Although their classic works won’t be forgotten, we wanted to specifically honor Irish authors for their extraordinary contributions to literature in history. From Oscar Wilde and his examination of vanity in The Picture of Dorian Grey to James Joyce’s classic journey in Ulysses, see our list below of selected authors and book recommendations to add to your reading list. Did we miss someone? Add the Irish author you want to celebrate in the comments.
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Notable Work: Ulysses (1922)
James Joyce wasn’t just a novelist, but also wrote short stories and poetry. Joyce was influenced by music the same way music has been influenced by his words, which have inspired the work of many musicians. He is well known for being truthful about the middleclass Irish experience in many of his works including, Dubliners.
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Notable Work: The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890)
Although Wilde was a popular playwright in London, he was actually born in Dublin. The Picture of Dorian Grey is one of his best works, but The Importance of Being Earnest shows Wilde’s range and ability to write both comedy and drama.
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Notable Work: Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
The satirist is best known for his fantasy book, Gulliver’s Travels, but was also a great poet and wrote many sermons and prayers. He was very involved in the Irish cause and highly disliked by Queen Anne of England who believed his works, especially The Tale of a Tub, to be blasphemous.
Flann O’Brien (also known as Brian O’Nolan)
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Notable Work: The Third Policeman (1967)
Flann O’Brien is best known for At-Swim Two Birds, The Third Policeman, and The Dalkey Archive. O’Brien’s real name is Brian O’Nolan and The Third Policeman was originally rejected by publishers and published postmortem. The story about a murderous protagonist let loose in an alternate reality is partially recycled in The Dalkey Archive due to its initial rejection.
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Notable Work: Waiting for Godot (1953)
Samuel Beckett wore many hats including novelist, playwright, director, and poet. His play Waiting for Godot was highly influential as two characters wait for someone who never comes. Beckett’s bleak outlook on human nature made his writing incredibly raw and meaningful.
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Notable Work: Dracula (1897)
Although Stoker is famous for Dracula today, he was better known as an assistant to actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London during his lifetime. Dracula, Transylvania, and Van Helsing are all household names now—and we can thank Stoker for that.
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Notable Work: The Gathering (2007)
The modern author has been compared to Flann O’Brien and her work has been featured in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Irish Times. Her novel The Gathering won the Man Book Prize and her books frequently explore relationships and Ireland’s difficult past.
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Notable Work: The Heat of the Day (1948)
Bowen wrote extensively about orderly life and what happens when something disrupts that. Additionally, she was very interested in betrayal and secrets—which may have been an ode to her own life, having many extramarital affairs.
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Notable Work: Pygmalion (1913)
Readers can thank Shaw for Eliza Doolittle for coming into their lives. George Bernard Shaw’s writing genres were expansive and included short stories, novels, plays, and criticism. Shaw expressed his views on everything from vegetarianism to politics within his work and is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature and an Academy Award for the same work (Pygmalion).
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Notable Work: The Tower (1928)
Yeats was heavily involved in the Irish Literary Revival and was the first Irishman awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Yeats had many poetry collections and is one of the rare authors whose greatest works, including The Tower and The Winding Stair and Other Poems, were published after winning the Nobel Prize.
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Notable Work: The Chronicles of Narnia (1950)
The novelist and Oxford University faculty member is best known for The Chronicles of Narnia—a high fantasy series comprised of seven novels. Lewis was in an informal society of writers known as “Inklings”, which included close friend J.R.R. Tolkien. Writers around the world note his imagination and storytelling ability.
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Notable Work: Circle of Friends (1990)
The novelist, playwright, short story writer, and journalist is known for her portrayal of small-town life in Ireland. Her career began as a journalist and she joined the staff at The Irish Times in 1968. She went on to publish 16 novels—with a few becoming movies. Her novels often involve a cast of related or reoccurring characters.
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Notable Work: The Butcher Boy (1992)
The contemporary author has been shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize for Fiction and has also written a children’s book and radio plays. McCabe focuses on dark comedy in most of his novels, two of which have been turned into films. All of his protagonists are “extraordinary” people in very ordinary place—usually meaning they are socially unacceptable characters.