Doireann Ní Ghríofa, a bilingual poet from Cork, was named this evening as this year’s winner of the Rooney Prize of Irish Literature, Ireland’s oldest literary award, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary.
A special ceremony was held in the Dining Hall of Trinity College Dublin to honour this year’s winner but also to pay tribute to the award’s benefactors, former US ambasador to Ireland Dan Rooney and his wife, Patricia, who have supported the award since 1976.
A roll-call of some of Ireland’s best-known writers, who as emerging writers were awarded the prize over the years, attended the event, including Anne Enright, the Laureate for Irish Fiction, Frank McGuinness, Bernard Farrell and Medbh McGuckian.
Trinity Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast, paid tribute to the Rooneys' significant contribution to Irish literature: "Ireland, Dublin, Trinity and all who love literature are in the debt of Dan and Patricia Rooney. Every autumn as the Rooney Prize shines its light on a spectacular new talent, we salute their generosity and their vision."
Announcing the 2016 winner, Ireland Chair of Poetry and selection committee member Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin said: “Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a poet to watch, with a fresh view of the world: apparently ordinary houses, shops, common objects and activities. The sureness of her touch and the skill with which she handles language and shapes her poems are almost invisible, but it is through them that she achieves the feat of making us look again at the usual and illuminates its pulsating strangeness.
“She is a brilliant addition to the distinguished succession of bilingual poets writing in Irish and English.”
Eighth Amendment call
In her acceptance speech, Ní Ghríofa called for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, and dedicated one of the poems she read to Irish women who had to travel to Britain for abortions.
The Rooney prize is awarded for a body of work by a young Irish writer that shows exceptional promise. Ní Ghríofa has published widely and her recent collection of poetry, Clasp, her first in English after two in Irish, was a significant factor in being awarded the prize. Earlier this year, Ní Ghríofa won the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award along with John McAuliffe. She was also shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now award. Her poem about the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar was included in Niall MacMonagle’s poetry anthology, Windharp, last yer.
McAuliffe, reviewing Clasp in The Irish Times, wrote: “Ní Ghríofa often mixes matter-of-fact narration with more symbolic language which jump-starts our understanding of the poems’ scenes ... The book’s three sections show Ní Ghríofa trying out various tones and forms, and the poems often discover as their territory the faultline between fixed forms and living speech.”
Describing Clasp in an essay in The Irish Times, the poet wrote: “A significant theme that runs throughout Clasp is the sense of palimpsest, how the events of the past lurk always just below the surface, a persistent influence on our days, whether we perceive it or not.
“The poems collected in this book also explore a diverse array of absences in order to examine how we choose to accept or deny absence as a presence in our lives. In writing these poems, I was interested in how we respond to the things that disappear – the erasures, the deletions, the missing things – our resilience, our grief, and the ways in which we collapse or persist when something or someone has suddenly vanished from our days.”
Born in Galway, Ní Ghríofa grew up in rural Co Clare. She attended UCC and is a qualified teacher and holds an MA in Modern Irish. She began writing poetry in 2009. Clasp was published by Dedalus last year. She lives in Cork city with her husband and four young children.
The selection committee for this year’s prize featured Gerald Dawe, poet, essayist and Professor of English at TCD; Ní Chuilleanáin; Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, writer and lecturer in creative writing, UCD; Carlo Gébler, novelist and dramatist; Riana O’Dwyer, critic and lecturer in the Department of English, National University of Ireland Galway; and Jonathan Williams, literary agent and editor.