Ireland’s Deep South proves its literary pedigree

New Creative Writing MA takes on the world! 

Dublin may be a UNESCO city of literature, but Ireland’s second capital, Cork, is proving its mettle with its innovative Masters course in Creative Writing!

MA Creative Writing @UCC
New Creative Writing MA takes on the world.

Recently, a prospective student ─ let’s call her Virginia ─ posed the following question during a Q and A session at University College Cork (UCC).  Trinity College Dublin has produced Samuel Beckett and Bram Stoker; University College Dublin has given us James Joyce, Flann O’Brien, and Roddy Doyle.


What has UCC contributed to the field of literature?

Virginia had clearly not done her homework.  UCC’s contribution to the field of literature is the mint-new Masters in Creative Writing; established in 2013, the program’s first graduates will be donning their caps and gowns at the end of February.  Among them will be Madeleine D’Arcy, who had her first collection of short stories, Waiting for the Bullet, published while still attending classes.  Madeleine will join a veritable pantheon of writers associated with the university since its foundation in 1845.

But Cork’s literary tradition is a live and lively one.  The college has been particularly associated with poetry – many of Ireland’s leading poets have studied here – Maurice Riordan, Paul Durcan, and Theo Dorgan, to name a few.  Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Ireland’s leading female Irish language poet passed through UCC’s halls; our senior bard, John Montague, was a professor at the university in the 1980s. Leanne O’Sullivan, the School of English’s current writer-in-residence, who at 31 is already an established and accomplished poet, is an alumna.

Cork City’s most famous literary son is the internationally acclaimed short story writer Frank O’Connor (1903 – 1966) whom W. B. Yeats said “was doing for Ireland what Chekhov did for Russia”.   UCC honours his memory by sponsoring The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.  At E25,000, it is the single most lucrative prize for short fiction and is awarded at the Cork International Short Story Festival held annually in the city in late September.  Past winners have included Yiyun Li, Haruki Murakami, and Jhumpa Lahiri and the festival attracts the starriest names in the short story canon – Richard Ford, Edna O’Brien, and Alistair McLeod.

In that sense, the Masters in Creative Writing course is really the icing on the cake, confirming what Corkonians have always known that the city is steeped in literature. The Masters course looks beyond the city, though, and is open to the world. We count American and English students among our number and this year we’re in the position of offering a Fulbright scholarship to one lucky student.

Claire Creely (22) is a current student on the Masters course. She describes the campus and city as a “rich, cultural hotspot”. From Louisville, Kentucky, Claire already feels at home. “Within just one year at UCC, I feel myself a member of the Cork community. With classes and college events held both on and off campus, it’s hard not to feel familiar with this place.”

Graduate Madeleine D’Arcy, a local mature student from Cork, described the MA as “an inspirational mix of classic and innovative courses”.

“It provided me with a wonderful opportunity to engage in writing forms I hadn’t tried before – such as radio drama and memoir – and to benefit from the generous encouragement of the teaching staff,” she adds.

The curriculum recognizes the ever-widening definition of what it is to be a writer in the 21st century.  It covers many genres of writing – novel writing, the short story, memoir, and poetry as well as recognising alternative streams of literature ─ writing for radio, experimental writing, food writing, new media, and journalism.

Students also get to manage and contribute to The Quarryman the college’s literary magazine, where many of those above-mentioned poets cut their teeth, and they go on cultural internships throughout the Munster region working at literary festivals, giving workshops, or organising and hosting their own cultural events. The creative writing faculty, Dr. Eibhear Walshe and Mary Morrissy, are published, prize-winning authors and Dr. Jools Gilson is a performance artist and celebrated broadcaster.

UCC is a beautiful campus, nestling by the River Lee, in Ireland’s second capital. Its Victorian gothic quad has an old world charm and the modern campus that has grown up around it complements and references its limestone hues. The hinterland of the college – the beautiful south west region – is an area of extraordinary natural beauty.  Once you’ve seen it, it’s not difficult to see the source of all that burgeoning literary inspiration.

So to return to Virginia’s challenge ─ what has UCC contributed to the field of literature?  Does this answer your question, Virginia?

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