Sebastian Barry, novelist, playwright and poet, is born in Dublin on July 5, 1955. He is noted for his lyrical literary writing style and is considered one of Ireland’s finest writers. He is named Laureate for Irish Fiction, 2019–2021.
Barry’s mother is acclaimed actress Joan O’Hara. He is educated at Catholic University School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he reads English and Latin. His literary career begins in poetry before he begins writing plays and novels.
Barry starts his literary career with the novel Macker’s Garden in 1982. This is followed by several books of poetry and a further novel, The Engine of Owl-Light (1987), before his career as a playwright begins with his first play produced in the Abbey Theatre, Boss Grady’s Boys (1988).
Barry’s maternal great-grandfather, James Dunne, provides the inspiration for the main character in his most internationally known play, The Steward of Christendom, which wins the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, the Lloyd’s Private Banking Playwright of the Year Award and other awards. The main character in the play, Thomas Dunne, is the chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police from 1913 to 1922. He oversees the area surrounding Dublin Castle until the Irish Free State takeover on January 16, 1922. One of his grandfathers belonged to the British Army Corps of Royal Engineers while the other is a painter, a Nationalist, and a devotee of Éamon de Valera.
Both The Steward of Christendom and the novel The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, are about the dislocations, physical and otherwise, of loyalist Irish people during the political upheavals of the early 20th century. The title character of the latter work is a young man forced to leave Ireland by his former friends in the aftermath of the Irish War of Independence.
Barry has been twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his novels A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), the latter of which wins the 2008 Costa Book of the Year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His fifth novel, On Canaan’s Side (2011), is longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and wins the 2012 Walter Scott Prize. In January 2017, he is awarded the Costa Book of the Year prize for Days Without End (2016), becoming the first novelist to win the prestigious prize twice. The novel also wins The Walter Scott Prize and The Independent Booksellers’ Prize, and is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.
Barry’s play Andersen’s English is inspired by children’s writer Hans Christian Andersen coming to stay with Charles Dickens and his family in the Kent marshes. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark and produced by the Out of Joint Theatre Company and Hampstead Theatre, the play tours in the United Kingdom from February 11 to May 8, 2010. Our Lady of Sligo is directed in 1998 by Stafford-Clark at the Royal National Theatre co−produced by Out of Joint.
In 2001, Barry establishes his personal and professional archive at the Harry Ransom Center. More than sixty boxes of papers document his diverse writing career and range of creative output which includes drawings, poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and scripts.
Barry has been awarded honorary degrees from NUI Galway, the Open University and the University of East Anglia. His academic posts include Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa (1984), Heimbold Visiting Professor at Villanova University (2006) and Writer Fellow at Trinity College, Dublin (1995–1996).
Barry lives in County Wicklow with his wife, actor and screenwriter Alison Deegan.