50 Best Irish Books You Should Read This Month

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March 17th, 2010

There’s a whole lot more to Ireland than four leaf clovers and Blarney Stones, so use this month’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as a chance to delve a little deeper into Irish culture, history and art. Here are 50 great Irish books that will help you learn more about the people and the country and provide a free education on everything Irish for both the more knowledgeable and the total newbie to the subject.

Poetry

Ireland has a long and rich history of great poetry, and you can read some of the best in these works.

  1. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats by William Butler Yeats: Take a look at this book to read works by Nobel prize-winning poet and dramatist Yeats, whose work and activism played a large part in the literary revival of Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  2. Collected Poems: Austin Clarke by Austin Clarke: Try out this book to learn more about this poet, whose Gaelic-inspired works were a product of the generation of poets after Yeats.
  3. Poems and Versions by Brian Coffey: This book was Coffey’s last major publication and helped cement his place as one of the leading Irish Modernists.
  4. Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney: Heaney is a Nobel Prize-winning poet and writer, and this collection of poetry is a great introduction to his writing.
  5. Selected Poems by Patrick Kavanagh: Often regarded as one of the best poets of the 20th century, Kavanagh’s poems won him many accolades. Check out this book to see some of his best work.
  6. Portrait Of The Artist As An Abominable Snowman by Gabriel Rosenstock: While much of his poetry is in Irish, in this book you’ll find a selection of English language poetry.
  7. New Collected Poems by Eavan Boland: Boland has received numerous awards for her poetry and you can find a selection of her more recent works in this volume.
  8. Poems 1968-1998 by Paul Muldoon: This Irish poet is well-known for his work, garnering a Pulitzer Prize and a T.S. Eliot Prize for his poems. This book provides an excellent overview of his work.
  9. Collected Poems Of George William Russell by George William Russell: Often writing under the pseudonym AE, Russell’s work has been popular with poetry enthusiasts since the early 20th century.
  10. Matter of Fact: Poems by Eamon Grennan: This collection of poems put out in 2008 can be a great introduction to this work of this modern Irish poet.

Plays

Learn a little more about Irish drama and its impact through these great works.

  1. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde: This play set in Victorian England is still popular today for the humor it displays in satirizing the hypocrisy of Victorian society.
  2. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett: While this play may not be for everyone, it was voted the "the most significant English language play of the 20th century" and is one of the most prominent works of the Theater of the Absurd.
  3. She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith: This comic play is still a popular work to study and enact today, one of the few works from the 18th century to carry well into the modern age.
  4. The Playboy of the Modern World by John Millington Synge: If nothing else, this play is worth reading to see the material that caused riots when it debuted at the Abbey Theater in 1907.
  5. The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey: This play focuses on characters in the Irish Citizen’s Army and takes it’s title from their flag.
  6. The Shaughraun by Dion Boucicault: Read this play about fugitive and a rival, widely popular in when it was released in 1874.
  7. Translations by Brian Friel: Written in 1980, this play deals with issues of language and culture in Ireland.
  8. The Steward of Christendom by Sebastian Barry: This modern play is about a man who was loyal to the British during the Anglo-Irish War and the ensuing punishments he receives for his choice.
  9. Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill: Make sure to read this play, as it is consider a masterwork of Irish drama and O’Neill won a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for the work.
  10. John Bull’s Other Island by George Bernard Shaw: Shaw is one of Ireland’s best known playwrights, and this particular play is a comedy, and is often one of Shaw’s most overlooked works despite being wildly popular at the time it was released.

Classics

Many classic novels were written by Irish authors. Here is a sampling to get you started.

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce: While it is notoriously hard to read, this book rewards those who persevere, winning the Irish writer Joyce a memorable place in modernist literature.
  2. The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen: This story published in 1929 details the fictional events at a country mansion during the Irish War of Independence.
  3. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce: Those who struggled with Ulysses will have an equally difficult time with this work by Joyce, written in an experimental style that makes it hard to understand. Nonetheless, reading it will make you not only look smarter but actually be smarter as well.
  4. Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor: Check out this historical novel set in 1847 to learn more about the hardships of the Potato Famine.
  5. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift: This satire and parody is a fun read for young people and adults alike.
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: While written for children, this book still holds a lot of philosophical and spiritual meaning for adults.
  7. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien: Those who want to delve into O’Brien’s oeuvre will find this novel one of his best, with critics often calling it the best and most sophisticated examples of metafiction.
  8. Dracula by Bram Stoker: If you’re looking for a spookier story why not pick up this vampire classic?
  9. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne: These fun novels follow the life of Tristram Shandy and employ copious amounts of bawdy humor.
  10. Amongst Women by John McGahern: In this novel you’ll read the story of a bitter, old IRA veteran and the fear he strikes into his family who both love and are terrified of him.
  11. The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien: Released in 1960, this novel was popular at the time and later made into a movie, telling the tale of two small town girls who set out to find their fates in the big city.
  12. The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan: This historical novel brings into vivid clarity the events of the brief union of the French and the Irish during the Irish War of Independence.

Contemporary Fiction

Check out these more modern works to see what’s coming out of Ireland today.

  1. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt: Many are familiar with this stunning memoir of poverty, starvation and struggle written by author Frank McCourt.
  2. Everything in this Country Must by Colum McCann: Check out this book to hear the story of a group of teenagers dealing with growing up and the fear inspired by the political climate in Northern Ireland.
  3. The Walled Garden by Catherine Dunne: Released in 2000, this book tells the story of woman who has returned home for the first time in many years to care for her dying mother.
  4. Beyond by Michael Foley: Set in the 1960s, this book follows one man as he gets caught up in the liberation of the sexual revolution happening in the era.
  5. A Wild People by Hugh Leonard: This novel is the first by the Tony Award winning playwright Leonard.
  6. Dancing With Minnie the Twig by Mogue Doyle: Readers will find a fresh take on tales of poor, Irish village life in this novel.
  7. Undertow by John Deane: This novel isn’t always an easy read as many tragedies befall the characters living on a small Irish island, but hope, perseverance and love still abound in the story to make it a worthwhile read.
  8. Any Other Time by John Trolan: Here you’ll find a novel set in the underworld of Dublin, perfect for those who want a read that addresses a more modern issue in Ireland.
  9. Big Mouth by Blanaid McKinney: These short stories have come out to much acclaim and are a great way to read Irish fiction without having to commit to a novel.
  10. The Gingerbread Woman by Jennifer Johnston: In this novel, a chance meeting changes the lives of a man and a woman with damaged pasts.

Non-Fiction

These books are a great way to not only see the work of Irish authors but to learn about Irish history and landscape as well.

  1. The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal and the Search for Peace by Tim Pat Coogan: This book offers information and history on the nearly 25 years of violence between North and South that shook Ireland.
  2. The IRA by Tim Pat Coogan: This book on the IRA is considered by many to be the definitive one on the subject and as such is a required read for those hoping to learn more about the group and the history that surrounds them.
  3. The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923 by J.C. Beckett: You’ll find a great historical survey of Irish history in this book, perfect for those with little knowledge of the subject.
  4. Modern Ireland 1600-1972 by R.F. Foster: This sweeping history of Ireland is a great read for scholars and novices alike.
  5. Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia by David Fitzpatrick: This book puts a personal face on the many people who immigrated from Ireland to Australia from 1843 to 1906.
  6. Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA by Richard English: If you’re still curious about the IRA and the struggles of Northern Ireland, try out this well-reviewed book.
  7. Connemara: Listening to the Wind by Tim Robinson: In a similar vein to Thoreau’s Walden this novel takes readers out into the wild to appreciate the true beauty the natural world of Ireland has to offer.
  8. Stepping Stones by Seamus Heaney and Dennis O’Driscoll: Learn more about the amazing poet and playwright Seamus Heaney through this award-winning interview.

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