Sebastian Barry

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Sebastian Barry
Born (1955-07-05) 5 July 1955 (age 63)
Dublin, Ireland
Occupation Playwright, novelist, poet
Language English
Nationality Irish
Notable works The Steward of Christendom
Annie Dunne
A Long Long Way
The Secret Scripture
Notable awards James Tait Black Memorial Prize

Sebastian Barry (born 5 July 1955) is an Irish playwright, novelist and poet. He is noted for his dense 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. In recent years his fiction writing has surpassed his work in the theatre in terms of success, having once been considered a playwright who wrote occasional novels.

He has twice been 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.

Early life

Barry was born in Dublin. His mother was the late Irish actress Joan O'Hara. He attended Catholic University School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he read English and Latin. He also served as an editor of Icarus.


His academic posts have included Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa (1984), 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. 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 main character, named Thomas Dunne in the play, was the chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police from 1913–1922. He oversaw the area surrounding Dublin Castle until the Irish Free State takeover on 16 January 1922. One of his grandfathers belonged to the British Army Corps of Royal Engineers.

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. He also wrote the satirical Hinterland (based loosely on former Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey), the performance of which caused a minor controversy in Dublin. The Sunday Times, called it "feeble, puerile, trite, shallow, exploitative and gratuitously offensive", while The Telegraph called it “as exciting as a lukewarm Spud-U-Like covered in rancid marge and greasy baked beans”.[2]

Barry's work in fiction came to the fore during the 1990s. 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.[3] 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 loyalties 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.}[citation needed]

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)[4] and in French translation Le testament caché it won the 2010 Cezam Prix Littéraire Inter CE.[5] It was also a favourite to win the 2008 Man Booker Prize, narrowly losing out to Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.

Sebastian Barry's most recent play is Andersen's English,[6] and 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, it toured in the UK from 11 February to 8 May 2010. 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.[7] His upcoming 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’s writing the story of his life with desperate urgency. The novel will be available for purchase in the UK on 3 April 2014 and on 1 May 2014 in the US.[citation needed]

Personal life

Barry lives in County Wicklow with his wife, Alison, and their three children, Coral, Merlin and Tobias

List of works

  • The Water Colourist (1983)
  • The Rhetorical Town (1985)
  • 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)


  1. "Review: Fiction: On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry". Irish Independent. Independent News & Media. 23 July 2011. Retrieved 23 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Time (magazine) article regarding the Dublin production of Hinterland,; accessed May 5, 2014.
  3. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  4. "Sebastian Barry wins 2008 Costa Book of the Year". Costa Book Awards. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Cezam Prix Littéraire Inter CE". Retrieved 11 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Alison Flood (16 June 2012). "Sebastian Barry wins Walter Scott prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links