Stephen Sexton wins Rooney Prize and Jim McElroy wins Francis Ledwidge award

A preview of Saturday’s books pages and a roundup of the latest literary news

Poet Stephen Sexton has been awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature 2020 for his first collection, If All the World and Love Were Young.

The Rooney Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding body of work by an emerging Irish writer under 40 years of age. Stephen, who lives in Derry and teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry in Queen’s University School of Arts, English and Languages, accepted the award at an online ceremony.

He said: “I’m overjoyed to be the 2020 recipient of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. I’m immensely grateful to the committee of judges and to Peter Rooney and the Rooney family, whose generosity makes possible this award and its ongoing celebration of Irish writing. It’s a particular joy to look back through more than 40 years’ previous recipients and to see writers whose work and grace have been so important to me, and to think of my name on the list next to theirs. I’m honoured.”

Chair of the judges, Jonathan Williams, explained what stood out about Sexton’s work: “Here is a discerning, erudite and versatile poet who has reflected creatively about both history and everyday life, including his childhood years and family background, memory, the loss of a beloved mother, the composition of the earth, plants, flowers, animals, fellow poets, and the abiding past. The jurors are confident that Stephen Sexton will fulfil his prodigious promise in the years to come.”


Dr Peter Rooney said: “Once again our judges have picked an outstanding example of emerging Irish literary talent. Stephen’s poetry takes his readers on a beautiful, and sometimes tragic, journey; a modern elegy that intertwines a pastoral landscape with video game imagery. Stephen’s extraordinary talent is undeniable and he is a most deserving winner of this year’s Rooney Prize.”


In Saturday’s Irish Times, Niamh Donnelly has put together a great list of books that would make ideal Christmas gifts. Éimear O’Connor talks to Gemma Tipton about her book, Art, Ireland, and the Irish Diaspora and Helen O’Rahilly talks to Deirdre Falvey about her book about caring for an elderly relative during the pandmeic, The Stairlift Ascends. Book reviews are Suzanne Lynch on A Promised Land by Barack Obama; Sarah Moss on Winter Pages 6; Diarmaid Ferriter on Saving the State: Fine Gael from Collins to Varadkar by Ciara Meehan and Stephen Collins; Tony Clayton-Lea on the best new music books; John Boyne on Little Red by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne; Sarah Gilmartin on You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat; Declan Burke on the best new crime fiction.


Jim McElroy has won the Francis Ledwidge Poetry Award. Now living in Belfast, he grew up on a farm in the Mournes, Co Down. After a long career in business and technology, his poetry was first published in 2018. Recurring themes include the rural environment, climate, war, technological change and ageing.

He was selected for Poetry Ireland Introductions 2019 with poet Martina Evans describing his writing as a “fiercely visceral voice”. His poem Hoor won second prize in the 2019 international Bridport Poetry Award and a further three poems were shortlisted in 2020.

This year, his work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, shortlisted for the Cúirt New Writing Prize, longlisted for the Fish Poetry Prize, and three of his poems were shortlisted for the Fingal Poetry Prize.

McElroy received an Individual Artist’s Award from the Arts Council NI and the National Lottery in support of his first collection. A subset of his manuscript has recently been shortlisted for The Rialto Pamphlet award 2020.

The Francis Ledwidge Poetry Award, supported by Meath County Council and Creative Ireland, is named in honour of the Irish war poet and soldier, Francis Ledwidge. The award includes a week-long residential stay at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, and a cash prize of €1,500.

McElroy said: “I am honoured to receive this award. Having witnessed 30 years of unrest in Northern Ireland, I feel an affinity to the work of Francis Ledwidge who, as a poet and a soldier offers a unique perspective to the complexities of Irish conflict. I plan to draw on this literary heritage for inspiration as I write a themed pamphlet exploring the impact of the Troubles.”


John O’Brien, founder of the Review of Contemporary Fiction and Dalkey Archive Press, died on November 21st, aged 75. A bold, visionary publisher, O’Brien was dedicated to producing, promoting, and keeping in print, experimental works of international literature.

Dalkey Archive Press, named after the novel by Flann O’Brien, was founded with the mission of recovering works that had fallen out of print and making them available forever. The press also published the Review of Contemporary Fiction to provide scholarship on underrepresented authors. Dalkey became one of the largest publishers of international literature.

O’Brien’s authors included Gilbert Sorrentino, Flann O’Brien and Svetlana Alexievich. Over its history, the press published 1,000 works of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, and scholarly works, including several Nobel Prize, National Book Award, and National Book Critics’ Circle Award winners, as well as the Best European Fiction anthology series.

O’Brien was awarded the Sandrof lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critics’ Circle in 2011, and in 2015 was appointed Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts & des Lettres in recognition of his significant contribution to French arts and literature by the Minister of Culture and Communication of France.

After founding the press while teaching at Illinois Benedictine College, O’Brien moved the press to Illinois State University, before moving to University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, and then University of Houston-Victoria. The current offices are in McLean; Dublin; and London.

Before his passing, the Dalkey Archive’s board of directors approved an agreement to merge with Deep Vellum Publishing, a nonprofit publishing house and literary arts centre based in Dallas. Deep Vellum and its publisher Will Evans to honor John O’Brien’s legacy by keeping Dalkey Archive’s backlist in print and by signing future titles, together with the assistance of editorial consultant, Chad W. Post, of Open Letter Books at the University of Rochester.

An online memorial service to honour John O’Brien’s life and work will be held on December 9th.


The Limerick-based I.NY Festival, celebrating links between Ireland and New York, will be broadcasting online from December 2nd to 6th with all events free to view at

Highlights including a post-US election discussion between senator Bernie Sanders, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, and a number of invited young climate and political activists. Further events will feature Irish Ambassador to the UN Geraldine Byrne Nason; Deborah Treisman of The New Yorker, Booker Prize winners Anne Enright & Roddy Doyle. Impac Prize winner Colum McCann and Pritzker Prize winning architect Shelley McNamara.


The Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, is accepting submissions to the 2020 John McGahern Annual Book Prize. The deadline is Friday, December 11th. Due to the current situation regarding Covid-19 both a physical and a digital submission is required. All submissions should also be accompanied by a submission form which can be downloaded here and which contains further details.


RTÉ Radio 1 has commissioned of series of 12 half-hour stories , SPOKEN STORIES Independence, to mark Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries, to be broadcast weekly from Sunday, January 10th, at 7pm. The writers are Anne Enright, Roisín O’Donnell, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde, Yan Ge, Kevin Barry, Danielle McLaughlin, Wendy Erskine, Sue Rainsford, Neil Jordan, Mary Costello, Colin Barrett and Mike McCormack. The concept and series was originated by Clíodhna Ní Anluain, who is also its producer.


The Stinging Fly in association with Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture has published a special edition of the magazine, guest edited by award-winning novelist Lisa McInerney with novelist and poet, Elaine Feeney, as guest poetry editor.

McInerney said: “Guest-editing this special Galway 2020 edition of The Stinging Fly has been an honour, a challenge, and never less than mighty craic. Elaine and I were lucky to get so many submissions from writers who were stirred by the themes of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture – language, landscape, and migration – and reminded us how imaginative, mischievous and bold our writers can be, even during this most draining year.

“Here we have stories unfolding in unexpected ways in very familiar settings: by the sparkling Atlantic as the summer wanes, on foreboding Connemara ground, in B&Bs run by greyhounds or monsters, and even in the Warwick, with Nina Simone playing us out. Mike McCormack disturbs with a story about how technology might one day record our darkest secrets; Róisín Kiberd echoes with an essay about video game hellscapes found in an office off Shop Street. Rob Doyle reflects on Yeats’ penchant for vulgarity, Nuala O’Connor wonders how we can define ‘home’, and linguist Stan Carey asks why Galwegians talk the way we do. Kevin Barry and Peter Murphy swing by to remind us to honour the Capital of Culture bids made by Limerick and the Three Sisters.

“And yet all of the featured pieces work together, and create a cohesive image of where we are, what we’re at, and where we might be heading. I couldn’t be more proud of what all of our writers achieved, and I can’t wait for people to get stuck in.”

Visit for more information.


Trinity College Dublin is set to throw open its (virtual) doors and welcome you inside to meet its researchers, discover their projects and understand their passions. The university will host European Researchers’ Night, an annual Europe-wide event that showcases research and aims to bring researchers and the public closer together, on November 27th.

One highlight is Portrait of the Artist: Seamus Heaney and Pictures. This talk will focus on four poems in which Heaney writes about paintings and photographs and explore the ideas he raised in them about what it means to use words and images to represent the world around us.


Hachette Books Ireland is to publish a memoir by Irish historian Catherine Corless next September. Ghost-writer Naomi Linehan (Overcoming by Vicky Phelan; Nowhere’s Child by Kari Rosvall) will work with Corless on the project.

Editor Ciara Considine said: “We’re delighted to acquire world rights to Catherine’s important memoir. The story of the Tuam mass grave, and Catherine’s key involvement in bringing it to light, has long captured Irish and international imaginations.”

Corless said: “Despite often being asked to do a book, I have refrained from it till now. My story has always been secondary to my work on behalf of justice for the Tuam mothers and babies. Yet, for me, that cause is also deeply personal. I am glad to have the opportunity now to create my own record, and I hope that it will further the cause of justice for the Tuam mothers and babies. We must never forget what happened our women and children in Ireland.”