McGahern wins Irish Fiction Award


John McGahern, the novelist and short-story writer, was last night named as the winner of the €10,000 Kerry Ingredients Irish Fiction Award on the opening night of the 32nd Listowel Writers' Week in Co Kerry.

The 67-year old writer and farmer in Foxfield, Co Leitrim won the award for his novel That They May Face the Rising Sun, which revolves around a year in the life of a small Irish lakeside community.

"It is an extraordinary book; it is about Ireland. It is about the things that are said and far more importantly, the things that are left unsaid," said Ms Eileen Battersby, one of two judges with the writer Eugene McCabe, although all five books by Irish writers "were very strong and had very strong claims".

This is Mr McGahern's third major literary award in the course of a career that while long has produced relatively few books - five novels and four books of short stories in 40 years of writing.

"I write slowly and I re-write a lot," Mr McGahern said.

"They banned me in 1966, now I am getting prizes," he added laughingly, apparently holding no store of bitterness for the year in which his novel The Dark was banned and over which he lost his job as a primary school teacher.

"Writing keeps the animals in great style," he said of his six cows on 50 acres.

In 1992, Mr McGahern won the £50,000 GPA award for Amongst Women. He was awarded the French literary Prix Etrangier for his body of work in 1994.

Last night he said he was delighted but wished all five short-listed had won the prize: "One feels a certain ambiguity - if there were a different reader we would have a different shortlist, a different winner." A writer was only always as good as his next work, Mr McGahern remarked, and the reader was always the most important person.

It was an emotional opening evening in which Mr Frank Hayes, director of corporate affairs with sponsors Kerry Group paid tribute to Mr John B Keane, a founder member and director of Writers' Week who is seriously ill.

"Our prayers are with his family this evening. He has been a great friend to us. Sadly we miss him this evening," Mr Hayes said.

Other short-listed novelists were Fergus O'Connell, Monica Tracey, Eoin McNamee and Sean O'Reilly. Writers' Week which continues until Sunday was officially opened by the actress Anna Manahan.

It was John B Keane's wish that this year's Writers' Week would go ahead, his family said.