Starry, starry night in dark times
This gathering together of the literary community reminds us how great art can inspire, writes Madeleine Keane
AS COLONEL Hannibal Smith of The A-Team used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together." I knew what he meant as I stood at the entrance of the Mansion House on Thursday night, waiting to greet President Mary McAleese and her husband.
This distinguished couple were our guests of honour at the Irish Book Awards, an annual affair when all strands of the books industry gather together to celebrate the best of Irish publishing.
Eight years have passed since the Sunday Independent joined forces with Hughes & Hughes and inaugurated the Novel of the Year Award. (It is bittersweet to remember that the first winner was the late John McGahern.) And how our award has grown.
Over the years we added prizes for children's literature and non-fiction. We progressed from Christmas canapes and wine in Dublin Castle, through elegant dinners at the Royal Irish Yacht Club and Trinity College.
By 2008 we had burgeoned to 10 awards covering crime, sport, newcomers and popular fiction and our ceremony metamorphosed into a black tie, gala dinner at the Mansion House.
To have the President attend last week, though, was the ultimate imprimatur and the books community were happy and honoured that she joined us during one of our country's darkest weeks. Under the Round Hall's starred ceiling, librarians, publishers, writers, booksellers and media people mingled and gossiped merrily.
The President spoke with characteristic fluency, warmth and intelligence, striking a tenor which carried through the evening. While most speeches acknowledged the problems Ireland faces, for the books community it was a night to remember that Irish literary art greatly redounds to the credit of this nation.
Pictures and full reports Barry Egan's The Edge, Page 14 Living
Leaving after an uplifting, joyous evening, I passed a poster bearing Yeats's line, "set your mind upon the steep ascent". After days of political words, it took our finest poet to remind us that great art can enhance, inspire and transform all our lives.