Although March is Irish American Heritage Month, it is better known and celebrated for St. Patrick’s Day. In honor of the day, I have collected a short list of brilliant books by Irish authors that everyone should read. Have no fear, you will not find any Sally Rooney or James Joyce novels on this list. I have tried to avoid books that you will find on every other similar list as well as ones that are quite divisive, like Ulysses and Normal People.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
I read this book years ago and it still lives rent-free in my brain. It is one of my favorite books of all time, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Synopsis: Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
This award-winning novel has received no shortage of praise. If you have already read it, give O’Farrell’s newest book The Marriage Portrait a read.
Synopsis: Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet. Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
You will find this recent release (Nov. 2022) on the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist. Sadly, it has not yet received all the attention it deserves in the U.S.
Synopsis: Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, a shattering novel about a young woman caught between allegiance to community and a dangerous passion. As tender as it is unflinching, Trespasses is a heart-pounding, heart-rending drama of thwarted love and irreconcilable loyalties, in a place what you come from seems to count more than what you do, or whom you cherish.
The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan
This is the most recent release from the multi-award-winning and internationally bestselling author Donal Ryan.
Synopsis: The Aylward women of Nenagh, Tipperary, are mad about each other, but you wouldn’t always think it. You’d have to know them to know that—in spite of what the neighbors might say about raised voices and dramatic scenes—their house is a place of peace, filled with love, a refuge from the sadness and cruelty of the world. Their story begins at an end and ends at a beginning. It involves wives and widows, gunrunners and gougers, sinners and saints. It’s a story of terrible betrayals and fierce loyalties, of isolation and togetherness, of transgression, forgiveness, desire, and love. Of all the things family can be and all the things it sometimes isn’t.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
If you have not yet read The Wonder, now is the perfect time!. This book was recently adapted into a movie with Florence Pugh.
Synopsis: In this page turner by the bestselling author of Room, an English nurse is brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle—a girl said to have survived without food for months—and soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
If you are looking for something quick to read, this book is short but impactful. If you have already read it, you could give Keegan’s most recent book, Foster, a try.
Synopsis: It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.
The Colony by Audrey Magee
This tale was featured on the 2022 Booker Prize longlist.
Synopsis: In 1979, as violence erupts all over Ireland, two outsiders travel to a small island off the west coast in search of their own answers, despite what it may cost the islanders. An expertly woven portrait of character and place, a stirring investigation into yearning to find one’s way, and an unflinchingly political critique of the long, seething cost of imperialism, Audrey Magee’s The Colony is a novel that transports, that celebrates beauty and connection, and that reckons with the inevitable ruptures of independence.