ONE of Ireland’s most contested short-story awards, the Francis MacManus Short Story Competition, has been won by Newcastle West writer, poet and former teacher, Mike MacDomhnaill.
His winning story, Uncle Ned, was broadcast on RTE 1 on Monday, having been selected from the hundreds of entries this competition attracts each year.
“I don’t write many short stories,” Mr MacDomhnaill told the Limerick Leader. In fact, he admitted, he had sent off his story but had forgotten about it until he was told he was shortlisted. “Winning it was the cherry on the cake. I was a bit surprised to tell the truth.”
Happily for Mr MacDomhnaill, the news arrived in a week of good news: a second short story, this time one written as Gaeilge, was accepted the same week for the July edition of Feasta, an Irish language magazine.
The story centres around Uncle Ned, who is, Mr MacDomhnaill admitted , a bit of a “conglomeration” of a character. “Some bits of the character would have had a basis in real life,” he explained. The story traces a life and a character from the viewpoint of a funeral.
It was, Mr MacDomhnaill continued, a story that came easily to him. “I was happy with it myself and win or lose, I didn’t mind. I felt I did my best. It fitted the slot.”
Mike MacDomhnaill, however, has been writing all his life.
Born in Clouncagh, the family moved to Newcastle West when he was a small child, following the death of his father, Tommy. He graduated in Irish and Maths from UCD and taught, through most of his career, at Laurel Hill.
“I have always written but I was never organised enough to get stuff together,” he recalled this week. “I remember Michael Hartnett getting cross with me but I never felt I had enough material. But he did encourage me a lot.”
A few years ago, following early retirement from teaching, Micheal’s first collection of poetry, Widow’s Son was launched.
And last April, fittingly at Eigse Michael Hartnett, a second collection, all in Irish, called Macalla Maidu was launched. The title poem, Echo of Maidu, is about a North American Indian language, Maidu which was threatened with extinction and reflects Micheal’s own deep interest in Irish and in its survival.
“While we see species disappearing, that is of course lamentable, but when a languagae goes, there is a huge amount that goes with it as well,” he explained.
“I have only a handful of short stories,” he continued. But he now intends to build on that, and hopefully, to put a collection together. “It would be the next obvious move,” he said. “That is my next aim.”
Meanwhile, he is enjoying his win.