Sebastian Barry

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Sebastian Barry
Born (1955-07-05) 5 July 1955 (age 67)
Dublin, Ireland
OccupationNovelist, playwright
Notable worksThe Steward of Christendom
Annie Dunne
A Long Long Way
The Secret Scripture
On Canaan's Side
Days Without End
Notable awardsJames Tait Black Memorial Prize
Costa Book of the Year
2008, 2017
SpouseAlison Deegan

Sebastian Barry (born 5 July 1955) is an Irish novelist, playwright and poet. He was named Laureate for Irish Fiction, 2019–2021. He is noted for his lyrical literary writing style and is considered one of Ireland's finest writers.[1]

Barry's literary career began in poetry before he began writing plays and novels.

He has been twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his novels A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), the latter of which won the 2008 Costa Book of the Year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His 2011 novel, On Canaan's Side, was longlisted for the Booker. In January 2017, Barry was awarded the Costa Book of the Year prize for Days Without End, becoming the first novelist to win the prestigious prize twice.[2]

Early life[edit]

Barry was born in Dublin. His mother was acclaimed actress Joan O'Hara.[3] He was educated at Catholic University School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he read English and Latin.


His academic posts have included Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa (1984), Heimbold Visiting Professor at Villanova University (2006) and Writer Fellow at Trinity College, Dublin (1995–1996). Barry started his literary career with the novel Macker's Garden in 1982. His first play, The Pentagonal Dream, starred Olwen Fouéré and debuted in the Damer Theatre in March 1986.[4][5] This was followed by several books of poetry and a further novel, The Engine of Owl-Light in 1987, before his career as a playwright began with his first play produced in the Abbey Theatre, Boss Grady's Boys in 1988.

Barry's maternal great-grandfather, James Dunne, provided the inspiration for the main character in his most internationally known play, The Steward of Christendom, which won the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, the Lloyd's Private Banking Playwright of the Year Award and other awards. The main character, named Thomas Dunne in the play, was the chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police from 1913 to 1922. He oversaw the area surrounding Dublin Castle until the Irish Free State takeover on 16 January 1922. One of Barry's grandfathers belonged to the British Army Corps of Royal Engineers. His other grandfather was a painter and a Nationalist, and a devotee of De Valera.

Both The Steward of Christendom and the novel The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, are about the dislocations (physical and otherwise) of loyalist Irish people during the political upheavals of the early 20th century. The title character of the latter work is a young man forced to leave Ireland by his former friends in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish War.

His novel A Long Long Way was shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize, and was selected for Dublin's 2007 One City One Book event.[6] The novel tells the story of Willie Dunne, a young recruit to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers during the First World War. It brings to life the divided loyalty that many Irish soldiers felt at the time following the Easter Rising in 1916. Willie Dunne, son of the fictional Thomas Dunne, first appears as a minor but important character in The Steward of Christendom.

Barry's 2008 novel, The Secret Scripture won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction (announced in August 2009), the oldest such award in the UK, the 2008 Costa Book of the Year (announced 27 January 2009)[7] and in French translation Le testament caché it won the 2010 Cezam Prix Littéraire Inter CE.[8] It was also a favourite to win the 2008 Man Booker Prize, narrowly losing out to Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.

Barry's play Andersen's English,[9] is inspired by children's writer Hans Christian Andersen coming to stay with Charles Dickens and his family in the Kent marshes. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark and produced by Out of Joint and Hampstead Theatre, the play toured in the UK from 11 February to 8 May 2010.

Our Lady of Sligo was directed in 1998 by Maxwell "Max" Stafford-Clark at the Royal National Theatre co−produced by Out of Joint.[10]

On Canaan's Side, Barry's fifth novel, concerns Lily Bere, the sister of the character Willy Dunne from A Long Long Way and the daughter of the character Thomas Dunne from The Steward of Christendom, as she emigrates to the US. The novel was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and won the 2012 Walter Scott Prize.[11] Barry's next novel, The Temporary Gentleman, tells the story of Jack McNulty—an Irishman whose commission in the British army in WWII was never permanent. Sitting in his lodgings in Accra, Ghana, in 1957, he is writing the story of his life with desperate urgency. Barry's novel Days Without End followed in 2016, winning The Costa Book Of The Year 2017, The Walter Scott Prize, and The Independent Booksellers' Prize, and being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Personal life[edit]

Barry lives in County Wicklow with his wife, actor and screenwriter Alison Deegan.[12]

In 2001, Barry established his personal and professional archive at the Harry Ransom Center. More than sixty boxes of papers document his diverse writing career and range of creative output which includes drawings, poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and scripts.[13]

Barry has been awarded honorary degrees from NUI Galway (2012), the Open University and the University of East Anglia. He has an Alumni Award from Trinity College, Dublin. In 2022 he was made an honorary fellow of Trinity College.[14]

List of works[edit]

  • The Water Colourist (Dolmen Press, 1983)
  • The Rhetorical Town (Dolmen Press, 1985)
  • Fanny Hawke Goes to the Mainland Forever (Raven Arts Press, 1989)
  • The Pentagonal Dream (1986)
  • Boss Grady's Boys (1988)
  • Prayers of Sherkin (1990)
  • White Woman Street (1992)
  • The Only True HIstory of Lizzie Finn (1995)
  • The Steward of Christendom (1995)
  • Our Lady of Sligo (1998)
  • Hinterland (2002)
  • Whistling Psyche (2004)
  • Fred and Jane (2004)
  • The Pride of Parnell Street (2008)
  • Dallas Sweetman (2008)
  • Tales of Ballycumber (2009)
  • Andersen's English (2010)
  • On Blueberry Hill (2017)


  1. ^ "Review: Fiction: On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry". Irish Independent. Independent News & Media. 23 July 2011. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
  2. ^ "Costa Book of the Year: Sebastian Barry celebrates second win". BBC News. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  3. ^ "Admired and gifted Abbey actor who put family first". The Irish Times. 28 July 2007.
  4. ^[bare URL]
  5. ^ "5 reasons to see on Blueberry Hill by Sebastian Barry - Pavilion Theatre".
  6. ^ "Dublin prepares for big read". The Bookseller. No. 5269. 23 February 2007. p. 41. ISSN 0006-7539.
  7. ^ "Sebastian Barry wins 2008 Costa Book of the Year". Costa Book Awards. 27 January 2009. Archived from the original on 26 March 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  8. ^ "Cezam Prix Littéraire Inter CE". Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  9. ^ "Out of Joint". Out of Joint. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Our Lady Of Sligo". Bloomsbury. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  11. ^ Alison Flood (16 June 2012). "Sebastian Barry wins Walter Scott prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  12. ^ "The gay son who inspired Sebastian Barry to write his award-winning novel - BBC News". 1 February 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  13. ^ "Sebastian Barry: An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center". Retrieved 27 April 2017.
  14. ^ "TRINITY MONDAY 2022 - FELLOWS AND SCHOLARS". Trinity College Dublin. 25 April 2022. Retrieved 26 April 2022.

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