A Dublin janitor wins the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature from the university she cleans

By Allison Klein for The Washington Post

Trinity College Dublin presented Caitríona Ms. Lally last week with the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, one of Ireland’s most prestigious literary honors. The prize committee praised her book, “Eggshells,” as “a work of impressive imaginative reach, witty, subtle and occasionally endearingly unpredictable.”

For the past three and a half years, Ms. Lally has worked as a janitor at the college.

The day the call came from the prize committee, Ms. Lally was so shocked – and the experience felt so out of context – that she asked the person who told her she had won the award to please explain it again.

Of course, she had long known the reputation of the award – an enormous honor given annually by Trinity College to a writer under 40 who shows great talent and “exceptional promise.”

“But at that moment, I couldn’t figure out what a Rooney was,” Ms. Lally, 39, said in an email to The Washington Post, adding that her book had been published three years ago.

Ms. Lally called the honor “the happiest shock of my life.”

Each morning she wakes at 4:45 a.m., pulls on her blue janitor’s smock and heads for the college to clean from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Then she returns home to take care of her 14-month-old daughter, Alice. The day she got the call over the summer informing her she had won, Alice was being fussy.

“I’d been having a rough day – up early for my cleaning job, tearing home to mind the baby, baby wouldn’t nap and was making her feelings known,” Ms. Lally told Trinity College.

Once Ms. Lally realized that she had won the award – and that it came with a 10,000-euro prize (about $11,500) – she described it as “just pure magic.”

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