Rooney Prize 2013
Saloon, Provost's House
01 October 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m delighted to welcome you to the Saloon in the Provost’s House for the award of the 37th Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. This prize has been awarded to an emerging writer every year since 1976. For the past seven years, it’s been administered by the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Literature, of the School of English, here in Trinity.
We’re delighted that the founders of this prize, former Ambassador Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia, are both here this evening.
Dan Rooney’s remarkable commitment to this country goes back many decades. He is one of the founders of the American Ireland Funds, which are dedicated to building bridges of peace, culture, and charity in Ireland and Northern Ireland. And 37 years ago he founded the Rooney Prize for young Irish writers – little knowing that he would one day be ambassador to this country.
The Rooney Prize is among the most significant literary prizes on this island. It is long-running and generous in financial terms, and it seems to have an uncanny ability to spot great talent. Among the former recipients of this prize are: Neil Jordan, Frank McGuinness, Anne Enright, Claire Keegan, Colum McCann, Hugo Hamilton, Claire Kilroy, Mark O’Rowe, Nick Laird, and Kevin Barry. That list alone includes a Booker Prize winner, two IMPAC winners, and a US National Book Award winner.
The Rooney Prize judges have a harder task than those established prizes – they must spot the talent at an early stage. Their track record is, as I say, remarkable. The expectations around Rooney winners are high!
On the other hand, the prestige of winning this award at such a crucial moment in your career is a tremendous boost which helps you to fulfil those expectations.
Of course, a prize is only as good as its judges. This year’s committee was chaired by Professor Terence Brown, and included, from the college, Professors Gerald Dawe and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, and from the wider academic and literary community, Eilis Ní Dhuibhe, Riana O’Dwyer, and Carlo Gébler. The college is especially grateful to these three who gave so generously of their time.
A particular word of thanks for Lilian Foley, administrator in the Oscar Wilde Centre. Her contribution was much appreciated by all committee members.
Thirty-seven years ago, Dan Rooney, looking to support this country, chose to invest in an area of great, traditional strength for Ireland: its literature. In 1976 Beckett’s Footfalls was staged in the Royal Court; Seamus Heaney had just published North, and Brian Friel was writing Living Quarters; John McGahern had just published The Leavetaking, and the first book in John Banville’s great trilogy was out, Dr Copernicus. Jennifer Johnston’s Shadows on our Skin was about to be short-listed for the Booker Prize. I could go on. In short: unlike many other things in Ireland in 1976, literature was in rude good health.
Today, in 2013, Irish literature continues in rude good health, thanks in no small part to former Rooney Prize winners. The strength of Irish drama, poetry, novels, and short stories is a source of enormous pride for everyone living in this country and for the diaspora abroad.
And universities are now – none too late, you might say – supporting this area of great and traditional strength. In the past decade or so, fostering the creative arts has become a cornerstone of Trinity’s strategy. Our latest initiative, launched just a fortnight ago, is a new Masters in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship, which we are running jointly with Goldsmith’s University in London. This is simply the latest step in our comprehensive creative arts strategy, which has included, in recent years, the establishment of the Lir Academy for Dramatic Art and the founding last December of the Seamus Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing.
The creative and performing arts are intrinsic to any plan for the social and economic regeneration of this country, and they are intrinsic to the growth of the human spirit. It’s an honour for Trinity’s School of English to administer this prize on behalf of Dr Rooney and his wife Patricia.
For 37 years, the constancy and the calibre of the Rooney prize has been a source of continuing vitality, optimism and entertainment for the people of Ireland, and for literature lovers everywhere.
I am now pleased to call on Dr Rooney to present this year’s prize.
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