Emerald Heritage | 12 Famous Irish Books Everyone Needs to Read
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Oscar Wilde

12 Famous Irish Books Everyone Needs to Read

As we’ve said before, the Emerald Isle is famous for many things but story telling and literature is definitely one of our greatest exports. It’s well known that us Irish have the famous “gift of the gab” and over the years this has translated into some of the most memorable stories ever put on paper. 

We thought we’d list some of the most famous Irish books so that whether you’re searching for a summer read or simply need a new book to dive into, we’ve got you covered. 

Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt is probably about as Irish-American as they come and his 1996 memoir Angela’s Ashes details the early stages of his life in gritty detail – warts an’ all. The book follows the real-life struggles of his family in the early 20th century as they struggle with pregnancies and infant deaths in Brooklyn, New York, before eventually returning to Limerick and a life of poverty and struggle. 

Although the book is dominated by Frank’s alcoholic father and the strife and squalor of rural Ireland during the 1930s and 1940s it is also touched with family love, ambition and the determination to survive.

Buy it, read it and learn more than ever about the old country through Frank’s eyes. 

Angelas Ashes

Ulysses – James Joyce

Ulysses, published in 1922, is one of the most famous books to ever come out of the Emerald Isle. 

James Joyce, via stream of consciousness, parodies, poems and prose, gives us an insight into the life of Leopold Bloom in Dublin on the 16th June 1904 over the course of eighteen wandering chapters.

When first published the book was censored via various publishers due to certain “obscene” events but has since become so popular that Bloomsday is now celebrated in Dublin on the 16th June every year!

The Commitments – Roddy Doyle

Did you know that the Irish had soul?

It might come as a bit of a surprise if you haven’t read Roddy Doyle’s 1987 comedy The Commitments which charts the birth and rise of a ragtail collection of north Dublin musicians who want to bring soul back to the city!

This is the first episode in Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy and was so popular it eventually became a feature film!

Read the book, then watch the film.

The Commitments Irish Reading List Ireland Ways

Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

Gulliver’s Travels is famous throughout the world but very few people know that Jonathan Swift, the author, was actually a Dublin man born and bred! 

Even though the book, first published way back in 1726, has four different parts it’s most famous for part one which details Gulliver’s travels, an imprisonment, on the island of Lilliput.

It’s there that he discovers the Lilliputians and the legend is born! 

The Borstal Boy – Brendan Behan

Brendan Behan, a Dublin native generally considered to be one of the best writers ever produced in Ireland, studies class, religion and youth amongst other things in The Borstal Boy. 

The book, which was banned in Ireland between 1958 and 1970, is autobiographical and depicts a young Brendan during his time in a Borstal. 

The Plough and the Stars – Sean O’Casey

The Plough and the Stars, first premiered in 1926, is a play by Dubliner Sean O’Casey that charts the life and times of the Clitheroe family during 1915 and 1916 around the time of the Irish revolutionary period. 

This is the third play in O’Casey’s Dublin trilogy and makes for compelling viewing if you can see it performed live. 

The Sea – John Banville

John Banville, of County Wexford, published The Sea in 2005 and in it he explores childhood memories, love, death and more.

The story follows Max Morden during three key periods of his life and is set in the fictitious seaside village of Rossclare.

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, famed as one of the literary greats, is known for his quick one-liners and obsession with aesthetics and The Picture of Dorian Gray, first published to the world in 1890, represents his most famous piece of work. 

The Secret World of the Irish Male – Joseph O’Connor

Joseph O’Connor might be better known for his serious fiction but The Secret World of the Irish Male is one of the funniest Irish books around and well worth picking up if you want something lighthearted.

O’Connor, through a series of essays, studies what it means to be an Irish man at the end of the 20th century. This includes everything from sinking pints to following the Irish football team during the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

Prepare to laugh…a lot.

The Butcher Boy – Patrick McCabe

The Butcher Boy, first published in 1992 by Patrick McCabe, a native of County Monaghan, tells the story of Francis Brady, a schoolboy, and his family in small town Ireland in the 1960s.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, published in 1950, is famous throughout the world as a classic children’s story but did you know that it was written by a Belfast man called Clive Staples Lewis?

It’s also well known that the fictional world of Narnia was inspired by the incredible Mourne Mountains of County Down.

The Dubliners – James Joyce

We finish with another James Joyce publication, The Dubliners. 

This collection of fifteen short stories, first published in 1915, explores normal Dublin life at the time and features everything from the death of a priest to con men and parties. 


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