9 Best Books About Ireland Update 05/2022

When I was a child, my family moved from Toronto to Ireland, where we lived in a planned, Soviet-style town in the south of County Clare. I spent a lot of my early years there. There were waves of people who came from cities in Chile and South Africa or from cities in Belfast, New York, and other places around the world. In this mixed-race place, where tourists live, we became sarcastic when we saw small details from the past. For me, I learned more about Ireland’s political, historical, and cultural landscapes through its literature. People like Wilde and Yeats gave us a look back at the past. More modern writers like Roddy Doyle and Flann O’Brien gave us a look at lesser-known Irish voices. Before the famine, Ireland was a great place for writing. So I chose books that show how the country’s literature has changed over time.

The Silent People by Walter Macken

“Then, at the famine funerals, the women weep, their thin screams piercing the sky.”
The second book in Walter Macken’s epic trilogy came out in 1962, and it tells the story of the years leading up to the famine in 1847. When Duane meets the son of a landowner at the start of the book Dualta, his life changes for the worse. It is set in a time when Catholics still had the scars from the last blight. They worked on farms and paid high rents and tithes to corrupt landlords who wanted a violent eviction. They speak through Dualta, which is the voice of these people who don’t speak. As he travels south along Ireland’s west coast, the sparkling waters of the Atlantic, stone cottages built into the landscape, and blue turf smoke keep his spirit alive. He wants to meet “The Liberator,” Daniel O’Connell, before Black 1847 eats the county’s people. Deirdre Purcell’s book about falling in love with a dancer is called Falling For A Dancer.
Today was blue and bright, with the sun beating down on the sea of dark clothes worn by people who were sad.

Deirdre Purcell’s 1993 book about repression and isolation shows that death can be a happy thing, too. When Elizabeth Sullivan reads about the windswept beauty of West Cork’s Beara peninsula, she falls in love with the ocean-shaped landscape as much as she does with the young dancer, Daniel McCarthy, who is on the same school trip. A loveless marriage and an unwanted pregnancy in 1930s Ireland meant that most unmarried mothers were sent to the Magdalene Laundries. Happiness is found in the muddy fields beneath the shadow of a mountain. The book was written soon before we saw all of the terrible things that the high walls of the Magdalene Laundries and Industrial Schools had hidden from us.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Our only dry place was the church, where the rain washed us away.

Limerick’s Georgian avenues and small medieval quarter have finally come out of the dark streets of Frank McCourt’s poverty-stricken 1930s childhood to become a lively place to visit. This heartfelt memoir and tribute to his mother, Angela, was written in 1996 and won him a Pulitzer Prize. It showed how he lived in a tenement on the edge of Limerick’s society and how he tried to stay alive. McCourt didn’t know that Richard Harris and Terry Wogan were growing up in different parts of town, without the rainy-day backstory of death, hunger, and poverty. Head to O’Connell Avenue and go to South’s Bar to see where Frank’s father drank away their family’s small money.

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien

“At the far end of the lake, there was a belt of poplar trees that kept the world out.”

Edna O’Brien, a County Clare author, wrote a ground-breaking novel in 1960 that gave a voice to Irish women’s liberation, and the parochial outrage and censorship on its publication made it a hit. To start with, this book is about Cait Brady and her mother, Baba Brennan; they go from living a drab life in Limerick County to living in Dublin, which is full of color. There were older men, like the predatory Mister Gentleman, who climbed up the pages and took advantage of the country girls’ desire to be freed. Powerful people who lived in that time and place didn’t like this book because they couldn’t understand why women might want more than to be domestic servants.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

There was a haze that made it hard to see the line between the sky and the horizon.

It was Colm Tóibin’s Costa Award-winning book, which came out in 2009. It tells the story of an immigrant who is changed by the loneliness and freedom of her journey. It was in the 1950s when Eilis Lacey went back home to Ireland, and her married life in New York became lost in a cloud of fog across the ocean. She adapts to the pace of life in County Wexford and starts to see Jim Farrell with new eyes. Brooklyn, on the other hand, ends up in a cozy Irish coastal cocoon. She has to choose between her two worlds, and it’s not easy.

The Green Road by Anne Enright

“It was getting dark now, but there was still a glow in the western Atlantic; a sky too big for the sun to leave.”

This person was a winner of the Man Booker Prize. When Anne Enright wrote her softly lyrical book, she set it at the end of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger economy. Rosanne Madigan is nearing the end of her life in County Clare, Ireland. Her homestead is near an old famine (green) road on the Burren Park’s ocean-ridged limestone land. They all come back to spend one last Christmas together, and the intricate stories of their scarred lives come to light in the first half of this 2015 book. When Dan moves to Toronto, Dan lives with his girlfriend. Emmet drifts through Mali and Constance stays close to home. Personalities fight over Christmas, and then Rosaleen goes into the dark to get away from the fight.

Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson

It always looked as if the colors had been blown away, too.

Two different stories about the same city are told by two unlikely working-class friends: one Catholic, the other Protestant. This book, which was written in 1996, takes place in Belfast in the months before and after the 1994 IRA ceasefire. The book often makes fun of the shadow of the troubles that is slowly fading away. It shows the violence and chaos of a broken Belfast, as the main characters try to make their lives normal in the chaos and prejudice. One chapter makes the reader think of the city in a soft, peaceful way, and then there’s another that rips it apart with the bombing of a sandwich shop. When the two friends meet, they quickly become friends, but their lives quickly become intertwined. The author, who later worked for Charlie Hebdo, wrote this book as a foreshadowing of his future work at the magazine.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

There’s a big, dark mountain in the way of things you thought you’d have in the future.

When Donal Ryan tells a story set in the lush countryside of Tipperary, a place where looming hillsides and wide lakes make it hard for people to get away from their minds and bodies. Bridie, the mother of a child who died in County Clare, Ireland, sits with her back to the River Shannon to block the next county over. Vasya agrees that he will drown if he tries to swim across Lough Derg. They are just two of the 21 lonely voices in his novel, which was published in 2012. In this book, it’s set in a time when Ireland was full of ghost estates and zombie hotels because reckless bank lending caused the Irish economy to collapse. People were left to rebuild their lives from the wreckage.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

“Dublin is so beautiful to her when it’s wet because the gray stone turns black.”

Sally Rooney’s book about broken hearts and minds was published in 2018 and was nominated for the Booker Prize in the same year. It was also on Barack Obama’s top 19 book list for 2019. It shows how a popular high school student, Connell, and a less popular one, Marianne, have a fragile relationship. When Marianne becomes a cool girl at Trinity College in Dublin, Connell loses his way in the big world there. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the book’s small-screen production and Connell’s short shorts, necklace, and long nipples got a lot of attention from viewers and the press. On the movie, Tobercurry and Streedagh Strand in Sligo, Ireland, played Carricklea, the fictional town in the book.

The Sea by John Banville

I would have to deal with things as they were, not how I might imagine them, because this was a new kind of reality.

John Banville’s 2005 Man Booker Prize-winning novel shows art historian Max Morden as a man who can’t figure out how to get through the waves of loss and sorrow. During the summer, he goes back to County Wexford, where he spent time as a child. If you close your eyes, you can almost smell salty air and feel the gentle breeze on your skin. This timeless, meditative, and disturbing masterpiece moves between the past and the present.

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