Author Archives: Mary Morrissy

Danielle’s book of evidence

Join our writer-in-residence, Danielle McLaughlin – turned editor- for the launch of Counterparts, a new collection of fiction by lawyers turned writers, on Wednesday December 5, Crawford Art Gallery @ 6pm.

The book, described as a “synergy” of literature and the law, is published by The Stinging Fly Press and features, among others, some familiar Cork names such as creative writing MA alumna Madeleine D’Arcy, local solicitor Catherine Kirwan, whose debut crime novel comes out in January,  poet John Mee who lectures in law at UCC and his brother Michael Mee, a former lecturer in law who is a comedian and prose writer.

All funds from the book will go towards the Peter McVerry Trust. 


Remembering John Montague

Poet John Montague’s 90th birthday will be celebrated at a special event co-sponsored by Triskel Arts Centre, Poetry Ireland and UCC next month.  Pulitzer prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon will host the evening of poetry and music along with Paddy Moloney and Triona Marshall of The Chieftains. John Montague enjoyed a close association with UCC and the School of English in particular, where he taught for many years and influenced a whole generation of Cork poets.  

Story before study

Is the past unknowable?  MA student Mairéad Willis writes about the latest School of English reading, where award-winning writers Paul Lynch and Carys Davies discussed how to approach history when writing fiction.

Paul Lynch’s Grace and Carys Davies’s West are novels with historical settings, but Lynch wants you to remember that so-called “historical fiction” actually speaks to the modern world.

Lynch,  the author of two previous novels, and Davies, who has written two previous short story collections, read from their latest works in the Boole Library Tuesday night as part of the School of English reading series.

Grace follows the titular character, a 14-year-old girl travelling on her own during the era that the reader knows to be the Great Famine, although the book never names it. West takes place during the expansion of the U.S. government into Native American and French lands at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It tells the story of mule breeder Cy Bellman as he searches for the living specimen of a massive beast whose bones have been discovered in Kentucky.

Neither author set out to write a work of historical fiction. While answering questions after the readings, Lynch explained that fiction set in the past can comment on the present through “refraction,” an idea about which he has written recently on the LitHub website. (See link below.)

Davies was inspired to write the story that became West when she learned that the first Americans to discover mammoth bones believed that the creatures might be alive somewhere. She pointed out that characters written in the past are compelling because “they don’t know what they’re living through, but we do”.

Neither novel is typical of the escapism the term “historical fiction” might imply.  Both authors ask their readers to consider aspects of the human experience that remain constant over time: the quest for meaning and the struggle to survive.

The readings revealed that Lynch and Davies use different writing approaches. The style of Grace is ornate, reflecting Lynch’s attempt to bring the reader as close to Grace’s own experience as possible. In contrast, Davies’s prose is much sparser, inviting the reader to consider what might lie in the silences between what the characters say.

One question that often troubles prospective writers of fiction with a historical setting is the research required to recreate the past, but Lynch and Davies both claimed that story comes before study when writing. Davies wrote a draft of West before conducting much research, although she spent months afterward editing the novel to make it true to history. Lynch stressed the importance of understanding the sociopolitical world of the novel, but he, too, often lays only a thin foundation in research before he begins writing.

When an audience member asked whether they ever came across a new historical detail that changed their story completely, Lynch and Davies differed from one other in their answers. Davies commented that although later research did change her story, the changes were improvements. She cited as an example that reading treaties in which the American government traded goods like beads and cloth for Native American lands dramatically shifted the way she approached the story of the novel. 

Lynch, on the other hand, said that once the narrative has set a course, he is hesitant to stop it. While writing, he knew that many people living through the famine saw it as an act of God and therefore renewed their commitment to the Catholic. Church. He was more interested, however, in the idea that such fear of God may also have led to the rise of independent preachers with small, fervent followings. He learned from an historian that there had been such groups post-Famine, and so he decided to include that in his novel instead of focusing on the more prominent, but also more obvious, influence of Catholicism.

Lynch and Davies’s powerful novels serve as reminders that although the past may seem like another world, the events of history have profound resonance in modern life. As different from their ancestors as modern people may imagine they are, these books force readers to engage the past with empathy. The technological and sociopolitical scenes may change, but the questions at the heart of human experience never really do.

 Paul Lynch’s LitHub article on historical fiction:

Paul Lynch’s website:

Carys Davies’s website:



UCC flavour at the Friary

Associate Director of Creative Writing, Mary Morrissy –  – will be the guest at this month’s Fiction at the Friary this coming Sunday, November 25.  This will be an occasion with a strong UCC flavour. 

Fiction at the Friary is a free monthly event which features a guest reading, open mic and a writing component for those interested in flexing their muscles.  It’s the brainchild of Madeleine D’Arcy, – – author of Waiting for the Bullet, a collection of short stories, and an alumna of the inaugural MA in Creative Writing in 2013, and Danielle McLaughlin, who’s our current UCC Writer in Residence. 

Danielle’s debut was Dinosaurs on other Planets, and her short fiction has been published widely. She is the editor of the just published Counterparts, from Stinging Fly Press, a compendium of fiction by legal eagles, with all proceeds going to the Peter McVerry Trust. –

Farewell to Carys

The 2018 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Fellow, Carys Davies, left above, with  Associate Director of Creative Writing, Mary Morrissy and right, novelist Paul Lynch at last night’s School of English reading event, “Mining the Past”.

Carys and Paul read together from their latest fictions – Carys from her debut novel, West, set in the American Frontier in the early 1800s,  and Paul Lynch from Grace, his award-winning Famine novel.

The reading marked Carys’ last official engagement as Frank O’Connor Fellow.  During the semester at UCC she has taught on the MA in Creative Writing and mentored two local writers as part of her fellowship. We wish her the very best for the future.



Win a summer of writing!

Want to have a subsidised summer writing, with a reading at the end of it?

Why not apply for the Eoin Murray Memorial Scholarship, in memory of the late Eoin Murray, poet and UCC student. The scholarship, now in in its second year, offers a prize of €1,500 to enable the winner to devote the summer to writing.

Last year, poet  Ali Bracken Ziad, pictured above, a final year student in the BA in English, won the award and performed from his work at an annual tribute night reading in Eoin’s memory. 

The scholarship is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students registered in UCC’s College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences.

The closing date for applications is 31 January 2019. 

See for details.

Mining the Past

The second event in the School of English Reading Series features historical novelist Paul Lynch, author of the famine novel, Grace, which won this year’s Kerry Group Novel of the Year Award and our very own (for now!) Carys Davies, the current Frank O’Connor International Short Story Fellow – sponsored by Munster Literature Centre and Cork City Council – whose novel, West, is an exquisite historical fiction gem set in Frontier America in the early 1800s.

The reading takes place on Tuesday, November 20, in the Creative Zone, Boole Library @ 6.30pm.  Admission free and all are  welcome!  

Paul Lynch to read with Carys Davies

 Irish Novel of the Year award winner Paul Lynch . . . coming to UCC.  Photograph: Irish Times

The second event in the 2018/19 School of English Reading Series will feature two readers, novelist Paul Lynch, above, and 2018 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Fellow, Carys Davies. 

The reading takes place on Tuesday, November 20, Creative Zone Boole Library at 6.30pm.

Paul Lynch – –  is the author of three novels – Red Sky in Morning, The Black Snow and most recently, Grace, a coming-of-age novel set against the unfolding tragedy of the Famine, which won this year’s Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year.

Paul has been shortlisted for The Walter Scott Prize and the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book Prize) and has been nominated several times for the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards.

He will be joined on the podium by Carys Davies, the 2018 Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Fellow, who has been teaching on the MA in Creative Writing since September as well as mentoring local writers.  – The fellowship is sponsored by Cork city council through the Munster Literature Centre.

She is the author of two collections of short stories, Some New Ambush and The Redemption of Galen Pike, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. She is also the recipient of the Royal Society of Literature’s V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize, the Society of Authors’ Olive Cook Short Story Award, and a Northern Writers’ Award.

Her first novel, West, published earlier this year, is an epic-in-miniature, set in Frontier America in 1815 and features an unlikely hero, Cy Bellman, a mule farmer who goes on a quest to find the bones of an extinct monster.

The next reading  in the series will feature novelist Donal Ryan and poet Colette Bryce, winner of  the 2018 Pigott Prize,  on Tuesday, January 22, 2019.  





What would you do to survive?

That was the unsettling question writer-in-residence at the West Cork Arts Centre Maeve Bancroft posed to five MA students who recently spent a day at the Great Hunger Exhibit in Skibbereen. 

Imagine being hungry, sick, not knowing if you would ever eat again. That was what Maeve asked us to do at the start of our day in Skibbereen. Before visiting the exhibition, we had gone to  the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, and learned the bare, ugly statistics of the Famine.

We stood in a two-foot by two-foot box on the floor which represented the space given to each occupant of the girls’ workhouse dayroom during the famine. Two-by-two was smaller than we had imagined it would be. None of us could lie down in a two-by-two square. We could not even sit.

Next, we went next to Uillinn, the West Cork Arts Centre.  The exhibition featuring artwork from the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut – see – so was divided between two floors. On the ground floor were paintings made during the Famine, and on the first floor were statues and paintings created in the past 150 years.

The most painful pieces of art to look at were made by artists born years after the famine. In “Burying the Child” by Lilian Lucy Davidson – featured above –  a hollow-cheeked, blue-skinned father dug a grave for his infant son, pausing to look directly at the viewer as if to say ‘Don’t look away.’ It was pointed out in the audio guide that when a person suffers a trauma, it is difficult for her to rearrange memories of horrific details into a coherent narrative. Perhaps this is why our society has only recently begun to produce artwork depicting the famine. The film Black 47, released this year, is among a very few set during this haunting chapter in Irish history –

Another piece of artwork in the gallery, Rowan Gillespie’s “Statistic I & Statistic II,” consisted of two tables inscribed with the names of immigrants buried in a mass grave in New York, where they died shortly after their arrival. We’ve learned about the famine in abstraction from statistics noted in textbooks or from lectures, but to read those individual names and firsthand accounts of suffering brought the horror of the famine home to us. The exhibit forced us to consider in stark terms the implications of not only the Great Hunger, but starvation around the world.

In the late afternoon, Maeve took us to the Abbeystrowry Cemetery, where nine thousand people who died during the famine were buried. There was a flat, grassy field and plaques dedicated to their memory. While some of us found this place peaceful, others felt unsettling.

On our way to another graveyard, this time by the workhouse, we wandered by a polytunnel. Maeve drew our attention to the different types of vegetables, leafy greens and juicy cherry tomatoes growing there. She explained that if it had merely been a matter of growing enough food to support their population, the Irish could have survived without the potato. Many crops grown during the famine were actually exported to make a profit for landowners, despite the widespread starvation in their own backyards.

The workhouse graveyard was a quiet plot of land near the hospital. There were branching trees and no headstones, and it was strange to think that beneath our feet lay the remains of hundreds, if not thousands. When Maeve left to bring the car around, a horse in the next field came over and nuzzled us. The day was full of moments like this: strangely sweet, strangely funny, strangely normal.

Afterwards, we talked about what the day had inspired us to create. It had been difficult to write, we agreed. Who were we, who had never starved, to tell these stories?

Since our visit some of us have written about our day in Skibbereen and some have not, but we have all spent moments walking through the day again in our minds.

We’d like to thank Maeve Bancroft for inviting us to Skibbereen and for her hospitality during our visit. (Maeve is currently completing a creative writing PhD at UCC with a novel about Famine emigrants to Canada.)

By Mairead Willis (with Marie Haugh,  Hailey Hughes, Christine Kannapel and Niamh Twomey)

MA students in Maeve Bancroft’s writing studio in Uillinn – from left, Niamh Twomey, Marie Haugh, Hailey Hughes, Mairead Willis and Christine Kannapel


Practising what she preaches

Warm congratulations to Rachel Andrews who’s been announced as one of the winners of the 2018 Hubert Butler Essay Prize.  Rachel guest lectures on the long-form essay for the Creative Writing MA’s  Writing for Media module.

Rachel is a writer and journalist based in Cork. Her writing has appeared in n+1, Longreads, the London Review of Books, Brick literary journal, the Dublin Review and the Stinging Fly. She has  been shortlisted for the Fitzcarraldo Essay Prize (2018), and for the Notting Hill Essay Prize (2017).