Michael Magee awarded 2023 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature

Posted on: 24 October 2023

Michael Magee has been awarded the 2023 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature at a ceremony in Trinity College Dublin for his novel Close to Home set in the author’s native West Belfast.

The €10,000 Rooney Prize, awarded annually since 1976, celebrates an outstanding body of work by an emerging Irish writer under 40 years of age. It is administered by the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre for Creative Writing in the School of English.

At the event the jury praised the author’s book Close to Home for its “deep understanding of the craft of writing, its sensitivity to the power of place and its profound compassion for the survivors of personal and historical trauma”.

Responding to the news of the award, Michael Magee said:

“I’m staggered, really. This was totally unexpected, but hugely affirming. I’m grateful to the judging committee for their attention and consideration, and to Peter Rooney and the Rooney family for their generosity. Seeing my name alongside that prestigious list of previous winners, people whose work I greatly admire, is a great honour.”

The author is the fiction editor of The Tangerine and a graduate of the PhD Creative Writing programme at Queen's University, Belfast. His writing has appeared in Winter Papers, The Stinging Fly, The Lifeboat and in The 32: An Anthology of Working Class Writing. Close to Home is his first novel and was published earlier this year by Hamish Hamilton. 

Announcing the 2023 winner, prize jury member Prof. Michael Cronin, Trinity College Dublin, said:

“In his engaging, moving, and inventive novel, Michael Magee traces with forensic precision the trip wires of social class and the catastrophic long-term legacies of paramilitary and state violence. He brilliantly captures the nuance, inflection and pace of the city’s language. His complex, fully realised West Belfast characters do much to counter years of negative stereotyping that reduced people in the area to the one-dimensional cyphers of tribal anger. 

“Like any great literary work, Close to Home, transcends the circumstances of its creation to give voice to any young person struggling to find a voice, to any community dealing with the incremental humiliations of poverty and exclusion, and to any human seeking for the gift of understanding and companionship.”

The Rooney Prize is the longest-established literary prize in Ireland. It is distinctive in the Irish literary landscape for its recognition of emerging writers and its ability to reward originality and risk. Previous winners include Kate Cruise O'Brien (1979), Neil Jordan (1981), Frank McGuinness (1985), Anne Enright (1991), Mike McCormack (1996), Claire Keegan (2000), Kevin Barry (2007), Lucy Caldwell (2011) and Doireann Ní Ghríofa (2016), and Seán Hewitt (2022).

Pictured at the ceremony were Provost Dr Linda Doyle, Peter Rooney and Michael Magee

Benefactor of the prize, Dr Peter Rooney congratulated the winner:

“Michael Magee's Close to Home stands as a compelling testament to his storytelling prowess, blending gritty realism with a heart-warming exploration of familial bonds. His vivid portrayal of Belfast's streets and his characters' enduring resilience make this novel an unforgettable and thought-provoking literary achievement. We are thrilled to add his name to our prestigious list of Rooney Prize winners.”

Commenting on the Rooney Prize and its relationship with Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre, Eoin McNamee, Director of the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre at the School of English, said:

“The awarding of the Rooney Prize is always a milestone in the Oscar Wilde Centre’s year. It is an important affirmation of the work we do with our MPhil in Creative Writing and PhD in Literary Practice and we are very pleased to provide a home for it. 

“Winning the Rooney prize is hugely important to young writers as a validation of their work. Two of our alumni, Sara Baume and Claire Kilroy, have won the prize and we’re particularly pleased to be working with the 2022 winner Seán Hewitt, the newly appointed Assistant Professor in Literary Practice. We’re very grateful to the Rooney family for their invaluable support for Irish writing and look forward to continuing what has been a wonderful relationship.”

Media Contact:

Fiona Tyrrell | Media Relations | tyrrellf@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 3551