Heaney wins `Irish Times' literature prize


The Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, yesterday added to his numerous literary awards by winning the poetry category of the Irish Times Literature Prizes for 1999 with Opened Ground, a collection of his poetry spanning three decades, from 1966 to 1996.

The International Fiction Prize went to the US writer, Lorrie Moore, for her short story collection, Birds of America. Born in 1957 in Glens Falls, New York, Moore is a professor of English and the author of two previous short story collections and two novels.

The Irish Literature Prize for Fiction has gone to Antonia Logue for her first novel, Shadow-Box, with Neil Belton winning the Irish Literature Prize for Non-Fiction for his first book, The Good Listener - Helen Bamber: A Life Against Cruelty.

A prize for work in the Irish language, being introduced to the awards for the first time this year, went to Mairin Nic Eoin for B'ait Leo Bean, an examination of the ideology of gender in Irish literature and literary culture.

Lorrie Moore's Birds of America was picked from a shortlist of four books nominated for the Irish Times International Fiction Prize.

The others were the short story collection, The Love of a Good Woman, by the Canadian writer, Alice Munro; the novel, Underworld, by American Don DeLillo; and A Star Called Henry, the novel by Roddy Doyle, the only Irish writer on the list.

The judges for the International Fiction Prize were Bill Buford, literary and fiction editor of the New Yorker; Douglas Kennedy, novelist, travel writer and critic; and Irish novelist and short story writer, Mary Morrissy.

The International Fiction Prize is for work in English published in Ireland, the United Kingdom or the United States, and is presented biennially.

The Irish Literature Prizes, also presented biennially, are awarded in three categories, fiction, poetry and non-fiction in English.

Antonia Logue's Shadow-Box was short listed for the fiction prize with Colum McCann's This Side of Brightness, and As It Is In Heaven by Niall Williams.

Paul Durcan, for Greetings to Our Friends In Brazil, and Medbh McGuckian, for Selected Poems, joined Seamus Heaney on the poetry shortlist.

Neil Belton won the non-fiction prize for The Good Listener. Helen Bamber: A Life Against Cruelty against competition from Edna O'Brien, who had been shortlisted for James Joyce, and Peter Sheridan, whose first book, 44 - A Dublin Memoir, was the third contender.

The Irish Literature Prizes were judged by the former National Library director, Pat Donlon, who chaired the panel; the author and critic, Rabbi Julia Neuberger; and Dr Richard Kearney, novelist, professor of philosophy at UCD and visiting European professor of philosophy at Boston College.

For the non-fiction shortlist, they considered works of history, biography, autobiography, politics, criticism, travel, current affairs and belles lettres.

The Irish language prize was open to works of fiction, poetry and non-fiction from which the judges had to select what in their opinion was the single most outstanding publication.

As well as the winning title, B'Ait Leo Bean, a work of scholarly study by Mairin Nic Eoin, two collections of poetry were also shortlisted for this prize: Do Lorg: Danta agus Aortha by Pol Breathnach, and Cead Aighnis by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill.

The judges for the Irish language prize were Alan Titley, head of the Irish department at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin, who was the panel chairman; Aine Ni Ghlinn, poet and journalist; and Diarmaid O Muirithe, author and former lecturer in the Department of Irish Language and Literature in UCD.

The eligibility period for all the prizes was for books published between July 31st, 1997, and August 1st, 1999.

Because of its publication date, Roddy Doyle's new novel was technically ineligible, but the judges on the International Prize panel insisted that it be included "as a book that is already part of our literary culture".

In a statement accompanying their short list in early September, the three judges said: "When we sat down this morning to determine our final shortlist of the best English language novels published in the last two years, we were unanimous in our conviction that one of the most important novels wasn't technically eligible - Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry, even though the book was already widely reviewed and available in bookshops.

"This, to us, made a mockery of our endeavour. It was to our minds, a great achievement and would do harm to our judgment and to the prize's reputation to exclude it."

The three judges of the Irish Literature Prizes (in English) stated that "according to the rules laid down by The Irish Times", they had only considered books published between July 31st, 1997, and August 1st, 1999.