The Cercle Littéraire Irlandais (CLI) recently held its fourth edition of the Celebrating Women with Words (CWWW) international writing competition at the Centre Culturel Irlandais (CCI) in Paris.

Before participants Zoomed in from around the world, proceedings warmed up with a video extract recorded in the same venue some years ago, wherein Colm Tóibín came to the rapid conclusion that women are naturally better conversationalists than men, an opinion laughingly endorsed by a clear majority present.

The streets of Paris are paved with the words of writers, so many of them foreigners, who honed their art in Paris. However, despite Irish women’s talent with words, the vast majority of the Irish literary legends who lived in Paris were men - James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, W. B. Yeats, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, etc.

Things have changed greatly over the years and female Irish writers are now very much to the fore. Most recently, Claire Keegan's award-winning 2015 short story “Foster” made Keegan an international household name for its adaptation into the Oscar-nominated Irish language opus, “The Quiet Girl."

For this fourth edition of CWWW, the four-person jury, chaired by Róisín Dockery, found themselves hit by an avalanche of inspirational words, burning the midnight oil to select from the high caliber of entries, those which resonated the most.

Corkonian Liv Monaghan, a talented jazz vocalist and songwriter based in Paris, lent her voice to the event for the second year running. She was introduced by CLI jury member Julie McDonald, and we were transported by her singing and poetic lyrics. Accompanied by the mighty Sava Medan on bass, the music seemed to pull threads from jazz, soul, rock, and romanticism creating a magical ambiance, as we sat together in a circle in mellow suspense, waiting for the winners to be announced.


One of the joint first-place winners, Mary de Sousa, lives in Paris. Her winning story "The blue starts at the feet" tells of how she accompanied her mother on her final journey. It is from "Mother," her yet-to-be-published collection of short stories. When she read it, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

Thanks to filmmaker Seamas McSwiney for this poignant recording of Mary de Sousa reading:

Mary's father came from Goa (India) and her mother from Dublin. She grew up in Coventry in the UK and has lived and worked as a journalist in Cyprus, Spain, Pakistan, and Cuba before settling in Paris where she now works as an English editor. She has written two novels, “The Halfie-Halfie Girl," and “Half an Hour from Pakistan." A third novel, a black comedy set on an island not unlike Cuba, is in the pipeline.

As I listened to the five winning Irish women reading in person or from afar, via Zoom, I remembered people like the great Eavan Boland who championed the cause of Irish women and paved the way for Irish women writers.

The winners’ words and stories, celebrated past, present, and future. Joan Morrissey remembered her “Grand Aunt Mag," (joint first prize) who risked her life to save local men from the Black and Tans. We rejoiced in the present when second prize winner Dr. Catherine Ann Cullen snuck out of her daughter’s 18th birthday party to Zoom in and read her “Poem on Your Eighteenth Birthday."

We also relished the words of joint third prize winners Anne Hennon Harris (Simone Veil) and Sylvia Mc Shane (The English woman who made a difference in Ireland) paying homage to Simone Veil and Mo Mowlam, two foreign women whose destinies became interwoven in major, Irish political and societal issues.

Guest speakers Nuala Killeen (Leixlip District Councillor for the Social Democrats and “Left Bank Summer School” organizer,) Tendayi O. Chirawu (author and speaker and host of “Right to Write” on World Radio Paris,) and Dr. Virginie Roche-Tiengo (Associate Professor in Irish Studies at the Université d’Artois,) spoke about the importance of words and of celebrating women in their different arenas.

Kudos to Desmond McGetrick, President of the CLI, who inaugurated the first CWWW international competition on March 1, 2020, on the eve of lockdown and who along with the other leaders of the CLI, has made winning this competition a literary distinction that talented writers pick up their pens for. Some of the 2023 laureates were well-known writers. Furthermore, along with being a very enjoyable event, this type of competition and recognition may also prove to be a trampoline for more fledging writers.

The inspirational words of the writers and speakers will accompany us into the future. William Howard, musician and Irish professor based in Paris, concluded that it was an honor to be part of the CLI jury. Sprinkling a cúpla focail on the occasion, he gallantly wished “Sláinte chuig na fir agus go maire na mná go deo!” (Health to the men and may the women live forever!)*

*Patricia Killeen is the host of Turning Points on World Paris Radio and Artistic director for the fourth edition of the Celebrating Women with Words, CLI event.

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