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2015/16 Essays

Students, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to welcome you all to the UL campus for the 5th National Secondary School Writing Competition awards ceremony, organised by the Regional Writing Centre in conjunction with the Centre for Teaching & Learning.

I am particularly delighted to invite all of the winners here today – From the Transition Year category: Aoife Deignan of St.Nathy’s College in Co. Roscommon; Tara Gilsenan from Coláiste Oiriall in Co.Monaghan; and  Muireann Tuffrey from Mean Scoil Nua an Leith Triuigh in Co.Kerry.

From the 5th Year category: Róisín Howard from Laurel Hill Coláiste in Limerick; Alan McLoughlin from St. Mary’s CBS in Co. Kerry; and Isabelle Tierney from  Mount Anville Secondary School in Dublin.

From the 6th Year category: Joseph Chaplin from Ardscoil Rís in Limerick; Gareth Jones from St. Peter’s College in Co. Wexford; and Michael Smollen from Virginia College in Co. Cavan.

This very successful competition is now in its fifth year, and this is the third year in which it has been extended to include all post-primary schools in the Republic of Ireland. Students in Transition, 5th and 6th year were invited to take a decisive stance on a statement made by Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, founder and president of Focus Ireland:


“Government policies are causing people to be homeless. On one hand, they’re talking about finding housing to house them and on the other hand by not increasing the rent supplement they’re driving people into homelessness.”

The Writing Centre was delighted to receive over 200 essays from around the country. Each submitted essay was coded before undergoing an anonymous adjudication process, in which judgements were based on a series of Regional Writing Centre criteria.

The nine essays selected for awards today stood out in terms of the novelty of the writer’s position, the rigour with which they make a balanced, but compelling case, the logical arrangement of their ideas, and the concision, cogency and coherence that leaves the reader captivated by the writer’s obvious linguistic, grammatical and mechanical adroitness. It should be noted that identifying overall winners was not an easy process. The voting was close. There was not unanimity in the selection of the overall winners; rather the consensus was the result of a majority opinion. Clearly, all here today are winners.

Responses to the prompt varied. The majority of respondents—Tara, Muireann, Aoife and Michael—took the position that solving the homelessness crisis was the responsibility of the government. Two—Isabelle and Gareth—took the position that the crisis was the responsibility of charities. Alan and Joseph defended the idea that both government and charities have some culpability for exacerbating the situation and that both should come together to rectify the situation. Roisin, uniquely, sees homelessness as everyone’s problem appeals for every person to contribute to its resolution.

Tara’s essay was unique because, though she argues from the perspective of her experience of the homelessness she witnesses in a more urban setting, she remains ever conscious of whether solutions for more urban areas impact equally on more rural areas. Her essay is also a unique defence of charities that, unlike government, she reminds us, cannot legislate policy, and it is policy, she argues, that has not only been ineffectual in alleviating homelessness, but in fact instrumental in further aggravating the crisis. Muireann agrees with this position, claiming that the government’s knee-jerk reactions to the ongoing crisis have actually cost the state more than had they taken the very measures continually discounted as being too costly, measures such as providing better access to information, advice and upskilling, freezing rents, increasing rent supplements and reducing the amount of capital gains paid by landlords.

Also very much like Tara, Aoife lists a number of government policies that have contributed to homelessness. Aoife’s defends her claim that homelessness is the prevue of government on the basis of her understanding of government’s role in society: “Our Government is given the responsibility to ensure that law and order are maintained, that the needs of the people are addressed, and that any dangers that pose a threat to the interests of the public are avoided.” Her essay does well to demonstrate how policy has not accomplished any of those responsibilities, and until the government assumes those responsibilities, Aoife appeals for contributions to the charities.

Michael’s response was unique in that his economic recommendations for the alleviation of homelessness were equally arguments against neo-liberal policy. He was disconcerted by Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy’s suggestion that the government raise rent allowances, as doing so ultimately leads to an ever-upwardly spiralling rise in rents and, consequently, rent allowances. His plan is to address policies that leave contractors reluctant or unable to afford to build and consumers reluctant or unable to afford to buy. “Levelling the playing field for all of our people, this country can restore the dignity of countless citizens in the medium term and avoid collapsing into the gully of vast inequality which awaits if we fail to slow, and ultimately reverse, growing wealth imbalance.”

Isabelle and Gareth both place the responsibility for resolving the homelessness crisis on charities. Gareth argues that the more the government tries to resolve the problem, the worse it gets. Leave it to the charitable organisations, he argues. If it is a problem that individuals feel requires their sacrifice, they will either make that sacrifice by contributing or they will be left to confront their own moral compass. Isabelle, on the other hand, argues that, though it is the government’s responsibility to contend with the wider issues that lead to deprivation, poverty and homelessness, charities are better equipped to help individuals to become self-reliant. She believes that charities are closer to, and can better assess, an individual’s problems and can better provide the level of care needed to bring those individuals nearer to self-reliance.

Roisin’s essay stood out because she begins with her personal experience of working in a St. Vincent de Paul drop-in centre, making an abstraction like homelessness more tangible. Her essay champions human ingenuity and ends, much as Alan’s and Joseph’s essays do, celebrating the power of community and collaboration and teamwork. Alan speaks of his frustration with the blame game and encourages them to coordinate their efforts to more effectively and efficiently resolve the crisis. Joseph too champions teamwork as the solution to the crisis. Teamwork, he declares, is “the foundation of a functioning society”. He too calls for a more concerted effort to alleviate the suffering.

I would like to commend all of our winners for the hard work that they have put in in preparing for this competition. I would also like to thank their teachers and parents who supported them in this endeavour. We hope that you will all continue to cultivate your love of writing and that you will consider joining us at the University of Limerick in the coming years.

I would also like to thank the Regional Writing Centre staff who worked hard to organise this event, particularly Nicole Campbell, who performed Herculean tasks in order to put this ceremony together, but unfortunately could not be here today, the Writing Centre’s Co-Directors, Lawrence Cleary and Íde O’Sullivan, Lorna Horgan and Huan yu Ren, who have been so instrumental in making sure that everything went smoothly today. Lorna is a Regional Writing Centre peer tutor in writing. Huanyu is an International Student from China who is inspired by the President’s Volunteer Programme. She has graciously volunteered her time to help the Writing Centre on this wonderful occasion. We are also indebted to the many other peer-tutors in the Writing Centre for the long hours they dedicated to the adjudication process.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Speech read by Dr Michael Griffin at the National Secondary School Essay-writing Competition Awards Ceremony, Tuesday 26th April 2016, University of Limerick

An Interview With Liz Nugent

Elizabeth NugentLiz Nugent was born in Dublin, where she now lives with her husband, musician and sound engineer, Richard McCullough. Liz worked as a stage manager in theaters in Ireland and toured internationally before writing extensively for radio and television drama.

Liz's second novel, Lying in Wait, was released in July 2016. It went straight to number one in the Irish Bestseller lists, remaining there for nine weeks and spent eight months in the top ten.




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Tom MoylanProfessor Tom Moylan is Glucksman Professor Emeritus in the School of Language, Literature, Culture, and Communications. He is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Architecture at the Univesity of Limerick, where he also is Co-Director of the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies and Co-Editor of the Ralahine Utopian Studies Book Series.

He is the author of Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination and Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia and many essays on utopia, dystopia, and political agency.

He is co-editor of Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch (with Jamie Owen Daniel), Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination and Utopia-Method Vision: The Use Value of Social Dreaming (with Raffaella Baccolini), and Exploring the Utopian Impulse: Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice (with Michael J. Griffin). He has co-edited special issues of Utopian Studies on Ernst Bloch, Fredric Jameson, Irish Utopians, and Utopia and Music.

With Nathaniel Coleman and Diane Morgan, he organised the Architecture and Utopia Working Group.

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Rory McEneryProfessor McEnery is Professor of English Language and Linguistics at Lancaster University and Adjunct Professor in the University of Limerick's School of Languages, Literature, Culture & Communication. He writes and publishes extensively on corpus and computational linguistics.

Prof. McEnery has, since the late 1980s, authored more than 10 books, edited over 16 volumes, written well over 30 journal articles and as many book chapters, 35 conference papers and 2 standards guides.

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Stephen Kinsella

Dr. Stephen Kinsella teaches Economics of EU Integration, International Monetary Economics, Economics for Business and financial economics at University of Limerick. He published extensively on Complexity Theory, Health Economics and Economic History.

Dr. Kinsella has already, in his young career, authored more than four books, contributed chapters in three edited volumes, authored or co-authored dozens of journal articles, with as many 'works in progress', appeared on television and radio, published widely in the press, teaches through YouTube and Twitter and posts "rants" on his personal blog.

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Jo SladeJo Slade, a poet and painter, lives and works in Limerick. She studied at the Limerick School of Art and Design, the National College of Art and the University of Limerick. Jo is the author of four collections of poetry and a chapbook of poems, including a French/English collection, Certain Octobers, which was published in France. Her fourth collection, City of Bridget, was published by Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher, Ireland in 2005. In 2003 she was nominated for the Prix Evelyne Encelot Ecriture Prize, Maison des Ecrovaoms, Paris.

She has been a Writer-in-Residence for Limerick County Council and in 2007 she was Writer-in-Residence at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris. Her paintings have been widely exhibited in Ireland and in France.

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Tim Cunningham

Tim Cunningham was born in Limerick in 1942 and educated at Limerick C.B.S. and Birkbeck College, London. He currently resides in Essex, UK. His first collection, Don Marcelino's Daughter, was published by Peterloo Poets in 2001 and reprinted in 2002 and 2004. His second collection Unequal Thirds was published in 2006, again by Peterloo. Kyrie, his third collection, was published in 2008.

This How I Write, Ireland interview coincides with the launch of his latest collection of poetry, Siege (2012). Published by Revival press, the poetry imprint of The Limerick Writers' Centre, every poem in Limerick born poet Tim Cunningham's fourth collection is of universal application, but the physical locus and emotional heart is that 'ancient city schooled in the hardships of war'. Seige is a celebration of life and an intimate paean to where particular lives at a particular time were, and are being, lived; what used to be called a work of pietas.

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Donal RyanDonal Ryan’s debut novel, The Spinning Heart, was voted the 2012 Irish Book of the Year, won the Guardian First Book Award in 2013, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize and was a finalist for the 2014 IMPAC Literary Award.

Additionally, The Spinning Heart was a number one bestseller in Ireland and a Boston Globe bestseller in the US. He is a Tipperary native and holds a law degree from the University of Limerick.

Donal has accepted the 2015 Arts Council Writer-in-Residence Fellowship at the University of Limerick, where, with Joseph O’Connor and Giles Foden, he teaches Creative Writing. In September 2015, Donal Ryan’s first short story collection, A Slanting of the Sun, will be released worldwide.

This Interview is available in the following formats:

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Joseph O'ConnorProf Joseph O’Connor is a best-selling author and current Frank McCourt Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. His latest novel The Thrill of it All is his twelfth work of fiction, having also penned five works of non-fiction.

Some of the South Dublin native’s previous books include; include Cowboys and Indians (short-listed for the Whitbread Prize), Redemption Falls and Star of the Sea, which was an international bestseller with over one million sales and was published in 38 languages. Star of the Sea won prizes in France, Italy and the US, as well as the Hennessy/Sunday Tribune Hall of Fame Award and the Prix Litteraire Zepter for European Novel of the Year.

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Sara Baume was born in Lancashire but grew up in Co. Cork. She studied Fine Art in Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design and completed a Masters in Creative Writing in Trinity College, Dublin.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither, Sara Baume’s debut novel, won The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature 2015 and was long listed for the Guardian First Book Award. She also won the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year award at the Bórd Gais Energy Book Awards 2015. Her novel was featured as one of this year’s student and staff chosen UL First Seven Weeks recommended books.

In 2014 she was awarded the Davy Byrnes short story award, organised by the Stinging Fly in association with Dublin Unesco City of Literature, for her story Solesearcher1.Sara Baume won the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award earlier in 2015 for her short story Dancing, or Beginning to Dance and won the Emerging Fiction Award for the work.

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Professor Sarah Moore is Associate Vice President, Academic here at the University of Limerick. Before that she spent over a decade as UL's Dean of Teaching and Learning establishing one of the country's first centres for teaching and learning in the higher education sector. Currently she also chairs Ireland's National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. She holds an award for excellence in teaching and has published many academic books and papers on areas related to teaching, learning, learner support and professional development in Higher Education. She has a particular interest in how academics and students engage in the often contested and frequently difficult process of writing for assessment and publication.

In addition to her work as an academic, Sarah has always been a creative writer. She is the author of three novels for children and young adults (Back to BlackbrickThe Apple Tart of Hope'  and 'A Very Good Chance'). Her novels have been shortlisted for several literary prizes, including the Waterstone's prize, and the CBI book of the year. In 2015 she was the recipient of the Jack Harte bursary, presented by the Irish Writers' Centre. 

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Louise O’ Neill grew up in Clonakilty, a small town in West Cork, Ireland. After receiving an honours BA in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin, she went on to complete a post-graduate diploma in Fashion Buying from the Dublin Institute of Technology. She moved to New York City in 2010 and spent a year there interning as an assistant stylist for the senior style director of Elle Magazine, Kate Lanphear.

Louise’s second novel, ASKING FOR IT, was published in September 2015 to widespread critical acclaim.  She has since won the Specsaver’s Senior Children’s Book of the Year at the 2015 Irish Book Awards, the Literature Prize at Irish Tatler’s Women of the Year Awards, and Best Author at Stellar magazine’s Shine Awards.  It was voted Book of the Year at the Irish Books Awards 2015 and has spent 34 weeks in the Irish top 10 bestseller list.  A documentary of the same name – on the subject of rape culture and presented by Louise – was aired in November 2016.

Louise is a freelance journalist for a variety of Irish national newspapers and magazines, covering feminist issues, fashion and pop culture. She contributed to I CALL MYSELF A FEMINIST – a collection of essays from women under 30 explaining why they see themselves as feminists, which was published by Virago.  She is currently working on her fourth novel.


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Video Lesson 1: The Role of Cultural Capital in the Making of Good Writers



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Video Lesson 2: Good Writers' Thoughts on Deadlines

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