It’s Saint Paddy’s Day: 6 Books about Ireland

Photo of Irish harbor and small town.
Photo courtesy Liam Moloney on Flickr under CC License.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! While originating as a way to honor the life and death of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has expanded widely in modern times to encompass all of the history and culture of Ireland. If this holiday has inspired you to learn more about and immerse yourself further in Ireland, the titles on this list, featuring popular fiction, memoir, and history set in Ireland, can help you get there.

Circle of Friends book coverCircle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

Benny and Eve grew up inseparable, the closest of friends in their small village of Knockglen. Benny, warm-hearted and generous, is the only child of two overprotective parents and Eve is an orphan, abandoned by her rebellious mother’s blue-blooded family to be raised by nuns. When they leave Knockglen to go to the university in Dublin and gain some much longed for independence, their circle of friends widens further to include glamorous Nan and handsome doctor’s son Jack. As the four friends navigate their new freedoms and the transition into adulthood, they encounter heartbreak and betrayal as the worlds of Dublin and Knockglen collide, and the strength of their love and friendship is tested.

Ireland book coverIreland by Frank Delaney

Ireland is at once the story of the last traditional Irish storyteller and the young boy entranced by his tales and the story of the history of an entire nation. In the winter of 1951 an itinerant traditional storyteller shows up at the small country house where nine-year-old Ronan lives with his parents. Through several long winter nights, the storyteller presents tales of Ireland’s history and legends to the young boy, who is so captivated by these stories that when he grows up, he becomes obsessed with finding the storyteller from his youth. This search leads him on a journey that uncovers the mysteries of his family, the secrets of his own self, and the history of his country, as his path weaves through stories of Ireland’s past from the Ice Age onward.

How the Irish Saved Civilization book coverHow the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill

In the Dark Ages, when most of Europe descended into chaos as barbarian tribes swept away the last remnants of the Roman Empire, it was monks and scribes on the island of Ireland that transcribed and kept alive many of the great works from the ancient world. In How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill tells the story of those Irish scholars who preserved much of the learning of the ancient world, faithfully copying Greek and Latin texts and applying their unique worldview to the task. Cahill also makes the case that much of the liveliness that we associate with medieval culture came from the attitudes of the Irish people who were responsible for establishing cultural life on the European continent after the Dark Ages.

1916 book cover1916 by Morgan Llywelyn

Ned Halloran’s life is forever altered when he loses both his parents and almost dies when the Titanic sinks. With his only living family, a sister, immigrated to America, Ned returns to Ireland unsure of what his future will be. He enrolls in St. Enda’s school, whose headmaster is Patrick Pearse, a renowned scholar who will soon gain even more fame as a leader of the Irish Rebellion. As Ned becomes involved in the rebellion, the famous events of that time play out against the backdrop of WWI and change Ned and the entire country forever.


McCarthy's Bar book coverMcCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy

Pete McCarthy shares the witty and observant insights gleaned from travelling along the west coast of Ireland and obeying the rule to “never pass a bar that has your name on it.” With a name like McCarthy, the author finds himself stopping at many bars along the way and meeting many Irish people who teach him a great deal about this unique country. He also meets many fellow travelers from other nations, American tourists seeking their roots, English hippies returning to nature, and German holiday makers, all of whom help him to explore the enduring popularity and mystique of Ireland. Through his travels and his encounters with people of Ireland, McCarthy paints a funny and engaging portrait of a much loved country.

AnAngela's Ashes book covergela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Angela’s Ashes is the memoir of the childhood of Frank McCourt who was born in Depression-era Brooklyn, but grew up in Limerick, Ireland in a miserably poor family. His mother had no money to feed the family since his father rarely worked and drank away the little money he did earn. Through the visions of the wretchedness and hunger of his early years and the casual cruelty from family and strangers, Frank clings to the stories his father tells, stories of the history and legends of Ireland. It is these stories that bring Frank through the poverty and help him develop the compassionate voice with which he tells his own story.