Pen Award, Freedom to Write Campaign, San Patrizio Livorno Festival

 In Diary, News

Well, what a month February has been – and it’s not quite over yet.
It started with a significant birthday: the one that means I’ve only one more year to go before the bus pass…

Thank you to everyone who sent such lovely greetings. It was indeed a great day, followed by another great day on the 22nd.

It is a huge honour for me to be named the recipient of the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Literature.

I want to thank the PEN Committee for selecting me, and particular thanks must go to Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, who organised such a wonderful evening of celebration in the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dún Laoghaire on Friday 22nd February.

Congratulations to the Club’s Committee, too, and all the staff for their courtesy, attentiveness, and a simply delicious meal. Everything on the night was seamless; everyone had high words of praise for how well we were looked after.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, presented me with the Award and everyone present was impressed by her friendliness and her thoughtful and considered speech. The fact that she took time out from such a busy schedule to spend time with all of us is much appreciated.

Lia Mills also spoke at the event, and her words were a warm and inclusive reminder about how important friendship is, and also about how deeply our roots go into our particular writing community. Thank you, Lia, and also Celia de Fréine: sharing our work, responding to it, discussing critical responses continues to be an essential part of this writer’s life.

The Freedom to Write Campaign is an independent group consisting of June Considine, Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, Kate Ennals, Frank Geary Liz McManus, Lia Mills and myself.

We work to promote Freedom of Expression by raising public awareness about the plight of writers who are at risk or in prison, or who have been murdered because of their writing. We are linked with Irish PEN and we have worked with PEN International, Fighting Words and Frontline Defenders on some of our actions to date.

On 6th March next, at 7.30 pm in Toner’s Pub on Baggot Street, we are celebrating the work of two courageous women, Nurcan Baysal, a Kurdish writer and human rights activist, and Hadeel Buqrais, a writer and freelance human rights worker in Kuwait.

Our thanks to Staccato Literary Salon for giving us their usual monthly spot in order to highlight the work of these two formidable women. The theme of the evening is Freedom of Expression and Laura Cassidy, Lauren Foley, Celia de Fréine and Lisa Harding will read from their own own work on this theme, or from the work of others.

On the night, Lia Mills and I will read from our essays on Nurcan Baysal and Hadeel Buqrais. These essays are part of a forthcoming publication by Fighting Words in partnership with Front Line Defenders, a collection of writings by women writers about women human rights defenders around the world.

The publication will also include essays on human rights defenders from Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, Palestine and Somalia. For information on this publication contact

And finally, on from the 15th to the 17th of March, in celebration of our own St Patrick, the San Patrizio Livorno Festival will take place in Tuscany, in the city of Livorno: a city St Patrick is supposed to have once visited.

There is a terrific line-up of events: I will interview John Banville (aka Benjamin Black) and the Italian crime writer, Marco Vichi, and we’ll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the genre. We’ll also have music by The Fireplaces, Esperanto Band, and by the Irish cellist, Naomi Berrill.

Many thanks to our sponsors, in particular Culture Ireland, Guanda publishers, the Irish Embassy in Rome and the Comune di Livorno.

Watch this space for more details!

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