Fergal Keane wins Christopher Ewart-Biggs memorial prize for ‘Wounds’

Marianne Elliott awarded special £5,000 prize for advancing understanding of Irish history in Britain

Fergal Keane: 'A legendary journalist who is also a first-rate historian and a marvellous writer.'

Fergal Keane: 'A legendary journalist who is also a first-rate historian and a marvellous writer.'

 

The 25th Christopher Ewart-Biggs memorial prize, worth £5,000, has been won by Fergal Keane for his book Wounds: a memoir of war and love, published by William Collins. The Ewart-Biggs Trust also awarded a special prize of £5,000 to Prof Marianne Elliott for her achievement in advancing the understanding of Irish history in Britain.

Speaking for the judges, Prof Roy Foster said: “This year’s list, which covered three years, was extremely strong and varied: it included a cultural study of the border, never more relevant than today; an intensely vivid child’s-eye memoir of Bloody Sunday; a strikingly original study of the Ulster Protestant dramatic imagination; a thoughtful insider’s view of the Sunningdale Agreement, prophetic in several ways; an enlightening analysis of the BBC’s part in covering the Irish Troubles; and a substantial and moving collection of poems by a gifted poet who has stayed the pace.

“But our choice of Fergal Keane’s powerful book Wounds was unanimous. Fergal Keane is a legendary journalist who is also a first-rate historian and a marvellous writer. Using these gifts he has explored the complexities of personal and political relationships in a North Kerry townland at a time of revolution, with an insider’s knowledge and the incisive analysis of an impartial outsider. As the Irish proverb he quotes in his last paragraph says, there are two versions of every story and twelve versions of every song; in giving us both versions he has produced a classic and moving history, which epitomises the values which Christopher and Jane Ewart-Biggs stood for, and which their prize recognises.

“The same is true of the work and achievements of Marianne Elliott. She has written a number of path-breaking histories, dealing with the 18th-century Irish republican tradition, the history of the Catholics of Ulster, a study of religious animosities in Irish history, and most recently a history of an experimental housing estate in Belfast that is also a personal memoir. There is also her great achievement in building up the Institute of Irish Studies in Liverpool into a beacon of Irish academic achievement in Britain, and her tireless work on the Opsahl Commission and other initiatives devoted to bettering life in Northern Ireland. Her achievements as a public intellectual could not be more relevant to the tradition of work commemorated by this prize, and we are delighted to recognise them.”

The other judges were Paul Arthur, Catherine Heaney, Onora O’Neill, Ian McBride and Thomas Pakenham.

The prize was instituted in memory of the British ambassador to Ireland who was murdered by the IRA in 1976; its objectives are to promote and encourage peace and reconciliation in Ireland, a greater understanding between the peoples of Britain and Ireland, or closer co-operation between the partners of the European Community.

Reviewing Wounds for The Irish Times, Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD, wrote thar Keane “writes with honesty about family inheritance, tribal strengths and shortcomings and the conflicting legacies of revolution ... there is also strong and interesting material here, including about memory, forgetting and compartmentalisation of the past and present.

“Keane’s reflections on the aftermath of the revolutionary era are also thought-provoking and nuanced; he sees his forebears as courageous idealists but does not shirk the revolution’s underbelly and in the long run, the stifling of independence...Perhaps the book delivers less than it promises, but it is frequently absorbing and intelligently reflective.”

The seven shortlisted entries for the 2018 prize were:
Noel Dorr, Sunningdale: the search for peace in Northern Ireland (Royal Irish Academy)
Tony Doherty, This Man’s Wee Boy: a childhood memoir of peace and trouble in Derry (Mercier Press)
Fergal Keane, Wounds: a memoir of war and love (William Collins)
Peter Leary, Unapproved Routes: histories of the Irish Border 1922-1972 (Oxford University Press)
Frank Ormsby, Goat’s Milk: new and selected poems (Bloodaxe)
Connal Parr, Inventing the Myth: political passions and the Ulster Protestant imagination (Oxford University Press)
Robert Savage, The BBC’s ‘Irish Troubles’: television, conflict and Northern Ireland (Manchester University Press)

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