Maria Edgeworth Literary Festival Competitions

Maria Edgeworth Festival of Literature & Arts

While the Maria Edgeworth Literary Festival takes place annually in early May one aspect of the Festival- the competitions (Poetry and Short Story), begins earlier on in the year when people are invited to submit their entries, these are then adjudicated by our guest Judges and a celebratory night is held to announce the winners during the Festival.  

Below there links on the yearly competitions, the adjudicators and winning entries. Winning entries are published with the consent of the author and if they choose not to let us publish then they will not be appearing here, also if they wish them removed then we will do so.

We hope to build up a history of this event here.

Poetry & Short Story Literary Festival Competitions

The 2024 Competition were judged by authors Sheila Forsey and Victoria Kennefick.  The short story adjudicator was Sheila Forsey, who is a writer and creative writing tutor from County Wexford. A deep interest in Ireland’s intricate past has led her to write historical fiction. The Poetry competition was adjudicated by Victoria Kennefick.  Her debut collection, Eat or We Both Starve (Carcanet, 2021), won the Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize and the Dalkey Book Festival Emerging Writer of the Year Award.

 Short Story Winners 
First PlaceMonica McGuinnessOne Small Step
Second PlaceCiara QuinnMetamorphosis
Third PlaceSam PopePreloved
Highly CommendedPaul CarreoTiny Dormant Treasures, meditations in your fathers garden
Highly CommendedSteve WadeThe Redeemer
Highly CommendedZita McGarryThe Wealthy Bachelor
 Poetry Winners 
First PlaceChristian WardEdvard Munch Paints The Scream
Second PlaceMichael MartinGod is Weary
Third PlaceRoisin NI, bird
Highly CommendedEwen GlassIlium
Highly CommendedSteph Ellen FeeneyThe Scene
Highly CommendedScott ElderYour Neighbour Will Catch You

Edvard Munch Paints The Scream 

It is spring and snow is falling inside the house.

The face on the canvas cannot taste 

the snowflakes, content only to unleash its howl

on an unsuspecting audience. The face

on the canvas is misshapen like my grief –

a badly stretched bicycle seat, a lightbulb 

in the final moments before its detonation,

a pie crust stretched beyond the boundaries 

of the pan. 

While my sister turns to ash inside 

the asylum, these metaphors are as empty 

as the larder of my chest. While my sister 

turns to ash, the sky taunts me with its pleasure –

a palette of tinted red, orange and yellow.

It is spring and snow is falling inside the house.

Look how the face on the canvas will sport

a shovel of a smirk once I’m buried in an icy grave,

the sky dancing like flames, a poem in full fire.

One Small Step

It was a hard-won climb. The attic stairs steep and twisting. Tiny tumble weeds of soft dust and debris gathered in every corner. It was a seldom visited place, now. Daphne paused, waiting, catching her breath, and listening to the steady beat of her labouring heart.

She stood, motionless, one hand on the curved handrail, solid and secure beneath her hand. Then she took a breath and pulled herself up another step. She could hear him behind, his breathing slow and measured. She had wanted to walk behind, thinking she could possibly push him upwards if the going got too much, but he was one step ahead of her, as always.

And what if I fall, what then?” he wheezed, his grey eyes lost among the wrinkles.

Humpty dumpty time then, isn’t it, or maybe even Jack and Jill, no brown paper will patch us up….”

Daphne opened her mouth to protest, to say that might be for the best but remained quiet, he was right of course. She could picture them both falling, tumbling down and down, a mess of arms and legs, like something from a comic book, except there would be no fixing, not for them. She shrugged instead and took his hand.

Let’s go then, we’ll take our time.”

The feel of his hand had never changed, that firm but gentle feeling, covering hers. She still remembered the first time she ever held his hand, so so long ago. It was dark and there had been quite the crowd that night, gathered together to watch the eclipse. Some more serious than others, tripods and picnic blankets strewn across the deer cropped grass.

Daphne had gone with a friend, a girl she shared a flat with. She wasn’t really bothered about the eclipse, the first since the moon landing but the weather was fine and there was a strange summer atmosphere, carnival like, with strangers smiling and talking to each other in excited voices, so they packed a small bag and set off for the park.

She reached the top of the stairs; the attic door was closed.

I’m at the top,” she called back down.

Good, good,” he rasped. She knew he was on the little landing a floor below, waiting, breathless, holding on to the handrail. She pushed the door and it groaned open.

The last rays of summer light were falling through the enormous shuttered window, lying in slanted bars across the dusty floor. This room was the reason they bought the house, she remembered them taking the stairs two at a time, laughing and lying beneath the open window. Watching, as the moon travelled its ancient path above their heads, slow breaths of summer air lifting her hair and tingling their way along her arms.

It had always been the heart of the house, filled with children’s laughter and then late at night when the house began to silt up with silence, she climbed the stairs to find him. Watching the stars, dreaming of a world of light and dark, walking in slow motion across the moon.

She made her way to the window, taking her time, stepping carefully in the half light, and began to fold the shutters back. The sun poured in, like molten honey, finding the dark corners, chasing the shadows away. She opened the window, she could hear the birds, robins, thrushes, blackbirds, filling the air with beauty and song. Then she heard his step, a shuffle, he was at the door. She smiled at him, brushing away her tears.

He was the astronomer, not her. He had set up a tripod that night, in the park and as darkness fell, enveloping the people, the crowd fell silent, a great hush as though the world may never brighten again. She was standing, looking skyward when she caught his gaze in the velvet black.

Would you like to see?” he asked, taking her hand, guiding her steps to the telescope.

In the attic the telescope stood beside the open window. Daphne had found the old rocking chair and pushed it across the floor for him. She was fixing blankets and wondering if the night air would be too cold.

Don’t fuss Daphne, I’m fine, we’re fine, aren’t we?

Daphne looked away; she went to the telescope.

So, what do I do now? she asked.

Have you never listened to a word…” he began to laugh, and then it turned into a crackling rasp and Daphne was by his side, checking the oxygen cannister, making sure the valve was fully open. He was holding the mask, trying to catch his breath and Daphne kneeled down awkwardly, holding his hand, waiting for the spasm to pass, waiting for his broken lungs to filter air.

In the attic, the light grew dim, as night came on, a soft purple colour against the faded chalk white walls. Daphne checked the viewer again, she could see the moon clearly, a vast white orb, craters and tiny circles dotting the surface, scars and dust. She thought of his lungs and the way life changed, so quickly, without notice, without care.

Have you got it in the viewfinder?” he asked.

Daphne nodded.

What now?” she said eventually.

We wait,” he said.

She remembered the walk home from the park the morning after. A hot bright August morning, heavy with the promise of a scorching summer day. The dawn chorus busy, chattering in the bushes and hedgerows, her cardigan slipping from her shoulders as she walked. She was helping him by carrying the tripod.

Will I see you again? he asked, as they came to the end of her road and she nodded, knowing her heart was already lost to this tall man. She watched him walk away till he was just another figure amongst the strangers on the street.

In the attic the night air was filling the room with the heady scent of summer stock and cool breezes brushed across her shoulders. She looked at him, lying back in the rocking chair, he could be sleeping. The mask tight against his face, tiny breaths fogging up the nose piece. It had been his idea. Just a simple notion that came to him after one of the nurses explained about the oxygen valve on the tank.

Be careful with this lever, the mix needs to be within this range, too much oxygen and…,” she stopped talking, aware of the silence, the only sound, the dry rasping wheeze as he struggled to breathe.

Imagine, we put a man on the moon but we can’t fix this?” he said to Daphne later than night, but she knew him and she knew the paths his mind was travelling, alone. She argued, at first, meaningless words, tears and then the inevitable acceptance.

My terms Daphne, my terms, time is running low.”

And she knew he was right if he waited too long, life would no longer be his to decide.

The room was filling with darkness now, the moon almost fully gone, the earth’s shadow creeping slow. She looked through the viewer again, with a glassy eye, her tears dropping on the tiny screen.

Watch for me in the stars,” he whispered. “I will wait for you on the moon.”

The room was silent.

God is Weary

God is weary.

He is a weary God.

Tired and weary of being God.

God would give anything to slip

below the horizon like a piece of weather

drive a car downtown & hit the bars. He would

have wild hair needing attention and

confess a filthy transgression to a stylist in a mirror.

God would pray for this if he only knew how.

Oh, how happy he’d be as a handsome matador

thrusting a silver sword between the pointy shoulders

of a half-dead bull, thorny rose in his ever-loving

mouth, reading poems that hold the whole world in them —


God wants a mind.

He would be a God in it.

I, bird

Little things are growing broken from my lover’s skull and some time in December 2024, I wake up and realise that I am not in my body. My body is there below me but is not slumped unconscious or dead. It is living on and remembering how to be quiet at the right times. It is breathing and unaware of this complication. Of the detachment of a wild bird from its house. I, bird, do not caw in anxiety. I, crow, I, sparrow, I, eagle, I, vulture – cartwheel and leap out to peck at the flesh of tidy spaces and tidy people who are too well arranged. I am ready to have my own words and not be rejected by a form of parasite which sucks from the flesh of a heart but will not hold its secrets. Words which remind me in some new place of damp feathers and their punk-spiked scent. I can be bird that you actually like and anchor driftwood-confusion, ferry elegies and final noises. There is a sheen to the pitch-black horror of my plumage which refracts and is not terrible female. Female like mother which cuts the bloom from a stalk to make an ornamental nest and stop us going beyond. Claw your way to flight now, hope. Fan yourself out, corpse. Tell me that my sticky, wet eye is not ringing fury or the grief of a sea noise which harnesses defiance.

He’s cleared off and I’m clearing out anything that reminds me of him. Clothes, jewellery, half-filled bottles of perfume, anniversary gifts – all going into bin bags to be taken to a charity shop. It’s time to create a new me.
One item gives me pause.  
A crimson, floor-length, taffeta dress. His present to me to wear at our engagement party twenty years ago, almost to the day. He’d picked it out himself after seeing it in a shop window. It had stopped him dead in his tracks, he said. He knew it was perfect for me, knew that it would fit me like a glove – like a dress, he’d laughed, correcting himself. He was right. It was exquisite. It draped downwards from a carefully crafted shoulder strap, kissing the curves of my body. The ruffle-split front coyly revealed the side of my right leg.
I loved it the moment I saw it; it had an identity all its own. I can’t bring myself to cast it away. Even though he’d seen it, bought it, given it to me, it was meant for me. It was fate. Kismet. Karma.
But I’ve promised myself that I’m going to wipe the slate clean.
I can’t look at it as I drop it into the last bag. I tie the handles extra tight.
I pull up into a parking space outside the charity shop and drag the bags through the door, nearly splitting one or two in the process. An assistant rushes to help me take them through to the back room where they’ll be sorted.
I can’t let go of the bag containing the dress.
“Are you donating that one, too?” the assistant asks, nodding at it.
My hands disagree. Her eyebrow twitches.
“I just need to check something,” I mutter.
I try to disentangle the knot made from the handles but frustration makes my hands ineffective, frantic. I tear the top open and the bag sighs as trapped air escapes. The dress sits atop the other clothes, casting glints of vermillion, cinnabar and scarlet in the dull lighting of the shop.
“That’s stunning.” The assistant is peering over my shoulder. “We’ll put it in the display window, once we’ve washed it.”
“You mustn’t!” I gasp.
“We always wash donated clothes. Nothing personal, you understand.”
“No – I mean, it’s dry clean only. I had it done after the last time I wore it. The only time. It’s almost brand new and it’s perfectly clean.”
“Right.” She’s looking at me oddly now. “Are you sure you want to give it away? It’s so lovely, and you’re clearly attached to it –”
“I’m sure.” I sound harsher than I mean to. I hand over a shoebox as a peace offering. “These are meant to go with it.”
She shrugs. “Okay. Do you do Gift Aid?”
I’ve been shopping all day to fill my empty wardrobe and have only bought a few plain T-shirts.
Nothing looks good on me. Nothing fits.
I’ve promised myself a whole new identity, yet I can’t find one in the high-street shops. My body rejected every dress, every pair of trousers, I tried on. The less said about the jeans, the better.
I sit, swirling the red wine around my glass, conjuring the dress in my mind’s eye. Perhaps all this time it had been the key, holding my sartorial self-identity together. Now I was unanchored, cocooned in a sea of bland, monochrome cotton. 
I sleep and dream of floating in crimson waves, drowning in rose-scented shot silk. 
The next day, I drive past the charity shop. The dress is not in the window.
The next day, and the next – there’s still no sign of it.
On the fourth day, I call into the shop. The assistant I spoke to spies me from behind the counter and waves.
“Hello, again! Have you got any more gorgeous dresses to donate?”
“No, sorry. I was just wondering why my – I mean the – red dress isn’t in the window yet?”
“Ah, the lady who does the window-dressing is in tomorrow. She’ll put it up then.”
She tilts her head to one side and appraises me. “If you’ve changed your mind, there’s still time to take it back – though I’d have to charge you for it!”
She laughs.
“How much will you ask for it?”
“Probably £25.”
Seeing me bristle, she hurriedly adds, “Any more would be too pricey for this area. We don’t get many people who can afford even that, and it’s no good to us if no one buys it.”
I leave without saying goodbye, the chimes mocking me as the door swings shut.
Just before nine the next morning, I park opposite the shop and watch as the staff arrive. An unfamiliar woman steps into the display area and denudes the dummy with brutal speed before disappearing into the shop.
A couple of minutes later she’s back, holding my red dress as if it were a duster.
My heart races with indignation at her insouciance.
She’s chewing gum and popping bubbles. While handling silk. Then, she manoeuvres the material over the rigid mannequin, yanking the sides with no regard for the delicate fabric. I clutch my seatbelt tighter, reining myself from running into the shop, shoving her aside, and kidnapping the dress – dummy and all.
Once the dress is on, she completes the look with a pair of frumpy, black, court shoes, misshapen from a wide foot. Where are my sleek heels?
It’s too much to bear. I drive home, feeling like a negligent mother.
The next morning is Saturday. I lurk in my car again to see what happens. Someone will buy the dress today. This is a certainty, but I need to know who will give it a home.
People come and go throughout the morning – some delivering items in bags, others walking out with books or knick- knacks. No one’s looked at the dress and I am torn between relief and indignation.
Early afternoon: a young woman stops short in front of the window and gazes at the dress. I do a double-take; she could have been me – twenty years ago. Slim, long-legged, her creamy complexion framed by wavy, auburn hair. She pulls out her phone, takes a photo, then enters the shop.
I lock the car and slip inside after her.
Skulking behind a display of handbags, I listen as she asks the woman behind the till what size the dress is and if she can try it on. I wince as the assistant carelessly tugs the dress off the mannequin and carries it to a tiny cubicle.
Minutes later, the curtain sweeps aside and the woman emerges to admiring comments from the staff and other shoppers. The dress looks like it was made for her. She fills it in slightly different ways to me – not better, not worse, just different. The dress has moulded itself to her shape, making it look tailor-made, not off the peg.
She spies me staring and raises an eyebrow. I nod. If anyone else is going to have it, it should be her.
“One minute,” I say. I locate the shoes that were meant to go with the dress and hold them out, confident that they will fit her, without even knowing her size.
“These are meant – I mean, these will look perfect with that dress. Not the ones in the window.”
She laughs and shudders. “No, they’re hideous, aren’t they? Sorry,” she adds to the shop assistant. “They didn’t suit the dress – wrong style and colour.”
She slips my shoes over her stockinged feet and the outfit is complete. I’m looking at myself two decades ago, before everything began to crumble.  
“These are perfect!” she says. “You have such a good eye for this. Thank you!” She admires herself in the full-length mirror.  
“You’re welcome.” I’m surprised to discover that I mean it. “Is it for a special occasion?”
“My boyfriend has some sort of important work dinner tonight.” She does a slow turn, glancing at her reflection over her shoulder, her spine forming an elegant curve. “He didn’t give many details – just said to dress extra special. There was nothing unique in the shops, you know? I didn’t want to look like every other woman in the room.”
I nod. “In that dress, you’ll definitely stand out.”
“Exactly!” She grins, the her smile falters. “Wait a minute. Were you interested in this dress? I don’t want to –”
I laugh to take away the ferocity in my voice. “I’m the wrong side of forty for it. It’s perfect for you, though.”
As she changes back into her everyday clothes in the cubicle, I overhear her speaking on the phone.
“I’ve tried it on and it fits perfectly! Only worn once apparently so it’s virtually brand new. You’d never know it was preloved.”  
Preloved. I like this word. It acknowledges that the garment has an important history behind it.
My history.
I am sitting in a chair in the Astoria Hotel’s lobby, hiding behind a newspaper. I couldn’t resist seeing the dress one last time, starting a new and hopefully happier life with someone else. As Annabel had paid for the dress (she’d introduced herself in a rush of excitement, fortunately forgetting to ask me my name), she’d divulged where and when her important dinner was to be held.
There is general hustle and bustle in the lobby but no signs of any work parties. Individuals and couples check in at the desk, or stand, scrolling on their phones. There is, however, a small clutch of smartly dressed people loitering in a circle near the revolving door, staring expectantly each time it ejects someone into the hotel.
Are they waiting for Annabel?
My suspicion is confirmed immediately, as the group arranges itself into a haphazard line. The revolving door fills with swirling red and gorgeous Annabel, with her Pre-Raphaelite hair, emerald eyes and perfect teeth – is disgorged – smiling, frowning, confused.
She turns around to find her partner but he’s down on one knee, holding open an expensive box.
He must be very confident that he’s not going to be rejected.
That was my engagement dress …
The lobby falls still and silent. Even the phones don’t dare to ring.
I cannot hear the question or the answer. My ears are ringing with alarm bells of hideous recognition.
Clapping, cheering. The couple is hugging, kissing.
The colleagues – if they are that – descend on the couple. The women gather around Annabel, examining her left hand as she holds the ring finger up to the light. She’s talking even faster and louder than she was in the shop. I catch isolated words that tell a complete story: preloved, proposed, engaged.
The men surround her companion, slapping him on the back, shaking his hand, braying, “Second time lucky, eh?”
Another shouts, “And an upgrade, too, you lucky old man!”   
A waiter arrives with a bottle of champagne. There is an exuberant pop and bubbles overflow long-stemmed glasses. The couple raise a glass to each other and to their friends but my eyes are no longer on the dress or Annabel.
They’re looking at the man at her side.
Wearing the same tie and cufflinks I’d bought him for our nineteenth anniversary, a few months before he’d left me.
For the woman wearing my dress and standing in my shoes.  

Our 2023 Festival Competition Adjudicators were David Butler and Noel Monahan

Our Short Story judge was David Butler who, among his many accomplishments, was a previous winner at the Festival. Our Poetry Judge was Noel Monahan. Noel was born nearby in Granard, County Longford and is both a poet and a dramatist.

 Short Story Winners 
First PlaceBernadette FurlongBlack Mulcahy
Second PlaceSadhbh MoriartyFlat 7-Up
Third PlaceMaria FarrellHoly Saturday
Highly CommendedJohn O’Donnell41 Degrees North, 49 Degrees West
Highly CommendedJane BreenBistro 93
Highly CommendedW GoodwinThe Footbridge
 Poetry Winners 
First PlacePartridge BoswellMatryoshka
Second PlacePartridge BoswellThe Poet’s Way
Third PlaceGlen WilsonKalinka on a stroviol
Highly CommendedLucie KavanaghAbsence
Highly CommendedDanny DunneAnna
Highly CommendedEithne LannonAfter Rain

Black Mulcahy by Bernadette Furlong
– reproduced with the permission of the author.

Black Mulcahy, our grandfather, did something terrible once.
We learned about it in school. On the bus home, Eoin, my twin, took my hand and asked if it was true. I told him it might be. We were quiet at dinner. Too full of questions to eat. Ma asked what was wrong, but we knew better than to say. She did not want to know. Not really.
She sawed at her meat. Told us to eat up.
That night, in bed, I could not sleep. Just before dawn I went downstairs. Eoin padded after me. Asked if I was all right. We were nothing alike, my brother and me. A waste of twins, Ma often said. I told him it was a long time to not know something. Eoin sat with me on the couch. It sagged with the shapes of others, and we struggled to get comfortable. I wondered if Black was among them. Trapped in the upholstery. If the house remembered him better than we did. For really, we did not remember him at all. Could not. He was dead before we were born.
I can’t believe they never told us, I said. I can, Eoin whispered.
We fell asleep and Da came in soon after. He worked the nightshift at the bottling yard. Was like a bottle himself. Longnecked and delicate. Dangerous when he broke. Eoin slept on and I told him that we knew about Black. Da fingered his keys as though he might leave. Step out, into the darkness, into what he knew best. Instead, he said I should get to bed. He was pale in the hall light, his hair a mess. He didn’t like mirrors. Was tired of glass. Of endless belts that clinked and clattered. I asked him who she was. The lady Black had done the terrible thing to. He dropped his keys on the hall table. Woke Eoin. Get to bed, he said.
Eoin didn’t want to go to school the next day. Complained that he was sick. Ma clamped a hand to his forehead, turned his face this way and that. Her jaw hardened and she cuffed him. Told him to get dressed. We walked in silence down the lane. Eoin’s bag smelled of pencil shavings. Smoke and toilet floors. His pockets clacked with marbles, and I ached for him. For his quiet ways. His crooked tie. When the bus came, I boarded first. Stayed near the front. Didn’t look behind. Didn’t want to give them faces. Eoin crumpled in his seat, knees up, fingers worrying the zip of his bag. A ball of paper landed in the aisle. Another sailed past to thwack the back of a seat. The next struck my shoulder. Eoin told me to ignore them. And I did. Until they hit him. I didn’t know who threw it. It didn’t matter. They were all laughing. I walked to the back, the ball of paper a question in my hand. No one would claim it. I lashed at their smiles. Caught one in the jaw. They were on me then. A howling mess. I dug into their flesh, unlocked vessels with my mouth. Blood and bruises and the bus skidding to a stop. The driver screaming at us, pulling us apart by our hair and collars. I was thrown into my seat. Eoin looked for me, but I ignored him.
We arrived at school. The driver told us to wait and climbed heavily out. Tittering in the back. Whispers. A hiss. The promise to kill me. To kill us both. I told them to get stuffed. Someone warned them to be careful. We were Mulcahy’s after all. No telling what we might do. I was marched to the principal’s office. Principal Kennedy said he was ashamed of me. That what I had done, fighting like that, made the school look bad, made him look bad. But most of all made me look bad. It was unbecoming of a girl, he continued, to act like that. To get angry. I nodded and yes sir, kept my eyes on the carpet. He softened then. Liked me cowed. Told me he wouldn’t take the matter any further. Sent me to the nurse to get patched up. The nurse pressed a cold compress to my mouth. Told me to keep it there. Split lip, she said and made tea. I sat and watched. Swung my legs and tried not to mind the heat in my knuckles, the sizzle of my scalp. What happened? she asked. So, I told her. They know more about our family than we do, I said. The nurse opened a packet of Ginger Nuts and shook it at me. I pocketed one for later. Your father should have told you, she said. At least, some of it. I thought, she doesn’t know Da nor the shame he feels. How he started working nights to escape it. And how it followed him. How all his monsters sound like glass. I looked at her. She cleared her throat. Ellen was local, she said. Her father used to breed pigs and that’s how your grandfather, Black, met her. She was fond of him, but in a pitying sort of way, so I was told. He was older. Much older. And his wife was work. Ellen was a bit of brightness in his life. I asked the nurse how she died.
Trampled in a pigsty. It was Black who found her. I nodded. Took a moment to go over what she’d said. So, he loved her. In a way. They said he dug her up. That he stood over her corpse and shot himself. The nurse frowned and checked my face. Said I’d do. I asked for another biscuit. For Eoin. She offered the packet. Don’t smile for a few days, she said. After school, Eoin and I walked up the lane for home. He found a stick and began lashing at briars. I watched until he was red and out of breath then I gave him the biscuit in my bag. I didn’t want mine. Thought it would taste of all the wrong things. Eoin split his. Was used to things being halved. Broken. Da is strange, he said. I looked at him. Like father, like son, I thought. A family tree full of apples, only some did not fall far enough. And when they struck, they shattered like glass and hurt people. I started to run and so did Eoin. We ran though we knew we could not outrun each other. We were matched in every way. Except our faces. A sad waste.
Which one of us looked like Black?
Which one of us looked like Da?