The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has congratulated the Wexford-born author, John Banville, on winning the Man Booker Prize for the novel, The Sea. 

Mr Ahern said Mr Banville was a deserving winner who had dedicated his adult life to his art. 

Mr Banville was awarded the £50,000 prize at London's Guildhall last night.

Mr Banville was a surprise winner of what is considered one of Britain's most prestigious literary awards. The bookies' favourite had been Julian Barnes.

But in a close-run contest, the judges agreed to award the 2005 prize to Mr Banville's novel, which they described as 'a masterly study of grief, memory and love recollected'.

The narrator in the novel is a middle aged man mourning the death of his wife as he returns to the seaside town where he spent a childhood summer.

The Sea is Mr Banville's fourteenth novel. The 59-year-old writer had previously been on the Booker shortlist in 1989 for his novel The Book of Evidence.

The last Irish writer to win the prize was Roddy Doyle in 1993.

The Man Booker winner is guaranteed a massive boost in sales.