25 Irish books to read and love
By Olivia Hope
On a weekend when everyone in the world is a little bit Irish, here are some great books to disappear into, some are familiar established names, and others are new, but trail-blazers.
A difficult list to compile, but this is a great starting point to get a taste of Ireland’s best, so pull up by the turf fire, grab a bag of taytos, a glass of the black stuff and immerse yourself in some of the writers and illustrators from the land of saints and scholars.
This daughter-father duo have made the ultimate compendium of Irish facts, perfect for the young and the young at heart. Fatti’s incredible graphic design skills, combined with her father’s background in education made this book a sensation with the Irish and the diaspora. Everything you wanted to know about Ireland and more. See also Historopedia and Focloiropedia. (5 years +)
Jeffers’ picturebooks are a global phenomenon, with stylised illustrations, that poignantly capture the essence of what it means to be a human. Written for his own son, it explains the big and the small, and how there’s room for us all on planet earth. See also The Heart and the Bottle, Stuck and This Moose belongs to me. (0-5 years)
This picturebook by Ishmail celebrates the act of being a girl, but also that of being a child that takes action and does things, without the labelling of being purely boyish or girly. Her bright wash illustrations are always dynamic, and also work especially well in the Kiki and Bobo lift-the-flap series. (0-5 years)
Denizen Hardwick always believed he was an orphan, until a stranger brings him to his aunt. He soon realises that he was kept in the orphanage for his safety, but he discovers that his aunt is part of a secret society that fights malicious dark forces, one he must learn to be part of. But can he? See also The Forever Court and The Endless King. (10-13 years)
A twelve-year-old millionaire genius, who happens to be a criminal mastermind – Artemis Fowl seems to have it all, until his plans to kidnap of a fairy and get his hands on the leprechaun gold, backfire. Elves, fairies, trolls and dwarves abound in a story about growing up and acceptance. The first in a cracking eight-book series, which are also available as graphic novels. (10-13years)
Joe’s brother is on death row, and he hasn’t seen him in ten years. With one month to his execution date he travels to the prison town to see his brother, in the hope of getting answers. A story of hope and pain, and forgiveness when it’s time to say goodbye. Another stunning book, in free verse form, from this Carnegie award-winning author. See also One and The Weight of Water.
You only have to survive a day, well, only three minutes in fairy time. But once called, you are chased by tortuous beasts, where only one in ten every survive. A gruesome combination of folklore and horror, combining fantasy and reality that twists and turns. Watch out for the sequel The Invasion, just out this month.
The Great War has ended and Stella has lost her mother to the Spanish flu pandemic, so she must move to Northern Ireland. Fuelled by her mother’s involvement in the Suffragette movement in England, this story tells of Stella and the first votes for women, and how change can come, one person at a time. Wilkinson’s ability to write realistic historical fiction means her stories last long after the book is closed. See also Name upon Name.
Blackwater, a Dublinesque city, is recovering from a technological apocalypse. Nell carries a mechanical heart inside her, the only one of its kind, created by her father – a man who creates limbs for the surviving residents. Each teen must present their contribution to the rebuilding of Blackwater, Nell finds a mannequin hand, and decides to builds a boy, with life-changing outcomes. A neo modernist look at the Frankenstein classic.
In a world where women are treated as figures that must observe physical perfection and only behave in a way that pleases men, Frieda is in a school where she must learn how to achieve this perfection. Dystopian, unsettling and a difficult book to enjoy, but is a heartening book to read as it makes you reflect. See also Asking for it and Almost Love.
Maud is a carer to the cantankerous Cathal, in a once grand house that is crammed with decades of accumulated items, filth and ghosts. Maud, and her inadvertent side-kick Renata, find themselves caught up in a mystery that lies in this house and Cathal’s past; a dead wife and missing child. A gothic humourous tale, laced with Kidd’s signature turn of phrase, that makes draws on old Irish beliefs, where the living and the dead exist side by side. See also Himself.
A 33 year-old Melody announces to her husband that she is pregnant, and the father is in fact Martin; a 17 year-old from the Traveller community, that she has been tutoring for the past year. The poetic narrations from Melody are a stark contrast to the violence that has saturated Martin’s life. A short intense read on guilt, feuds and secrets. See also Booker-nominated A Spinning Heart and A Slanting of the Sun.
The Angelus bells are gonging, on all Soul’s day in the West of Ireland, and Marcus Conway is in reflective mood. The whole book is one sentence; a stream of conscious narration flowing from this engineer, on the events of a small town during an E.coli outbreak and becomes more poignant when we realise Marcus is a ghost. Haunting and humourous, a story of love and loss in this Goldsmith award-winning novel. See also Notes from a Coma.
A historical tale set against the horrors of the Civil war and life in the American West, the narrator is a young Irish immigrant who has left a famine Ireland. He forms a deep friendship with a fellow Irish orphan and together they share life’s harshest experiences. A great American novel written from an Irish immigrant’s perspective, on the bitterness of war and sweetness of friendship. See also The Secret Scripture and A Long, Long Way.
The first of Keyes’ books, tells the story of Claire Walsh, who has returned to Ireland with her newborn baby and without her husband. Adjusting to life with her well-meaning, but invasive parents, after the deception of her husband leaving, Claire has to learn to rebuild her life. Keyes’ stories always brim with families full of emotional warmth, where characters are flawed but sincere. See also Lucy Sullivan is getting Married, Under the Duvet and The Break
Oliver is successful children’s writer, married to Alice, an illustrator, and he has just beaten her into a coma. As she recovers, we are given a background into his behaviour and actions, via people in his and Alice’s lives. Gripping and psychologically demanding, this thriller was a terrific debut by Nugent. See also Lying in Wait and Skin Deep
The first in an extraordinary seventeen book series, begins with NYPD detective Charlie Parker dealing with the murder of his wife and daughter by a serial killer. The guilt of not being there to protect them, combined with the anger and grief gives Parker an energy in pursuit of the killer that is both reckless and yet instinctive. A story that is both distressing and brutal. See also The Reapers and The Whisperers.
Winner of the Baileys Prize for fiction in 2016, and set in the criminal underworld in Cork, five dubious characters are tied to an accidental murder. Coarse and witty, against a background of poverty and drugs, McInerney writes a twisted tale that braids characters’ lows and lower lows, deftly with black humour and searing honesty. See also The Blood Miracles.
DC Maeve Kerrigan is called from a colleague’s wedding to the scene of a shooting, where a police officer has been killed. As the investigation progresses another officer is found shot dead, very quickly the Metropolitan Police find themselves unsure of when the cop killer will strike again. Fast paced, with emotional and plot complexities, this is a crime story that embodies the craft in Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series. See also The Burning and After the Fire.
Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox start working on a case of a murdered 12 year-old, but Rob has ties to the woods where the body was found - something that happened twenty years ago, something that he doesn’t want resurrected. A dark murder mystery, with complex characters. Part of the successul Dublin Murder squad series. See also The Likeness and Faithful Place.
This short story collection by Joyce is often overshadowed by Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, but is the most accessible of his work, without losing any of his skill as a storyteller. The enduring fortitude of lower and middleclass characters in often difficult and sad situations, is coloured by local place names of shops, streets and pubs, painting life in Dublin at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Two women on either side of the Atlantic decide to swap houses after different personal tragedies; one grief, another heartbreak. The summer spent in Dublin and New England for each woman are both unsettling and uncomfortable initially, but ultimately eye-opening and soul-salving. Maeve Binchy at her very best. See also Circle of Friends and Light a Penny Candle
An apt and timely tale in this Brexit era. Milligan’s first book tells the tale of a village, Puckoon, through which the state border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic runs. Written in Milligan’s classic acerbic and slapstick style, the Goon-type characters are grossly stereotyped, but highly entertaining. One of David Bowie’s top 100 books.
Set in 1880, wealthy matriarch Teresa Mulqueen lies dying and an unspoken family drama is unfolding. Her daughter awaits her sister’s return, knowing that she will see her brother-in-law, who she loves. A story of complex passion and the struggles between faith and true love by one of Ireland’s greatest writers. See also As Music and Splendour and The Land of Spices.
This classic book of fairytales for children has one message – the importance of kindness to those in need. One tells of a swallow that forgoes returning to Africa and instead serves a golden statue of a prince, offering jewels to the poor. Another tells of a selfish giant who finds summer by sharing his garden with children. Oscar Wilde’s Stories for Children illustrated by PJ Lynch is highly recommended.