About Irish PEN

PEN was founded by novelist Catherine Amy Dawson Scott who envisaged a dinner club where well-known writers could meet socially. The first dinner was held at the prestigious Café Royal in London in October 1921 with 41 writers in attendance, including Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy and D.H. Lawrence.

Galsworthy became PEN’s first president and persuaded a reluctant George Bernard Shaw to join. Shaw complained about the irritation of the guinea-a-year fee and told Galsworthy to take twenty guineas and make him a life member.

Lady Augusta Gregory, the dramatist, folklorist and translator, set up the first branch of Irish PEN. However Irish writers of the time proved solitary and wary of discussing their work and it wasn’t until 1934, under the auspices of Lord Longford, Sean O’Faolain and Bulmer Hobson that it began to thrive. 

Today Irish PEN is developing new initiatives to make the organisation relevant to writers of all levels of experience and genres and works with PEN International on areas of international concern to writers. The Irish PEN Lifetime Achievement Award is one of the most prestigious given to a writer in Ireland. Read more about the Award here.

We are delighted to announce that Freedom to Write that as described in our most recent newsletter, the Freedom to Write group have agreed to act as a steering committee while guiding the transition to a completely new Irish PEN. The new Irish PEN will be launched in November. An AGM will follow in the New Year when a new committee will be formed, as elected by Irish PEN members.In the meantime, the Freedom to Write Campaign will continue its support of the PEN charter through various actions, carried out in the name of Irish PEN/The Freedom to Write Campaign.

Freedom to Write, a subgroup of dedicated writers (whom you will all be familiar with) from the Word group at the Irish Writers Centre, believe, as we do, that in the current political climate, Irish PEN needs to become involved much more with PEN International’s activities, focusing on free speech and using our status as a PEN centre in a neutral country to PEN’s advantage.

Many of the Freedom to Write group are PEN members. And Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and Catherine Dunne are past Award winners. Freedom to Write will become custodians of the vital tradition, that is Irish PEN, ensuring the new organisation is built on firm ground.