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25 March – Working Class Irish Literature

25th March 2019 @ 19:30 - 20:30 UTC


In the recent years of political and social turbulence in the UK, state of the nation debates have become commonplace and discussion on the representation of working class lives in literature has become a hot topic. A clearer recognition is emerging that publishers must overcome barriers of class and social mobility with the same level of commitment that has developed to respond to inequities in relation to race, disability and gender. A false notion persisted beyond the early years of the state that Ireland was a classless society, but shared political struggles cannot erase huge differences of opportunity and wealth. Recent non-fiction books have made significant contributions to such debates across both countries (Chavs – the Demonization of the Working ClassKnow Your Place: Essays on the Working Class and the History of Irish Working-Class Writing) and helped to highlight the marginalisation of working class voices and, conversely, the rich and various history of working class writing. We are delighted to bring together two writers whose work has embraced their origins and created compelling fictions peopled by working class characters.

‘…when I began writing I wanted to imitate my heroes, to take ordinary, everyday people and make them the centre of the story, as James Joyce does in Dubliners, or as Kevin Barry and Lisa McInerney do with their spot-on, lyrical descriptions of small city lives today.’Kit de Waal in The Guardian

The poet, publisher, sometime factory hand and journalist Dermot Bolger has throughout his plays, poems and novels chronicled the lives of those around him in his native housing estate of Finglas in Dublin. His work often puzzles over the sustained power of nationalist concepts of Irishness. Bolger’s will read from his latest novel An Ark of Light which features the remarkable Eva Fitzgerald who defies convention in 1950s Ireland by leaving a failed marriage to embark on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. It takes her from teeming Moroccan streets and being flour-bombed in radical marches in London. 

When Kit de Waal was growing up in 1970s Birmingham, no one like her – poor, black and Irish – wrote books. After securing a book deal for her first novel My Name is Leon de Waal used some of her advance to set up a creative writing scholarship to try to improve working-class representation in the arts. Her most recent novel, A Trick to Time, features Mona, a young Irish girl in the big city, with the thrill of a new job and a room of her own in a busy boarding house. On her first night out in 1970s Birmingham, she meets William, a charming Irish boy with an easy smile and an open face. They embark upon a passionate affair, a whirlwind marriage – before a sudden tragedy tears them apart.

‘Pound for pound, word for word, I’d have Bolger represent us in any literary Olympics.’Colum McCann

A signing of both books will be held after the talk.

Speaker: Kit de Waal
Kit de Waal
Kit de Waal, born to an Irish mother and Caribbean father, was brought up among the Irish community of Birmingham in the 60’s and 70’s. She worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law, was a magistrate for several years and sits on adoption panels. She used to advise Social Services on the care of foster children, and has written training manuals on adoption, foster care and judgecraft for members of the judiciary. Her writing has received numerous awards including the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year. Her debut novel My Name Is Leon was an international bestseller, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize and won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award for 2017. Her second novel The Trick to Time is an unforgettable tale of grief, longing, and a love that lasts a lifetime.

Speaker: Dermot Bolger
Dermot Bolger

Born in Dublin in 1959, Dermot Bolger is one of Ireland’s best known writers. His fourteenth novel, An Ark of Light (2018) follows titles such as The Journey Home, Father’s Music, The Valparaiso Voyage, The Family on Paradise Pier, A Second Life: A Renewed Novel, New Town Soul  and the novella, The Fall of Ireland. His first play, The Lament for Arthur Cleary, received the Samuel Beckett Award; his acclaimed Ballymun Trilogy of plays has been staged in several countries and in 2012 his stage adaption of James Joyce’s Ulysses was widely praised. A poet, his ninth collection of poems, The Venice Suite: A Voyage Through Loss, was published in 2017. Bolger writes for Ireland’s leading newspapers and in 2012 received the Commentator of the Year Award at the Irish Newspaper awards.

Chair: Dr Tony Murray
Tony Murray Tony Murray is Director of the Irish Writers in London Summer School and Curator of the Archive of the Irish in Britain. Murray’s research is in literary and cultural representations of the Irish diaspora with a particular focus on the Irish in Britain. He is especially interested in the role of narrative in the construction and mediation of migrant identities. Publications include London Irish Fictions: Narrative Diaspora and Identity (2012) and Writing Irish Nurses in Britain (2018).


25th March 2019
19:30 - 20:30 UTC
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Irish Literary Society


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