Ballincurry memories inspire Hennessy Award writer

Pauline Scott A writer with strong connections to the Glinsk area recently won two prestigious Hennessy XO literary awards. Valerie Sirr, whose aunt Kathleen lives in Ballincurry, Glinsk, won the Hennessy XO Emerging Fiction Writer Award and also the new Hennessy XO New Irish Writer Award at an event in the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge last month. The story which won the award ‘Summer Rain’ was partly inspired by her visits to Ballincurry as a child and her experiences there.  Judges for the event were two distinguished writers, Eilis Ní Dhuibhne and American writer Douglas Kennedy and Ms. Sirr won a total of €4,000 as part of the two awards. Since graduating from Trinity College with an M. Phil in Creative Writing, she has had stories published in a number of literary journals, including The Stinging Fly and Cutting Teeth, as well as in the Sunday Tribune newspaper and has had stories broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1.  The Hennessy Awards are not the only awards to have come her way, she also won the William Allingham Award and the Nora Fahy Award, as well as bursaries from the Arts Council and Dublin City Council. She now teaches creative writing at Crumlin College of Further Education and literature classes at Hartstown Community College. Valerie’s father was the late Seán Sirr and her grandparents were Mary Frances and Petie Sirr. Mary Frances was a teacher in Toberroe NS for many years. During summer holidays, Valerie and her brother visited the family in Ballincurry, staying with their grandparents and later her aunt Kathleen and her husband, the late Brendan Hoare. ‘My father was in the bank and he ended up in Waterford and later in Dublin. We used to go to Ballincurry every summer and Christmas. It was a great experience for two jackeens, myself and my brother.’ Valerie has many recollections of her time in Ballincurry, especially going to the bog and making hay and the welcome arrival of her grandmother with the tea! ‘It was all manual at that time, there was very little mechanisation. We had a donkey and cart and used to go down on that to the bog to bring home the turf. I drew on that for the short story. It’s about a man from the country that goes down home. He is looking out the train window at the way the countryside has changed. People got grants and cleaned up the old cars, there used to be Ford Prefects around the place and he sees all the circular bales of hay in the plastic wrap.’ Valerie is currently in the process of trying to get a publisher for a collection of short stories she has prepared and no doubt her quest will be greatly helped by winning the two awards. She is also working on a novel. Asked if she had any tips for emerging writers, she said, ‘I’d say to keep entering competitions and sending stuff to literary journals and small magazines. That way you build up a CV that publishers will see and they will be more likely to publish you. I wouldn’t write for competitions, just if you have something, send it around when you have it written.’ Valerie is a member of a writing group in Lucan and finds that helpful. ‘I was lucky to meet people at various things and got together and we meet every two weeks. Others in the group have won awards and got published. There is a lot of talent around, but it’s getting more and more difficult to get published, it was easier in the 80s.’ She praised the opportunities available in The Stinging Fly and the Sunday Tribune and RTÉ, but said that apart from that it is very difficult to get published.  ‘Publishers tend to want a novel, but if you get an independent publisher, they are very often more interested in short stories and that could be a start.’