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This is a list of Irish books you'll definitely want to read - and I've included all kinds of books, something for everyone. If you've ever wanted to know more about Ireland or if you like to read books set in unfamiliar parts of the world, then you'll love the books I talk about below. They'll transport you straight to Ireland and may even entice you to plan a trip over! That's what happens to me anyway, reading about Ireland makes me want to go there. 

My list includes books by Irish authors and books set in Ireland, anything with an Irish connection really. I hope you add a few to your own reading list and enjoy them as much as I did!

Make sure you read all the way till the end as my Irish husband Joe chimed in with a whole list of recommendations of his own! 😃

If you like history and family sagas...

Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor is probably my most recommended Irish book ever. If I had to pick an Irish favorite, this would likely be it! It tells the story of people leaving Ireland and sailing for America in the mid-1800s. A heartbreaking, well-written and historically interesting story.

From Amazon:
In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by famine and injustice, the Star of the Sea sets sail for NewYork. On board are hundreds of refugees, some optimistic, many more desperate. Among them are a maid with a devastating secret, the bankrupt Lord Merridith, his wife and children, and a killer stalking the decks, hungry for the vengeance that will bring absolution.

Ireland by Frank Delaney is one of those books that I keep meaning to get to but it seems so big and overwhelming that I haven't yet. But its reputation and popularity mean that I have to include it on a list of Irish books to read whether I've actually read it or not. And maybe by next year I will!

It seems to be less a history of Ireland and more of a collection of stories about the history of Ireland - including about the creation of Newgrange (a sacred site that's older but less known than Stonehenge) and the Book of Kells. 

Perfect for anyone curious about Ireland's past!

If you like thrillers and mysteries...

In the Woods by Tana French is the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series and it's a winner! Last time I looked there were 3 books in the series, but now there seem to be 6 so I may have to revisit them myself. I really enjoyed the characters in this, and loved the references to  places in Dublin. 

If you like books with police investigations you'll like this - especially if you like the characters to have lots of depth!

Cecilia Ahern is better known for light romantic books (see further down my list!), but I don't know why because this young adult dystopian novel was fantastic. Flawed tells the story of Celestine, who lives in a society where there are really strict rules that can never be broken. Except that she does break one and now her life is pretty much over - or at least it can never be the same again. I read this really quickly a few years ago and now remember that there's still a sequel for me to enjoy, yay!

If you're into the classics...

I first read Dubliners by James Joyce back in high school and adored it. I don't remember much about it now, just that I really liked the realness of it, the descriptions of real people's real lives and real problems. Even as a wild teenager, I appreciated the honesty of this book - I guess I was craving realness in my teenage world of always pretending and trying to be someone different and better.

The book is a collection of stories, each about a different person or family at the turn of the twentieth century. I remember that I had a favorite but can't remember what it was - maybe it's time for a re-reread to see which characters I'd connect to this time!

For something lighter...

P.S. I Love You by Cecilia Ahern is a beautiful story - though I'm wanting you that if you're as emotional as me then there will be tears!

It's the story of childhood sweethearts Holly and Gerry, and how Holly finds her way again after Gerry dies. Here's the twist: Gerry has left Holly a bundle of notes, one for each month after his death. These notes guide her, cheer her up and help her rebuild her life again. I found it absolutely gorgeous and emotionally satisfying. There also seems to be a sequel which now I can't wait to pick up!

Also, Cecilia Ahern is a known personality in Ireland, daughter of former prime minister Bertie Ahern. I find this connection really cool - I think because it's refreshing to see the daughter of a politician step out into the world with a real writing talent rather than trying to follow in her Dad's footsteps!

To be honest, you can't have a list of Irish books to read without including Marian Keys, but I didn't know which book to pick! I ended up choosing Watermelon, which is the first one of hers I ever read, and has sequels to dive into if you like it. 

Marian Keyes writes stories about regular women doing regular things, like falling in love, surviving break ups and trying to get their lives together. But she includes some of life's darker themes too, like addiction or depression. I think this is why I like her writing - it's light enough to enjoy when your brain is tired but isn't total fluff either.

Another author you can't leave out from a list of Irish books is Maeve Binchy. I can't believe how many books she has written! And most of them rated so high! I've only read one or two, and a long time ago... but reading through some of the synopses I feel a binge coming on - especially as we prepare to move to Ireland ourselves.

The book I read and loved so many years ago is Circle of Friends, about a group of college friends. The next ones on my list are Tara Road (about a woman in Dublin and a woman in the US who switch places)  and A Week in Winter (about someone moving to the west of Ireland, which is where we're going!).

I already recommended Unspoken by A.M. Harris in this post, but it's good enough to include in this list too. The story shows Ireland of the 1970s, and addresses issues like the power of the Catholic church, adoption, family secrets and more.I'm proud to say that the author is my sister-in-law, which made the book extra special to read. 

From Amazon:
Sinéad and Jack first meet as students in the 1970s, and their lives intersect over the following years, taking them from Dublin to Geneva, from Paris to Washington. The secrets they have in common draw them together again and again, with unforeseen consequences that Sinéad will keep from him for thirty years… until her funeral.

If you like fantasy, folklore and magic...

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier has been on my kindle literally for years and I swear that this is the year I will finally get to read it! If you listen to The SoulSmart Podcast, then you'll hear my friend Holly Worton rave about this book and the entire series on this episode. She says it's sooooo beautiful and magical that everyone should read it! 😉

From what I've heard, this is a slow storytelling kind of book, something magical to sink into rather than one to rush through. Sounds like something to read on a rainy Sunday, of which there are many right now!!

If you haven't read Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer yet then you're in for a treat! Artemis is a young boy who discovers that his family is in trouble and that fairies really exist - so he decides to kidnap a fairy to save his family. 

This book and whole series is super fun - the fairies aren't all loveable and kind, they have personality! And they're armed! 

We recently watched the movie with our 11yo and it was fantastic - highly recommended.

How is it possible that Nora Roberts writes so many books? And that they're so enticing even though they kind of shouldn't be? Not all of her books are set in Ireland and she's not Irish herself, but her name still always comes up when anyone asks about Irish books. 

The series I remember most vividly is the Circle Trilogy, which starts with Morrigan's Cross. It has gods, it has fairies, it has magic and it has love. What more could you want from a trilogy, really?

This book, Circle of Nine: Beltany by Valerie Biel, has JUST ended up on my to-be-read list, but it sounds sooooo perfect for me! Maybe you too?

From Goodreads:
“Since I was a little girl I’ve been labeled a freak in my small town. There’s no blending in when your mom practices an ancient pagan religion and everyone believes she’s a witch. On my 15th birthday my secret wish is the same as always – to just be normal. But that’s not what I get. Not even close.” – Brigit Quinn

Instead, Brigit is shocked to learn she’s descended from a legendary Celtic tribe - powerful people who serve as guardians of the stone circles of Ireland. A spellbound book of family history reveals the magical powers of her ancestors. Powers that could be hers - if only she wanted them.

Recommendations from my Irish husband, Joe 😀

Strumpet City by James Plunkett is a multi-character drama set in Dublin in the early 1900s, a time of great social and political upheaval in Ireland. You'll like this if you like superior soap operas and historical novels.

From Amazon:
First published in 1969, it has repeatedly been described as one of the greatest Irish novels of all time. Centring on the seminal lockout of 20,000 workers in Dublin in 1913, Strumpet City encompasses a wide sweep of city life. From the destitution of Rashers Tierney to the solid, aspirant respectability of Fitz and Mary, the priestly life of Father O'Connor, and the upper-class world of Yearling and the Bradshaws, it paints a portrait of a city of stark contrasts, with an urban working class mired in vicious poverty. 

Ulysses by James Joyce is of course a classic and you may have been required to read it for school or college... and you may have skipped it like I did! 

Joe says: it's interesting because everything in the book happens in one day in 1904, and it's a recreation of Dublin as it was at the time. The writing swings from first person to third person narrators and uses different styles of literature from over the centuries. Students of literature or writers will enjoy it!

Joanna says: probably a good match for the more ambitious reader 😉

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - an auto-biographical account of life in poverty in Limerick. It's good because it's gripping and emotional. If you're interested in Ireland then you've probably read it already, as it was published a while ago.  It won a Pulitzer, too!

From Amazon:
“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”
So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland.

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien - Joe says this is a masterpiece! It's a parody of Irish literature and culture.  It's very funny so a good choice for those who like satirical novels. 

Amazon seem to agree:
Hilariously funny and inventive, "At Swim-Two-Birds" has influenced generations of writers, opening up new possibilities for what can be done in fiction. It is a true masterpiece of Irish literature.

The Irish Male At Home and Abroad by Joseph O'Connor - a non-fiction book of observational humor. Joe says it's very funny! You can see that he enjoys humorous books!

I haven't read this one, but the author is the same one who wrote Star of the Sea, the first book on this list, so it promises to be excellent.

From Amazon:
Laugh-out-loud funny, yet always affectionate and sometimes poignant, O'Connor roams through an Ireland of wife-swapping sodomites and late-night sodalities, when not getting lost in the restless new Europe of beach holidays, terrible beauties and Baywatch lookalikes.

McCarthy's Bar by Pete McCarthy is one I've also read and really enjoyed - so you definitely don't have to be Irish to get it! The author is second-generation Irish, born in England, but the book is all set in Ireland. McCarthy travels through the country stopping at all bars called 'McCarthy's'.  He sees a lot of regular and sometimes strange Irish life along the way.

From Amazon:
Despite the many exotic places Pete McCarthy has visited, he finds that nowhere else can match the particular magic of Ireland, his mother's homeland. In McCarthy's Bar, his journey begins in Cork and continues along the west coast to Donegal in the north. Traveling through spectacular landscapes, but at all times obeying the rule, "never pass a bar that has your name on it," he encounters McCarthy's bars up and down the land, meeting fascinating people before pleading to be let out at four o'clock in the morning.

And lastly, Joe couldn't not include Round Ireland With A Fridge by Tony Hawkes - another travel book, this one written by an English comedian. Here's the premise: for a bet, Hawkes hitchhiked around Ireland with a fridge. Like, actually stood at the side of the road with a fridge, figuring that someone would pick him up. As you can imagine, this leads to lots of interesting situations and also can only be described as hilarious. 😃 If you feel like you need to laugh more then definitely pick up one of Joe's recommendations (from the ones towards the end of the list, his first ones weren't funny at all!).

Phew! That's a lot of Irish books! Is your favorite on my list? If not, let me know what it is in the comments so I can read it too!

Happy reading!