Fergal Keane receives Ireland Funds literary award

BBC foreign correspondent awarded $25,000 at Muckross House ceremony

BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane was on Thursday awarded Worldwide Ireland Funds annual literary award of $25,000.

The ceremony took place at Muckross House, Killarney, once the home of the late AWB "Billy" Vincent whose idea it was to have a literary award.

The second ever recipient was the late Seamus Heaney, chief executive of the Ireland Funds Kieran McLoughlin noted.

The 30th conference of the funds is the largest ever and 180 donors from 11 countries have gathered in Killarney.


Earlier the American Ireland Fund – the biggest part of the worldwide fund – announced it was donating $100,000 to go towards the urgent needs of the bereaved and the injured in Berkeley.

Olivia O'Leary who presented the literary award said Mr Keane had always been a reporter who used his heart and his head.

“Some people would say he has baggage – he has it’s called a conscience,” Ms O’Leary said.

He had been on the cusp of huge stories during his career from apartheid to Rwanda to the current European refugee crisis.

He was part of a great theatrical and literary tradition and a lot of his scripts crossed the line between literature and journalism in the tradition of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, she said.

Protestant tradition

Mr Keane said he wanted to recognise the role of the American Ireland Fund in changing the idea of Irishness and making it inclusive by recognising the other tradition on the island, the Protestant tradition.

It was fantastic to be recognised in the Kingdom, he said. Just returned from Paris and Calais, where he was working on the refugee crisis, Mr Keane said: “The main lesson I have learned in all these years of reporting from conflict zones is not about cruelty, it’s about decency.

“We can get a very skewed version of our world if we look at only one narrative – the narrative of pain and cruelty. What thrives in spite of it is what keeps me going,” he said.


He also paid tribute to the decision by the American Ireland Fund to donate to Berkeley – his family were touched by the tragedy.

Niccolai Schuster, his second cousin, who died on the balcony collapse was "a beautiful boy", and the child of wonderful parents.

“The main thing is everyone in the family is supporting John and Graziella, two loving decent and kind people.” They were surrounded by love, he said.