John Banville’s Ancient Light was 2012’s best novel, Tana French’s Broken Harbour won the crime award and Catherine Fulvio’s Eat Like an Italian won in the new cookbook category.
Boxer Katie Taylor took home gold in the sports category for My Olympic Dream.
Joseph O’Connor presented the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award to Jennifer Johnston, “a wonderful influence and example to several generations of Irish writers.”
He said the truthfulness and integrity of her work has spoken to him since he was a teenager.
“There’s an honesty and integrity of purpose in her work that all of us respond to. Empathy is at the heart of everything Jennifer has ever written,” he said.
Johnston’s How Many Miles to Babylon has been a popular choice for students since it was added to the revised Leaving Certificate English syllabus.
Johnston said she was astonished to be chosen for the award.
At 82, she has just finished a new novel, but worries for the future of books and bookshops.
“I love books, but I don’t love bits of computer... I can’t believe people read them the same way, I love the way the pages turn. I love the fact that a second-hand book has got a history,” she said, urging young people especially to read.
“When I’m dead there are going to be books on people’s shelves, I hope,” she said, and described The Spinning Heart, which won the best newcomer award for Donal Ryan as “the best first novel I’ve read for years”.
“He’s going to be really great one day. He just has this love affair with words, it’s marvellous,” she said.
The memoirs of powerful women were also recognised, Mary O’Rourke’s Just Mary taking the John Murray Show Listeners’ Choice award and Edna O’Brien’s memoir Country Girl winning the non-fiction category.
Oliver Jeffers and Eoin Colfer took the junior and senior children’s awards and the late Maeve Binchy’s A Week In Winter won the popular fiction award.
The Atlas of the Great Irish Famine edited by John Crowley, William J Smyth, Mike Murphy and published by Cork University Press won the Best Irish-published Book of the Year at last night’s awards.
The book which was launched in September has already been reprinted three times.
Included, are case studies of famine emigrants in cities such as Liverpool, Glasgow, New York and Toronto. The Atlas features 400 images and 200 maps and aims to afford a greater understanding of the famine and its impact.
Derek Hughes, chairman of the Bord Gáis Energy Awards committee, said 2012 was a year in which the publishing industry “demonstrated its loyalty to the primacy of the written word”, and predicted that “digital and paper books will co-exist in harmony”.
The Bridge Bookshop in Wicklow was named Bookshop of the Year.
In the children’s categories, Oliver Jeffers’ This Moose Belongs to Me was the junior winner, while Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian won the senior prize.