THIS is a first for me, quipped the award-winning author Donal Ryan at the launch of the literary anthology, The Ogham Stone, at the University of Limerick. It was his first time being published in a literary magazine, explained the man whose novel The Spinning Heart won the Irish Book of the Year Award, the Guardian First Book Award and was longlisted for the Booker Prize and who, last month, won the European Union Pirze for Literature.
Mr Ryan, who is now writer-in-residence at UL where he teaches creative writing, was invited to submit a short story for inclusion in The Ogham Stone and read an excerpt of his story at the launch.
But the occasion also marked a first for The Ogham Stone when it made its first appearance in book format.
The Ogham Stone, author Joseph O’Connor explained, was put together by MA Students of English and MA students of creative writing at the university. But, he said, it was very important to the students that the publication would have a reach beyond the university and would genuinely involve the community. “Another priority for the students was that the journal should be of its place; not parochial in any way but cognisant of Limerick’s cultural and literary traditions. It draws from the reservoir while replenishing it with new rain,” he said.
Writers from Limerick or living in Limerick, as well as the MA students, were invited to submit poems, short stories, flash fiction or essays and the submissions were whittled down to some 50 or so contributors.
“The voices here have made it wonderfully evident that Ireland is still a country where the empathies involved in the sharing of a story or a poem are valued,” Mr O’Connor said. “The arts have dignified Ireland at a time when we needed it. It is hoped that The Ogham Stone will go on to play its part, ot oferr a voice, to challenge assumptions, to encourage anyone with a feel for words to have a go at a piece of writing, to join its community’s conversation.”
Reaching out to the wider writing community was a “huge step” and an evolution, acknowledged Rachel Hynes, who oversaw the project with the student team. “It was going that way for a long time but Joseph O’Connor had a huge part to play in it,” she continued. Speaking on behalf of the students editorial and production team, Helena Close stressed that it was all down to team work. There had been some “hairy moments” she acknowledged but the project was driven by passion.