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Books to Read Before Going to Ireland

Planning a trip? Get a flavour for the country with our list of the best books to read about Ireland.

Fiction

leon uris trinity Trinity by Leon Uris

Set at the turn of the 20th century, Trinity tells the story of intertwining families and a love story that crosses the social and religious boundaries between them: The Larkins are Catholic hill farmers from Donegal. The MacLeods are Protestants shipyard workers from Belfast.

The book centres on Conor Larkin, a young idealistic Catholic rebel. Conor falls for a valiant and beautiful Protestant girl who defies her heritage to join the Republican cause. Though fictional, the historical background to Trinity is brilliantly researched and makes for a captivating read.

View Trinity by Leon Uris on Amazon

The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle
roddy doyle barrytown

Written in colloquial, foul-mouthed slang, Roddy Doyle’s trilogy capture the essence of 1980s and 1990s Dublin. All three have been made into movies. All three are hilarious!

The Commitments is a raucous tale about the coming together (and subsequent falling apart) of an Irish soul band. The Van portrays the 1990 World Cup through the eyes of two friends selling fish’n’chips from a food truck. The Snapper covers the shame and scandal caused by a one night stand and unwanted pregnancy.

View The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle on Amazon 

Non-Fiction

Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony HawksRound Ireland with a Fridge  – Tony Hawks

Hitchhiking is not everyone’s cup of tea. Now imagine a large, kitchen appliance coming along for the ride!

Englishman Tony Hawks lost a drunken bet and found himself in this ridiculous situation.

It’s a bit crazy. It’s very funny. But isn’t that the Emerald Isle in a nutshell? This really is one of the books to read about Ireland.

View Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks on The Book Depository

Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

anglea's ashes

Later made into a successful film, Angela’s Ashes is the first of three memoirs by Irish-American Frank McCourt. It opens with the author’s early childhood in Brooklyn, where he was born. But the family returns to Limerick. According to McCourt, they were the only family heading in that particular direction – as ‘anyone with anyone with any sense’ was heading the other way.

Even as the family struggle with crippling poverty and alcoholism, the author lifts the grim subject humour and charm lift

View Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt on Amazon 


History & Society

Dublin – Edward Rutherfurd

Spanning 1100 years of history, Edward Rutherfurd merges real life with fictional writing. He succeeds in transporting the reader back to a bygone era.

Dublin is peppered with interesting customs, conflicts and events. Maeve Binchy described it as “a well-researched soap opera”.

View Dublin by Edward Rutherfurd on Amazon 

The Pope’s Children: Ireland’s New Elite by David McWilliams

A standout on any list of the best books to Ireland, economist David McWilliams helps explain modern Ireland.

Between Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979, and the Celtic Tiger years of the early 21st century, Ireland transformed itself. Formerly a rural, religious society, Ireland has been urbanised, modernised and, arguably, globalised over a very short space of time.

View The Pope’s Children: Ireland’s New Elite by David McWilliams on Amazon

Folklore & Mythology

The Táin translated by Thomas Kinsella

The Táin Thomas Kinsella

This epic tells the story of a great cattle raid by the armies of Queen Medb (pronounced May-uv).

The great hero of the tale is Cúchulainn, a figure central to Irish (but also Scottish and Manx) mythology.

Thomas Kinsella’s evocative and energetic interpretation of The Táin brings to light the savagery and strangeness of early Christian Ireland. A great choice if you’d like to dive deeper into Irish mythology.

View The Táin by Thomas Kinsella

A Treasury of Irish Folklore by Padraic Colum

A Treasury of Irish Folklore Padraic Colum

Drawn from legend, ballad and song, this is a great introduction to Irish folklore.

In an age before TV and radio, storytelling around the hearth lent itself to a continued oral tradition and a reputation for Irish poets, writers, wit and wisdom.

First printed in 1944, A Treasury of Irish Folklore is one of our top picks among the best books to read about Ireland. It’s full of Irish humour!

“If …[those girls] were hanged for their beauty, they’d die innocent.”

View A Treasury of Irish Folklore by Padraic Colum on Amazon 

Food

Simply Delicious: The Classic Collection by Darina Allen

Darina Allen is Ireland’s answer to Julia Child; a pioneer, who has helped reinvent Irish cuisine over the course of her career.

Everyone in Ireland grew up with Allen’s Simply Delicious series of cookbooks. This modern version pulls together her favourite recipes, updating them for the 21st century.

If you’re interested in Irish food, it’s certainly one of the best books to read about Ireland and it’s cuisine.

View Simply Delicious the Classic Collection by Darina Allen

Feature image by Paul Schafer on Unsplash

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