Essential reading list for a trip to the island of Ireland

Essential reading list for a trip to the island of Ireland

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Posted Sun 16 Apr 2023 7:11 PM
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Before embarking on a trip to the island of Ireland, it can be a great idea to read up on the history, culture, and literature of the island and its people. Not only will this help you better understand the places you visit, but it will also give you a deeper appreciation for the people, traditions, and stories that make this island such a fascinating destination. Moreover, from the poetry of W.B. Yeats to the plays of Samuel Beckett, Ireland has produced some of the world's most celebrated writers. Reading their work before your trip can help you appreciate our literary history and culture.

To help you get started, we've compiled a list of essential readings that are sure to pique your interest and get you excited about your upcoming journey, or alternatively to contextualise and provide a deep dive into the places you might have already visited.

If you’d like to go further and learn more about the island’s rich literary traditions, don’t miss a trip to The Museum of Literature Ireland which features immersive exhibitions of Ireland’s most influential writers and poets alongside unique literary artifacts, including the first-ever copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. If you’re in Dublin don’t forget to explore some of its most famous literary pubs to get a real sense of following in the footsteps of the city’s authors, poets, and fictional characters.

There are also a number of fantastic literary festivals, including the Mountains to the Sea Festival (March), the Dublin Writers Festival (May), the International Literature Festival (May), and the Dublin Book Festival (November). Just outside the city, the village of Dalkey also lights up in literary style with the Dalkey Book Festival every June.

The Seamus Heaney HomePlace is a purpose-built arts and literary centre, which celebrates the life and work of the late poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney, and is also not to be missed.

  • James Joyce: Dubliners and Ulysses - No reading list about Ireland would be complete without mentioning the works of James Joyce. These two are probably his most famous works, offering a deep and complex exploration of Irish culture, history, and identity. To get even better to grips with the person of James Joyce, don’t miss the James Joyce Centre or enjoying a meal in the Davy Byrnes pub after reading Ulysses.

  • W.B. Yeats: "The Tower", "The Winding Stair and Other Poems", "Collected Poems". W.B. Yeats is perhaps the most famous Irish poet of all time. His work explores Irish mythology, politics, and spirituality. "The Tower" and "The Winding Stair and Other Poems" are two of his most famous collections. Yeats was particularly inspired by the landscapes and stories of Sligo, and a new signposted touring route now allows visitors to explore some of the locations best known and loved by the poet.

  • 101 Things You Didn't Know About Irish History: The People, Places, Culture, and Tradition of The Emerald Isle by Ryan Hackney, Amy Hackney Blackwell, & Garland Kimmer: This book is packed with fascinating facts and stories about Irish history, culture, and traditions, making it a great introduction to the island of Ireland.

  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt: this Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir tells the story of the author's childhood in poverty-stricken Limerick in the 1930s and 40s, offering a glimpse into the hardships and struggles faced by many Irish families during this time.

  • McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland by Pete McCarthy - Part travelogue, part memoir, this book chronicles the author's journey across Ireland in search of his roots, offering a unique perspective on the country and its people.

  • Dublin: The Epic Novel by Edward Rutherfurd: This sweeping historical novel follows the lives of several families over the course of 1,500 years, offering a fascinating glimpse into the history and evolution of Ireland's capital city.

  • How the Irish civilization saved the World by Thomas Cahill: This book explores the contributions of Irish monks and scholars to the development of Western civilization, offering a unique and fascinating perspective on Ireland's rich cultural heritage.

  • In Search of Ancient Ireland by Carmel McCaffrey: originally published as a companion book to a TV series by the same name, as a standalone book, it’s a great introductory journey through Ireland's ancient past, exploring the myths, legends, and archaeological sites that make this island such a rich and fascinating destination.

  • The Graves Are Walking by John Kelly: This book tells the story of the Great Famine in Ireland, offering a detailed and often harrowing account of one of the country's darkest periods.

  • The County Girls by Edna O’Brian - This classic novel tells the story of two young women growing up in rural Ireland in the 1950s, offering a vivid and compelling portrait of life in a changing country.

  • The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy: Set in Dublin in the 1950s, this novel follows the misadventures of a young American student as he navigates the city's bohemian subculture. It explores the themes of hedonism, disillusionment, and the search for meaning in life.

  • Waiting for Godot and Endgame, by Samuel Beckett: As one of Ireland's most famous writers, his famous plays are classics of the absurdist theatre. These works explore themes of existentialism and the human condition.

  • The poems "Death of a Naturalist", "North", and "Field Work" by Seamus Heaney : Another famous Irish poet, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. "Death of a Naturalist", "North", and "Field Work" are all excellent collections to explore his work.

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker: While Bram Stoker was born in Ireland, Dracula itself is not set there. Nonetheless, this Gothic classic is still worth reading before your trip to Ireland. Stoker's novel has had a lasting impact on popular culture and is a great introduction to the horror genre. The famous author and his work is also celebrated at the fabulous Bram Stoker Festival held every October.

  • "The Picture of Dorian Gray", "The Importance of Being Earnest", "Lady Windermere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde:  Whilst his wit, satire, and style of writing continue to inspire and entertain people worldwide, Wilde never forgot his Irish roots and was proud of his Irish heritage, often referencing Irish culture, history, and mythology in his works.

  • Circle of Friends, Tara Road, and Evening Class by Maeve Binchy: A popular Irish author known for her charming and heart-warming stories, these are all great options to get a sense of her work.

  • The Irish Century Novels series by Morgan Llywelyn: This series spans 5 books and covers the period from the Easter Rising of 1916 to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The books follow the lives of fictional and real characters who are caught up in the tumultuous events of Irish history. Llywelyn's other works such as Pride of Lions delve deeper into history and the retelling of the legends and heroes of Ireland’s Celtic traditions such as the once High Kind of Ireland, Brian Boru.

  • The Commitments, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle: A contemporary Irish writer known for his sharp wit and realistic portrayals of working-class Dublin, The Commitments, is perhaps his most famous work and tells the story of a group of young musicians trying to make it big.

  • The Country Girls Trilogy, by Edna O'Brien: a celebrated Irish author known for her explorations of Irish identity, sexuality, and politics, The Country Girls Trilogy is a coming-of-age story set in rural Ireland.

  • The works of Jonathan Swift such as Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, or A Tale of a Tub. Jonathan Swift is an 18th-century Irish author who is best known for his satirical novels which prove to be a great introduction to the genre while exploring themes of politics, society, and human nature.

  • Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard: This young adult novel tells the story of two teenagers from opposite sides of the sectarian divide who fall in love. It explores the themes of friendship, loyalty, and the impact of violence on young people.

  • Milkman by Anna Burns: This award-winning novel is set during the Troubles and tells the story of a young woman who becomes the target of unwanted attention from a local paramilitary.

  • Erin's Diary: An Official Derry Girls Book by Lisa McGee: Based on the hit TV show Derry Girls, this book provides a humorous and insightful look at life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It explores the themes of friendship, family, and the power of laughter in difficult times.

    What are some of your favourite Irish books and Irish authors? Share your recommendations with us below!

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Posted Fri 5 May 2023 10:42 AM
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Even though I'm no expert on Irish Literature I think these books are also great to know a bit more about Ireland, the Irish, and their importance to the world, such as:

5. Normal People by Sally Rooney: the great literary inspiration for the also fantastic hit TV series with Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones.

4. The Forgotten Irish who Changed the Face of Latin America by Tim Fanning: on the key role that Ireland and Irish soldiers had in the independence of Latin America.

3. The Great Book of Ireland: Interesting Stories, Irish History & Random Facts About Ireland, by Bill O'Neill: Just an awesome fun facts book on all the traditions and little intricacies of Ireland and Irish people.

2. Irish National Cinema, by Ruth Barton: the best book ever on Irish cinema.

1. How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill: a great history book on the untold story of Ireland's role in maintaining Western culture while the Dark Ages settled in Europe.

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