Poetic hug sets the tone for a magical evening
The hug of warmth and delight between a pair of poets captured the magical essence of a very special evening for book lovers last Thursday night.
President Michael D Higgins and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney could hardly contain their joy as they greeted each other in the august surroundings of the Royal Dublin Society for the annual Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards.
And after a champagne and smoked salmon reception in the Reading Room, Seamus Heaney, accepting the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award, remarked how great it was to be able to call a poet 'President'. Indeed, the presence of our new President, for so many decades a writer, gave a hugely tangible lift to the gathered throng of authors, publishers, agents, editors, publicists and journalists who labour in the wonderful world of words.
An Uachtaran opened the proceedings with a lyrical and uplifting speech encouraging the industry in this difficult climate and urging us to "make an aisling for the times to come".
Another (former) president joined us by video link; Bill Clinton delighted the audience by telling us he loved Heaney's poetry so much he called his dog 'Seamus'.
The fabulously wacky Caitlin Moran gleefully accepted her John Murray Listeners' Choice Award for How to be a Woman and thanked "everyone who voted for me -- mainly me!"
Nicolas Roche and Tim Robinson were both popular winners for Inside the Peloton and Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom respectively.
The glamour, as ever, on this evening was high wattage and cookery writer Rachel Allen looked radiant as she picked up a glass sculpture for her Easy Meals, while Sheila O'Flanagan, resplendent in scarlet satin, won the Popular Fiction Award.
This newspaper sponsored the best Irish Newcomer of 2011 and I was delighted to present the laurel to Belinda McKeon for Solace, one of the most beautifully written novels I've read this year. The Longford author was, in turn, very generous in her praise of the Sunday Independent and its unwavering support for writers. Filmmaker Neil Jordan, who won the Irish Novel of the Year with the very fine Mistaken, and writer Alan Glynn who picked up the crime fiction prize for Bloodland, were profuse in their thanks to the women in their lives with Mr Glynn remarking that without his wife he'd be "in a ditch or the gutter, instead I'm on cloud nine".
The formalities completed, a stellar guest list -- our hostess for the evening, broadcaster Claire Byrne, Diarmuid Gavin, Joe Duffy, Cecelia Ahern, super agents Marianne Gunn O'Connor and Noel Kelly, powerhouse publishers Paul Baggaley of Picador and Angus Cargill from Faber -- then enjoyed a feast of beetroot and feta salad, chargrilled chicken and tiramisu in the elegant library.
The after-parties continued late into the night in the Four Seasons and Residence, though some of us who have matured along with the awards chose instead to slumber and dream of books.
RTE will show highlights from the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards on RTE One on Thursday, November 24, at 10.45pm