7 Books to Celebrate the Life and History of the Irish

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Thursday this year, which means that some of us can’t stay out too late. Many celebrate the death of the foremost patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, by attending church, enjoying a feast, drinking large quantities of alcohol, dressing in green and shamrocks, and partaking in céilithes and parades. You can do all of this and read a great book by an author with Irish blood, or you could skip everything and just read a little more in general. If all else fails you can bury your face in one of these excellent stories of life for the Irish at home and abroad while avoiding work duties the day after St. Paddy’s.


The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy


For a lyrical, risqué peek at one man’s travels in Dublin, read The Ginger Man. Donleavy, an Irish American, traveled to Ireland after World War II and came out with a modern classic about the misadventures of the vice-seeking American, Sebastian Dangerfield. The book was initially banned in the United States, and who doesn’t love a banned book? 


The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien 


O’Brien is one great satirist, approaching dark subjects with humor and realism, and creates truly entertaining reads. The Third Policeman, which struggled to make its way into the public sphere, is about a botched robbery and successful, albeit incredibly brutal, murder told from the perspective of the criminal while he resides in a two-dimensional police station. The story is set in rural Ireland and philosophizes about life, death, and time. The book, published posthumously, has since gained a cult following. 


Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín 


Brooklyn is an essential novel for any Irish-American, but any one with an immigrant in their past will find the story of Eilis Lacey engaging, if not relatable. Her story starts as many of American ancestors did – the future of her home country of Ireland seems bleak and America supposedly offers bountiful opportunities. But, of course, life is exceedingly tough in the growing city of New York, and Eilis must fight to make America her home. Tólbín writes with power and emotion (all of his books are worth checking out).


Tarry Flynn by Patrick Kavanagh 


Take a massive step back in Irish history with Tarry Flynn. Kavanagh, born in 1904, grew up in rural Ireland, a vast, beautiful place. Tarry Flynn is Kavanagh’s poetic autobiography of growing up on a farm with his mother and sisters in the beginning of the 20th century. With a penchant for historical detail and personal insight, Kavanagh’s book is as captivating as it is reminiscent (even if you are not Irish or from the early 1900s). 


Charming Billy by Alice McDermott


Charming Billy, like Brooklyn, tells the story of the difficulties faced by Irish immigrants in New York City. Set in Queens, Charming Billy is as much about the difficulties faced by Irish Immigrants as it is about an incredibly tight-knit, devoted family, romance, and the life of Billy. And Billy is one interesting character. McDermott has an amazing voice, and creates a complex picture of family (there is so much love, hate, and lying involved) and Irish-American culture. 


Midwife to the Fairies and Selected Stories by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne 

Seeing as it is still Women’s History Month, it’s only fitting to include Irish novelist and short story writer Eilis Ni Dhuibhne. Her short story collection, Midwife to the Fairies describes the lives of women living in Ireland before and after the feminist eras. Each story is brimming with detail and tenderness towards Ireland and the country’s people.   


 Dubliners by James Joyce



A list of books by Irish authors without at least one by James Joyce would not be complete; he is perhaps the most widely known Irish author. Dubliners makes the cut, although any of his books could be featured here, because of its in depth look at Dublin. Joyce captures personalities and lives of Dublin residents through fifteen perceptive stories. 


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