Janitor Wins Literature Award From The University She’s Paid To Clean

Caitriona Lally has won the Rooney Prize for Literature from Trinity College Dublin, the same university where she works as a janitor.

The Rooney Prize Is For Irish Literature, Writer Who Shows Great Promise

Caitríona Lally is proud of her work as a janitor.

She cleans room at Trinity College Dublin because it works for her life as a mom, wife, and writer.

Any writer will tell you that just because you get your first book published, doesn’t mean that will cover all the bills.

That’s what Lally found out after her first book, “Eggshells,” was published in 2015.

Amazon calls “Eggshells,” A whimsical, touching debut about loneliness, friendship and hope…

 Vivian doesn’t feel like she fits in – and never has. As a child, she was so whimsical that her parents told her she was “left by fairies.” Now, living alone in Dublin, the neighbors treat her like she’s crazy, her older sister condescends to her, social workers seem to have registered her as troubled, and she hasn’t a friend in the world.

So, she decides it’s time to change her life: She begins by advertising for a friend. Not just any friend. She wants one named Penelope.

Meanwhile, she roams the city, mapping out a new neighborhood every day, seeking her escape route to a better world, the other world her parents told her she came from.

And then one day someone named Penelope answers her ad for a friend. And from that moment on, Vivian’s life begins to change.

Debut author Caitriona Lally offers readers an exhilaratingly fresh take on the Irish love for lyricism, humor, and inventive wordplay in a book that is, in itself, deeply charming, and deeply moving.

The Washington Post reports Lally has worked as a janitor at Trinity College for the last three and a half years.

It’s the same college she graduated from.

The same college that gives out the Rooney Prize for Literature each year. It goes to a writer under 40 who shows great promise and exceptional promise.

Lally told Trinity College that winning the award is the happiest shock of her life, especially, since she had been having a tough day when the phone call came.

Like most days, she’d been up since 4:45 am. Off to clean at the school and back home to care for her baby daughter who was being particularly fussy.

Then there’s this–writers can’t apply for the award. The prize committee selects the nominees. The Washington Post reports that over the years have become some of Ireland’s best-known writers, including Anne Enright and Frank McGuiness.

Caitriona Lally has won the Rooney Prize for Literature from Trinity College Dublin, the same university where she works as a janitor.
Caitriona Lally has won the Rooney Prize for Literature from Trinity College Dublin, the same university where she works as a janitor. Credit: Washington Post, Eion Rafferty.

Along with the great honor and publicity, Lally will receive a prize of 10,000 euros, which works out to about $11,500.

The benefactor of the prize is Peter Rooney, who took over from his uncle, Dan Rooney, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland and chairman of the Steelers, who died last year.

Ms. Lally said she plans to use the prize money to pay her bills and provide day care for her daughter, as well as buy a water tank for her attic.

How could you not love this woman for keeping it real?

That includes her appreciation for her job as a janitor.

She tells the Washington Post, it’s actually a great job for someone trying to be a writer.  She’d worked as a copywriter before, but found she was burned out from being in front of her computer screen when it came time to work on her own projects.

Lally is finishing up her second novel and says she has no plans to give up her cleaning job. It’s not stressful and there’s a certain rhythm and solitude to it. 

“It’s very hard to write if you’re emotionally drained after work, or have a job that you dread,” she said. “I know that cleaning is some people’s vision of hell, but it works for me. The bills must be paid, and until that six-figure sum comes a-knocking, everyone needs a day job.”

Something tells me, that big pay day might be coming very soon.

Congratulations, Ms. Lally.

For sticking with your dream.

For doing what it takes to pay the bills and raise a family.

For being proud of your work.

Have you had a job you’re proud of that others might not have appreciated?  Please share in the Comments section below.

Every single bit of it.

Daryn Kagan giving her TED Talk at TEDxBigSky. How To Watch The News And Get Inspired.

If you enjoy this story, you might want to check out my recent TED Talk, “How To Watch The News And Get Inspired.”

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Janitor Wins Literature Award From The University She’s Paid To Clean

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