Maggie O’Farrell and Elaine Feeney win 2021 Dalkey Literary Awards

Authors of Hamnet and As You Were win prizes worth £30,000

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell has been named Novel of the Year and Galway author Elaine Feeney has been named Emerging Writer for her debut novel As You Were at this year’s Dalkey Literary Awards. The award is a sort of homecoming for O’Farrell, whose father is from Dalkey.

O’Farrell receives £20,000 and Feeney £10,000 for the awards, which are the biggest prizes solely for Irish writers, sponsored by Zurich Insurance as part of the Dalkey Book Festival, whic his being held virtually this year.

Róisín Ingle, Paschal Donohoe and Sinéad Gleeson, the Novel of the Year judges, commended Hamnet, abouththe death of Shakespeare’s son, for being “incredibly moving and beautifully written…. about family, love and grief, it is a totally immersive novel. This bewitching novel brings alive the era – the smell, sight and sound of the city streets and also of the surrounding countryside. Intimate, intense, devastating.”

O’Farrell said: “It is a huge honour to be given this award. Dalkey is a place very close to my heart as my father was born and raised there; the homescreen on my phone has for years been a photograph of Dalkey Island. I’m so grateful to the festival and the judges. The shortlist was particularly strong – 2021 has been an excellent year for Irish fiction – and it was a joy to have been included. I hope it’s not too long before I’m back in Dalkey.”


Dearbhail McDonald, Aideen Howard and Declan Hughes, the Emerging Writer judges, called As You Were, about a businesswoman keeping a terrible secret from her family, and the people she shares a ward with, “a mighty, turbulent firestorm of a book, with a pulsing, rhythmic narrative voice. A compelling cast of characters with pitch perfect dialogue, it is tender, nuanced, forensically controlled and thrillingly unrestrained.”

Feeney said: “It is a huge honour to win the Dalkey Emerging Writer Award. I spent five years writing As You Were, and though no one forces anyone to write a book, it’s often a long journey, my journey was filled with self-doubt, and at times obsession – so it’s reassuring to have my work recognised by the judges.

“An award like Dalkey can really help an artist buy some time to be creative, to take time to work on your art, (and not feel guilty about it) so I’m very grateful. I can now take some more time off the day job to write full-time. Finally, never give up – if you’ve a book burning inside you, get it out! A writer can emerge at any stage in life – it’s safe to say that I wasn’t an overnight success, but I’m very glad now that I kept going! Many thanks to my editor, agent, readers, book sellers, judges, Sian and all at Dalkey Book Festival!”

Hamnet has already won last year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Fiction Prize at the US National Book Critics Circle Awards. O’Farrell is the author of the bestselling memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, and eight novels, including The Hand that First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award. She lives in Edinburgh.

As You Were has won the Kate O’Brien Award and was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2021 and the Irish Book Awards novel of the year 2020. Feeney has published three collections of poetry and a play. She teaches at the National University of Ireland, Galway and St Jarlath’s College, Tuam.

Sian Smyth, director of the festival, said: “We were devastated having to cancel last year’s festival so it was very important for us to bring the much-loved weekend festival back to life this year, and the Awards are a key part of that. We’re proud to play a part in recognising some of the best literary talent, and thanks to our sponsors Zurich Insurance plc and the time and dedication of our wonderful judges.”

Neil Freshwater, CEO of Zurich Insurance, said: “Our congratulations to Maggie O’Farrell and Elaine Feeney and to all the shortlisted authors this year. Zurich is proud to support writers and literature in Ireland through its longstanding partnership with the Dalkey Book Festival and we are delighted at the success of the Dalkey Literary Awards, now in their second year.”

The other books shortlisted for Novel of the Year were Actress by Anne Enright; Apeirogon by Colum McCann; Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan; The Weight of Love by Hilary Fannin; and Love by Roddy Doyle. The other authors shortlisted for Emerging Writer were: Caoilinn Hughes for The Wild Laughter; Dara McAnulty for Diary of a Young Naturalist; Naoise Dolan for Exciting Times; Patrick Freyne for OK Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea; and Seán Hewitt for Tongues of Fire.

The Dalkey Book Festival concludes tomorrow, June 20th, with speakers including exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, The David McWilliams podcast l and Dalkey “local”, Matt Damon.

Christine Dwyer Hickey won novel of the year last year for The Narrow Land and Sinéad Gleeson was voted emerging writer for Constellations.