People often say the Irish are the best story-tellers in the world, but coming from an Irish family myself, it wouldn’t be fair to me to comment! There are very many Irish authors I love, and considering Ireland is such a small island, there do seem to be an extraordinary amount of brilliant books and writers to come from this country, from Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, to Roddy Doyle and Edna O’Brien.
Today is St Patrick’s Day, and to celebrate the day I’ve put together a list of 9 brilliant books by Irish writers I’ve been reading recently. There is something for every taste here, but to be honest, I would recommend trying every single book from the list below. They are all wonderful books by Irish writers, and I’ve loved all of them.
My Irish granddad was a great lover of words and reading and he was also a writer himself, writing mainly about his life in Dublin and his life as an immigrant in Manchester. This is a photo of my granddad (a handsome fellow, as my grandma called him :) ) standing behind my mum (the little girl in the dress) and my great-uncle, who has my auntie in his arms. They are outside my great-grandma’s house in a village near Dublin. My granddad and his daughters are dressed in their best for the visit. It is a lovely scene for me, and brings back memories of my gentle and funny grandfather.
Today, besides reading some of my favourite books, I’ll be watching the Irish rugby team and rooting for them in an exciting match against England. I hope you enjoy a great St Paddy’s Day, wherever you are, and that you enjoy looking throughmy list of books.
The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor
Summer, 1921. Eight-year-old Lucy Gault clings to the glens and woods above Lahardane – the home her family is being forced to abandon. She knows the Gaults are no longer welcome in Ireland and that danger threatens. Lucy, however, is headstrong and decides that somehow she must force her parents into staying. But the path she chooses ends in disaster. One chance event, unwanted and unexpected, will blight the lives of the Gaults for years to come and bind each of them in different ways to this one moment in time, to this wild stretch of coast . . .
Norah Webster, by Colm Tóibín
It is the late 1960s in Ireland. Nora Webster is living in a small town, looking after her four children, trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. She is fiercely intelligent, at times difficult and impatient, at times kind, but she is trapped by her circumstances, and waiting for any chance which will lift her beyond them.
Slowly, through the gift of music and the power of friendship, she finds a glimmer of hope and a way of starting again. As the dynamic of the family changes, she seems both fiercely self-possessed but also a figure of great moral ambiguity, making her one of the most memorable heroines in contemporary fiction.
The portrait that is painted in the years that follow is harrowing, piercingly insightful, always tender and deeply true. Colm Tóibín’s Nora is a character as resonant as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary and Nora Webster is a novel that illuminates our own lives in a way that is rare in literature. Its humanity and compassion forge an unforgettable reading experience.
Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry
After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Then when a young Indian girl crosses their path, the possibility of lasting happiness seems within reach, if only they can survive.
The Green Road, by Anne Enright
From internationally acclaimed author Anne Enright comes a shattering novel set in a small town on Ireland’s Atlantic coast. The Green Road is a tale of family and fracture, compassion and selfishness—a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we strive to fill them.
Spanning thirty years, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigans, a family on the cusp of either coming together or falling irreparably apart. As they grow up, Rosaleen’s four children leave the west of Ireland for lives they could have never imagined in Dublin, New York, and Mali, West Africa. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.
The Woman Who Stole My Life, by Marian Keyes
‘Name: Stella Sweeney.
Recent life events: dramatic.’
One day, sitting in traffic, married Dublin mum Stella Sweeney attempts a good deed. The resulting car crash changes her life.
For she meets a man who wants her telephone number (for the insurance, it turns out). That’s okay. She doesn’t really like him much anyway (his Range Rover totally banjaxed her car).
But in this meeting is born the seed of something which will take Stella thousands of miles from her old life, turning an ordinary woman into a superstar, and, along the way, wrenching her whole family apart.
Is this all because of one ill-advised act of goodwill? Was meeting Mr Range Rover destiny or karma? Should she be grateful or hopping mad?
For the first time real, honest-to-goodness happiness is just within her reach. But is Stella Sweeney, Dublin housewife, ready to grasp it?
Star of the Sea, by Joseph O’Connor
In the bitter winter of 1847, The Star of the Sea sets sail from Ireland for New York. Amongst the passengers are a maidservant with a devastating secret, bankrupt Lord Merridith and his family, an aspiring novelist and a maker of revolutionary ballads. All in search of a new home in the Promised land, each is yet connected more deeply than they can possibly know… and a camouflaged killer is stalking the decks, hungry for vengeance and absolution.
Light a Penny Candle,by Maeve Binchy
Evacuated from Blitz-battered London, shy and genteel Elizabeth White is sent to stay with the boisterous O’Connors in Kilgarret, Ireland. It is the beginning of an unshakeable bond between Elizabeth and Aisling O’Connor, a friendship which will endure through twenty turbulent years of change and chaos, joy and sorrow, soaring dreams and searing betrayals…
Writing with warmth, wit and great compassion, Maeve Binchy tells a magnificent story of the lives and loves of two women, bound together in a friendship that nothing could tear asunder – not even the man who threatened to come between them forever.
The Captains and the Kings, by Jennifer Johnston
In County Wicklow, south of Dublin, Mr. Prendergast lives alone in the Big House of his village. A remnant of the long-gone days of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, Prendergast’s mansion has been witness to many of the most important years of his life, including his childhood, marked by his mother’s open preference for his older brother, Alexander. Following Alexander’s death in the First World War, Prendergast traveled the world, returning home decades later to a greatly changed place. Now in the 1970s, his wife and daughter are both gone, leaving the house an empty monument to his isolation and melancholy. But when the young, redheaded Diarmid arrives on Prendergast’s doorstep, the boy’s thrill at the house’s history sparks an unlikely friendship – one that revives in Prendergast a sense of vitality and sets in motion a final, fateful confrontation with the outside world he’d shunned for so many years.
The Undertaking, by Audrey Magee
A soldier on the Russian Front marries a photograph of a woman he has never met. Hundreds of miles away in Berlin, the woman marries a photograph of the soldier. It is a contract of business rather than love. When the newlywed strangers finally meet, however, passion blossoms and they begin to imagine a life together under the bright promise of Nazi Germany. But as the tide of war turns and Allied enemies come ever closer, the couple find themselves facing the terrible consequences of being ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt…
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I hope you’ve enjoyed my choice of Irish writers. If you’ve read any of these books, or if you have any other recommendations of Irish authors to try, I’d love to hear from you. Happy St Patrick’s Day!