. The story also explores the idea of communities we believe we should form part of as emigrants and those we actually end up belonging to.”

Paul Duffy, an archeologist, was Over the Edge New Writer of the Year in 2015. He is working on a collection

Emerging fiction

EM Reapy
The Opposite of a Movie Star

“Someone once told me how a man who appeared to be a drug addict handed in a CV for a job in a busy city- centre store and, when he left, the staff laughed at his application. The anecdote haunted me for years. I felt compelled to reimagine the situation and try to offer a tiny bit of compassion.”

Elizabeth Reapy's debut novel, Red Dirt, published by Head of Zeus, won Newcomer of the Year at the 2016 Irish Book Awards

Lauren Foley
Hot Rocks

"I was at home, in Australia, drinking black coffee and eating an orange. I thought it would be like tasting a kiss. That was my inspiration for Hot Rocks, a story about the loss of virginity and original sin, and how it's conditioned in heteronormativity that girls lose and boys take away."

Lauren Foley last year won the inaugural Overland Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, and was published by Melbourne Books

Michael McGlade
The Wind That Danced the Tilia Trees

“What interests me most is taking difficult subjects and being able to cast light on motivations that drive people to better themselves – or, conversely, to justify their faults. That interplay of light and dark, that duality within us all, is what casts the largest influence on my goals as a writer.”

Michael McGlade has had more than 80 stories published in the Saturday Evening Post, Shimmer and Downstate Story, among other journals. He's writing a crime novel

Ferdia Lennon
A Man Came to My Door

“This story is part of a linked series set in the same Dublin suburb, not unlike the one in which I grew up. For me stories usually start out as a clear voice. However, this one came as a vivid image of an old man in the rain knocking at a door.”

Ferdia Lennon teaches at Université Paris-Est, in France. His fiction has appeared in Stinging Fly, Wordlegs, 30 Under 30 and Southward

Donal Moloney

“My inspiration came from reading newspaper articles about abortion and home repossessions. I imagined a family struggling with both these issues, and I thought their personal journey could be illuminating. In the story the protagonist says she is a news junkie because all of it matters.”

Donal Moloney's stories have appeared in the Moth, Verge, the Galway Review and Boyne Berries. He is completing a collection

Rachel Donohue
The Taking of Mrs Kennedy

"This story really began as a ghost story. I wanted to capture a sense of shadows under a seemingly perfect life. Caravaggio's painting The Taking of Christ fed into this mood of a dark fate, and along with it came the idea of betrayal."

Rachel Donohue was shortlisted for the Hennessy First Fiction Award in 2013 and the Hennessy Emerging Fiction Award in 2014


Mike McCormack

Mike McCormack has been on a rollercoaster of acclaim since his virtuoso third novel, Solar Bones, the story of a dead man returning to rural Mayo on All Souls Day, was published last year by a small independent Dublin publisher Tramp Press. Voted novel of the year at the Irish Book Awards, it then picked up London’s prestigious Goldsmiths award for innovative fiction.

British rights to Solar Bones, written in a single sentence without a stop like the Molly Bloom monologue in Ulysses, have been bought at auction by Canongate, who will also republish McCormack’s earlier books Getting It in the Head and Notes from a Coma. And tonight Galway University alumni will gather to present their award for outstanding contribution to literature to McCormack, a longstanding teacher of fiction at the college and now director of its BA in creative writing programme.

McCormack still found time over Christmas to read and re-read all the shortlisted stories and poems from New Irish Writing, which in 1993 published his own first fiction ‘Thomas Crumlesh 1960-1992: A Retrospective’, a surreal story about a body artist who kept self-harming at exhibitions until none of his body was left. Together with Mary Costello’s debut story ‘The Patio Man’ it missed out that year on a Hennessy Award (the 1993 New Irish Writer of the Year was a young poet Vona Groarke) but we included both stories in The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction 1995. The following year Jonathan Cape published McCormack’s collection Getting It In the Head and he was also awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

Elizabeth Day

Elizabeth Day’s literary path has been somewhat less complicated. She started writing stories when she was four, “mainly featuring my beloved cats”. Worried that her books might not sell, she decided become a journalist first and wrote to the editor of every local newspaper. One of them, Pat McCart who edited the Derry Journal, offered her a fortnightly column at the age of 12. “I wrote about many of the most pressing topics of the day, including Why I Hate Cliff Richard (sorry Cliff) and Why Kylie and Jason Exist. I bought Doc Marten boots with purple laces with my first cheque.

After Cambridge, where she gained a double first in history and was a section editor on Varsity, she worked for The Sunday Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday and The Observer. She was named Young Journalist of the Year in 2004 and at 29 won the Betty Trask Award with her first novel, Scissors Paper Stone. It was followed by Home Fires and Paradise City. Her fourth novel The Party will be published by 4th Estate in July. Writing fiction, she says, makes her feel “unentangled and calm, in a profound soul-charging way – that’s if it’s going well”.