Photo: James Joyce Statue off O’Connell Street across from The Spire:
This is just a list with my personal opinion. You may or may not agree. Either way, I welcome your own recommendations and criticism.
1. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922):
Considered by many as one of the top novels ever written, it chronicles the appointments and encounters of the itinerant Leopold Bloom in Dublin over the course of a single day, June 16, 1904. A brilliant but very difficult read. I put this one here because it is widely considered as one of the best novels of all time. However, just about everyone I know that has read it has struggled with it.
2. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990):
The story of Michael Moran, a bitter, ageing IRA veteran, and his tyranny over his wife and children, who both love and fear him.
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891):
The story revolves around the portrait of Dorian Gray painted by Basil Hallward enthralled with his beauty. Understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses his desire to sell his soul to ensure that the picture rather than he will age and fde. The wish is granted and Dorian lives an amoral life while staying young and beautiful while his picture ages and records every one of his sins.
4. The Year of The French by Thomas Flanagan (1979):
In 1978, Irish patriots, commited to freeing their country from England, met with a company of French troops landing in County Mayo. They were the advance guard of other French ships organized by Irish leader Wolfe Tone. While they enjoyed some initial victories, before long the insurgency collapsed in the face of a brutal British counterattack.
5. 1916, 1921, 1949, 1972, 1999; a 5 book series by Morgan Llywelyn which follows a young woman and her family and friends through the Irish Rebellion, Independence, becoming a Republic, The Troubles, and the Celtic Tiger years. An excellent book for understanding the evolution and development of Ireland during the 20th Century.
6. Trinity by Leon Uris (1976):
I am partial to this one as it fueled my love affair with the country of my ancestors and sparked in me a desire to return to her shores to connect with my roots. Follows The Larkins and O’Neills, Catholic farmers from the fictional town of Ballyutogue in County Donegal and others describing Irish History from the Famine years of the 1840’s to the Rebellion of 1916.
7. The Lion of Ireland by Morgan Llywelyn (1980):
Story of the life of Irish Hero and First and only High King of the entire island of Ireland, Brian Boru.
8. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996):
A Memoir of an Irish American detailing his very early childhood in Brooklyn, but primarily on his life as a boy in Limerick as his family struggles with poverty and his father’s alcoholism. A Pulitzer Prize winner.
Princes of Ireland is a sweeping saga beginning in pre Christian tribal Ireland integrating all of the great stories of Irish history; St. Patrick, Glendalough, The Book of Kells, Brian Boru, the trickery of King Henry II setting the stage for the the second book. The Rebels of Ireland starts in 1534 and covers the “flight of the Earls”, The Penal Laws era, the Battle of Boyne, Wolfe Tone’s rebellion of 1798, Daniel O’Connell, the catastrophic Famine, the mass migration to America, the rise of Charles Parnell, and the great Irish nationalists and the birth of a free Ireland. If you want to read one book to give you a deep feel for Ireland and its history this would be a great option.
10. The Islandman by Tomas O’Crohan (1926):
A personal account of life on rugged The Great Blasket Island off the west coast of Ireland written as the 19th century draws to a close. His goal in his own words, “to set down the character of the people about me so that som record of us might live after us, for the like of us will never be again.” There were just 150 or so living on the island at the time and by 1954 there were just 22 when those remaining were evacuated for good during an extremely dismal winter.
11. The Bodhran Makers by John B. Keane (1986):
Set in rural Ireland in the 1950’s, tells the story of poverty stricken people who never lose their dignity. Every January, they celebrate their Celtic ancestry with a festival of singing, drinking, and music making with the Bodhran, a drum made from goat skin.
12. Strumpet City by James Plunkett (1969):
A historical novel set in Dublin around the time of the 1913 workers lock-out. A heartbreaking account of the extreme poverty at the time and important for understanding the mindset of the rebels of 1916. Also, made into a television series which is excellent as well.
Also, any of the plays by John B are excellent reading as well. My favorite is “The Field” which is also on the list of Top 10 Irish Movies on my website.