An Ireland Reading List
Most of the books listed below are in print and in
paperback - those that are out of print (o/p) should be easy to track down in
second-hand bookshops. Publishers follow each title; first the UK publisher,
then the US. Only one publisher is listed if the UK and US publishers are the
same. Where books are published in only one of these countries, UK or US
precedes the publisher's name.
HISTORY AND POLITICS
- John Ardagh, Ireland and the Irish: Portrait of a Changing Society
(Penguin). Comprehensive and lively, this is an excellent anatomy of Irish
society and its efforts to come to terms with the modern world.
- Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Blackstaff/Dufour). A
comprehensive account from early settlements to the current Troubles.
- J.C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923
(Faber/Trafalgar, o/p). Concise and elegant, this is probably the best
introduction to the complexities of Irish history.
- David Beresford, Ten Men Dead (Grafton/Grove-Atlantic, o/p).
Revelatory account of the 1981 hunger strike, using the prison correspondence
as its basic material; a powerful refutation of the demonologies of the British
- Peter Beresford Ellis, Hell or Connaught and The
Boyne Water (Blackstaff/Dufour). Vivid popular histories of Cromwell's
rampage and the pivotal Battle of the Boyne.
- Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-1985
(Fontana/Cornell University Press). Brilliantly perceptive survey of writers'
responses to the dog's breakfast made of post-revolutionary Ireland by its
- Tim Pat Coogan, The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal 1966-1995
and the Search for Peace (UK Hutchinson). The former
Irish Press editor's popular-history writing has many followers. His
earlier books on two icons of modern Ireland, Michael Collins (UK Arrow)
and De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow (Arrow/HarperCollins), are
- Liz Curtis, Ireland: the Propaganda War (Pluto/InBook). An
unanswerable indictment of the truth-bending of the British media.
- Seán Duignan, One Spin on the Merry-go-round (UK
Blackwater). Government press officer's memoirs, well spiced with insider
anecdote, of a turbulent period serving Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.
- Michael Farrell, Arming the Protestants: The Formation of the Ulster
Special Constabulary and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, 1920-1927
(Pluto/Longwood, o/p). Farrell is a fine journalist and veteran of Northern
Ireland's civil rights campaigns. In Northern Ireland: The Orange State
(Pluto/InBook) he argues, as the title implies, from a Republican standpoint;
it's an occasionally tendentious but extremely persuasive political account of
the development of Northern Ireland.
- Garret FitzGerald, All in a Life (UK Gill & Macmillan). The
first former Taoiseach to write his memoirs has produced an
extraordinary book, characteristically frank, and full of detail on the working
- Roy Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (Penguin). Superb and
provocative new book, generally reckoned to be unrivalled in its scholarship
and acuity, although it has been criticized for what some feel to be an
excessive sympathy towards the Anglo-Irish. Not recommended for beginners.
- Gemma Hussey, Ireland Today: Anatomy of a Changing State
(Penguin). A well-regarded and invaluable source of information on
Ireland's changing identity by this ex-government minister.
- Robert Kee, The Green Flag (Penguin; 3 vols). Scrupulous history
of Irish Nationalism from the first plantations to the creation of the Free
State. Masterful as narrative and as analysis.
- J.J. Lee, Ireland 1912-1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge
University Press). Stunning new history, that is most provocative and readable
in its lengthy final part devoted to the Ireland of today.
- F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (UK Fontana). The most
complete overview of recent Irish history; either iconoclastic or revisionist,
depending on your point of view.
- T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History (UK
Mercier). Shows its age a bit, but still very good on early Irish history.
- Conor Cruise O'Brien, Ancestral Voices: Religion and Nationalism in
Ireland (Poolbeg/University of Chicago Press); On the Eve of the
Millennium: the Future of Democracy through an Age of Unreason (Free
Press). Essays by the sometimes apocalyptic, always readable and stimulating
commentator and former government minister.
- Cecil Woodham Smith, The Great Hunger (Penguin). Definitive,
harrowing history of the Famine.
- A.T.Q. Stewart, The Narrow Ground (Gregg Revivals/Ashgate). A
Unionist overview of the history of the North from 1609 to the 1960s, providing
an essential background to the current situation.
- Kevin Toolis, Rebel Hearts: Journeys within the IRA's Soul (UK
Picador). Highly acclaimed and topical account of what makes the IRA tick by
this journalist and screenwriter.
GAELIC TALES AND MUSIC
- Brendan Behan, An Giall; in English, The Hostage (Eyre
Methuen/Grove-Atlantic). Behan's play is better in Irish, but still pretty good
in English. The best work from an overrated writer.
- Breandán Breathnach, Folk Music and Dances of Ireland
(Mercier/Dufour). All the diddley-eye you could want, and in one volume.
- Kevin Danaher, Folk Tales of the Irish Countryside (US David
White Co, o/p). The best volume on fairy and folk tales, recorded with a civil
servant's meticulousness and a novelist's literary style.
- Myles Dillon, (ed), Irish Sagas (Mercier, o/p/Irish Books &
Media o/p). An excellent examination of Cúchulainn, Fionn Mac Cumhaill
etc, in literary and socio-psychological terms.
- Seamus Heaney, Buile Suibhne; in English, Sweeney Astray
(Faber o/p/Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A modern translation of the ancient
Irish saga of the mad king Sweeney.
- Thomas Moore, Irish Melodies, edited by Seán Ó
Faoláin (US Scholarly Resources). All the prettied-up tunes Moore stole
from the harpers, along with lyrics of mind-numbingly perfect rhythm. Moore is
an important historical figure, who expressed the Nationalism of the emerging
middle class and brought revolution into the parlour.
- Pádraig Ó Conaire, Finest Stories (Poolbeg/Dufour).
Ó Conaire's dispassionate eye roams over the cruelties of peasant
- Tomás Ó Criomhtháin, (sometimes Thomas O'Crohan),
An tOileánach; in English, The Islandman (Oxford
University Press). Similar to Ó Conaire but non-fiction and, if
possible, even more raw.
- Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella, An Duanaire: Poems of
the Dispossessed (Dolmen/University of Pennsylvania, o/p). Excellent
translations of stark Irish-language poems on famine and death. See also
Kinsella's translation of one of the earliest sagas, the Táin
Bó Cuailnge (Baile Átha Cliath, o/p/University of
- George Petrie, The Native Music of Ireland (Gregg International
Books, o/p). One of the most important cultural documents in Irish history.
- Mark J. Prendergast, Irish Rock: History, Roots and Perspectives
(The O'Brien Press, o/p). The only decent book on Irish rock music.
- Peig Sayers, An Old Woman's Reflections (Oxford University
Press). Unfortunately, Sayers's complacent acceptance of her own powerlessness
is still held up as an example to Irish schoolchildren. Still, in spite of
itself, a frightening insight into the eradication of the Irish language
through emigration, poverty and political failure. A funny deconstruction of
the Sayers style is Flann O'Brien's An Beál Bocht; in English,
The Poor Mouth (Paladin/Dalkey Archive).
- William Butler Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland (Colin
Smythe/Random House). Yeats gets all misty eyed about an Ireland that never
- John Banville, Birchwood (Minerva/Norton, o/p); The Newton
Letter (Minerva/Warner); The Book of Evidence (Mandarin/Warner);
Ghosts (Mandarin/Random House); Athena (Minerva/Random House).
Five novels from the most important Irish novelist since McGahern, including
his 1989 Booker Prize nomination, a sleazy tale of a weird Dublin murder.
- Leland Bardwell, The House (Brandon Books, o/p/Longwood o/p);
There We Have Been (Attic/InBook). Quirky, bleak prose, often dealing
with domestic violence, male cruelty, drink and poverty; but funny too, in a
- Samuel Beckett, Molloy/Malone Dies/The Unnamable
(Calder/Riverrun). A wonderful trilogy of breakdown and glum humour.
- Brendan Behan, Borstal Boy (UK Arrow). Behan's gutsy roman
à clef about his early life in the IRA and in jail.
- Dermot Bolger, The Journey Home (Penguin). Dublin unforgettably
imagined as both heaven and hell. A Second Life (Penguin) is an assured
novel about a man who, miraculously given a second chance at life, sets out to
find out the truth about his adoption.
- Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart (Penguin). Finely tuned
tale of the anguish of unrequited love; generally rated as the masterpiece of
this obliquely stylish writer.
- Clare Boylan, Concerning Virgins (Penguin, o/p). Thirteen short
stories from an emerging star of contemporary fiction, her first book since the
novel Nail on the Head (Hamish Hamilton, o/p/Viking, o/p).
- Emma Donoghue, Stir-fry (Penguin/Warner). Well-wrought love story
from young Irish lesbian writer.
- Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Minerva/Penguin).
Hilarious and deeply moving novel of Dublin family strife that won the Booker
Prize in 1993. The earlier trilogy, The Commitments (Minerva/Random
House), The Snapper (Minerva/Penguin), The Van (Minerva/Penguin),
lighter and funnier, made Doyle's reputation.
- Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent (Penguin/Oxford University
Press). Best of the "Big House" books, in which Edgeworth displays a
subversively subtle sympathy with her peasant narrator. Would have shocked her
fellow aristos if they'd been able to figure it out.
- Anne Enright, The Portable Virgin
(Minerva/Butterworth-Heinemann). Highly original stories of life on the
- Bartholomew Gill, The Death of a Joyce Scholar. Irish cop Peter McGarr is looking
for the priced possession of Dublin's most eminent Joyce scholar (stabbed near Glasnevin Cemetry)
- a hat originally worn by James Joyce.
- Hugo Hamilton, The Love Test (UK Faber). Irish-German novelist's
thriller set on both sides of the Berlin Wall, before and after its fall,
combines excitement with a tender portrait of a disintegrating marriage.
Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow (UK Faber) is a fine collection of stories
set with equal assurance in Berlin and middle-class Dublin.
- Dermot Healy, A Goat's Song (Flamingo/Penguin). Dark and deep
novel which convincingly weaves a study of obsessive love into a fresh view of
the Northern conflict.
- Aidan Higgins, Asylum and Other Stories (Calder/Riverrun, o/p);
Langrishe, Go Down (Minerva/Riverrun, o/p); Lions of the
Grunewald (UK Minerva). The most European of Irish writers, whose later
works play with language in a mordantly humorous and deeply personal way.
- Desmond Hogan, The Ikon Maker (Faber/George Brazilier, o/p).
Impressive, impressionistic first novel from one of Ireland's most lyrical
prose writers, about angst-ridden adolescence in the 1970s, before Ireland was
hip. A Farewell to Prague (UK Faber) is an intense, episodic,
autobiographical novel that wanders lonely through the new Europe.
- Neil Jordan, Night in Tunisia (Vintage/Random House). Film
director Jordan first made his name with this impressive collection, which
prefigures treatments and themes of his films. His most recent novel,
Sunrise with Sea Monster (UK Vintage), is a delicate, powerful study in
love and betrayal set in neutral Ireland during World War II.
- James Joyce, Dubliners (Penguin); Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man (Penguin); Ulysses (Penguin/Random House); Finnegan's
Wake (Faber/Penguin). No novel written in English this century can match
the linguistic verve of Ulysses, Joyce's monumental evocation of 24
hours in the life of Dublin. From the time of its completion until shortly
before his death - a period of sixteen years - he laboured at Finnegan's
Wake, a dream-language recapitulation of the cycles of world history.
Though indigestible as a whole, it contains passages of incomparable lyricism
and wit - try the "Anna Livia Plurabelle" section, and you could be hooked.
- Molly Keane, Good Behaviour (Abacus/Knopf, o/p). Highly
successful comic reworking of the "Big House" novel.
- Benedict Kiely, God's Own Country: Selected Stories 1963-1993
(UK Minerva). A good introduction to the quirky fiction of a veteran
novelist and travel writer.
- Mary Lavin, In a Café (UK Country House). New collection
of previously published stories by one of the great short-story writers, in the
Chekhov tradition. Earlier books include The House in the Clew (Joseph,
o/p/Viking, o/p) and Stories (Constable/Viking, o/p).
- Bernard MacLaverty, Cal (Penguin/Norton); Lamb (UK
Penguin). Both novels of love beset by crisis; the first deals with an
unwilling IRA man and the widow of one of his victims. Lamb is the
disturbing tale of a Christian Brother who absconds from a borstal with a young
- Eugene McCabe, Death and Nightingales (UK Minerva). Powerfully
relevant novel of love, land and violence, set in late-nineteenth-century
- Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy (Picador/Doubleday); The Dead
School (Pan/Dell). Scary, disturbing, but funny tales of Irish small-town
- John McGahern, The Dark (Faber/Viking, o/p); The Barracks
(UK Faber); Amongst Women (Faber/Penguin); Collected Stories
(Faber/Random House). The Barracks is classic McGahern; stark, murderous
and not a spare adjective in sight. Amongst Women is an excellent tale
of an old Republican and the oppression of rural and family life.
- Eoin McNamee, Resurrection Man (Picador/Warner). Beautifully
written psychological thriller set in war-torn Belfast.
- Deirdre Madden, Hidden Symptoms (Faber/Grove-Atlantic, o/p);
The Birds of the Innocent Wood (Faber, o/p in the US); Remembering
Light and Stone (Faber); and Nothing is Black ( Faber). Evocatively
grim novels of life in the North.
- Aidan Mathews, Lipstick on the Host (Minerva/Harcourt Brace).
Delicate stories of breathtaking skill.
- Brian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (Paladin/Little
Brown). Moore's early novels are rooted in the landscape of his native Belfast;
this was his first, a poignant tale of emotional blight and the possibilities
of late redemption by love.
- Danny Morrison, The Wrong Man.
Political thriller, bleak, densely plotted by a former public affairs officer for S.F.
- Mary Morrissy, A Lazy Eye (Vintage/Simon & Schuster);
Mother of Pearl (Cape/Simon & Schuster). Impressive stories and a
novel by rising star in the new generation of writers.
- Christopher Nolan, Under the Eye of the Clock (Weidenfeld, o/p/St
Martin's, o/p). Extraordinary and explosive fiction debut; largely
autobiographical story of a handicapped boy's celebration of the power of
- Edna O'Brien, Johnnie I Hardly Knew You (Weidenfeld/Avon Books,
o/p); The Country Girls (Penguin/NAL-Dutton). Sensitively wrought novels
from a top-class writer sometimes accused, unjustly, of wavering too much
towards Mills and Boon.
- Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman (Penguin/NAL-Dutton).
O'Brien's masterpiece of the ominously absurd and fiendishly humorous. At
Swim-Two-Birds (Penguin/NAL-Dutton) is a complicated and hilarious blend of
Gaelic fable and surrealism; essential reading. Also see "Other Non-Fiction",
p.623, under Myles na Gopaleen.
- Frank O'Connor, Guests of the Nation (US Dufour). The best Irish
political fiction this century.
- Joseph O'Connor, True Believers (Flamingo/Trafalgar, o/p);
Cowboys and Indians (Flamingo/Trafalgar, o/p). Life on the peripheries
in London and Dublin: love and loss, madness and redemption; Desperadoes
(Flamingo) is a love story stretching from 1950s' Dublin to modern Nicaragua.
- Peadar O'Donnell, Islanders (Mercier/Dufour). Evocative,
mesmerizing prose from important Republican figure.
- Julia O'Faolain, No Country for Young Men (US Carroll &
Graf). Spanning four generations, this ambitious novel traces the personal
repercussions of the civil war.
- Seán Ó Faoláin, Bird Alone (US Oxford
University Press, o/p); Collected Stories (Constable/Little Brown). A
master of the short-story form and the juiciness of rural dialect.
- Liam O'Flaherty, The Pedlar's Revenge and Other Stories
(Wolfhound/Dufour). Best of the postwar generation of former IRA men turned
- Timothy O'Grady, Motherland; an allegorical tale of Ireland, its past,
and its present political situation. The complex plot revolves around an unnamed and oddly
childlike middle-aged narrator and his search for his vanished mother. Along the way, the
narrator is assisted by his own clairvoyant powers, a long-lost grandfather, and an
ancient, hand-written family history that seems to contain clues to his mother's
disappearance. Structured like a heroic myth, the novel describes a long and wandering
journey through an Ireland occupied by a nameless military presence and contains dialogue
between the petulant and pedantic narrator and the sage discourse of the mysterious and
prophetic progenitor. Many apparently unrelated threads are woven together in the novel's
conclusion to solve the mystery, revealing the narrator's true identity, the role of his
grandfather, the fate of his missing mother, and the final interlocking pieces that
comprise the story. A must!
- Glenn Patterson, Burning Your Own (UK Minerva). Distinctive young
Northern writer gives Protestant child's-eye view of late 1960s' Northern
Ireland just about to explode.
- E.O. Somerville and (Violet) Martin Ross, Some Recollections and
Further Experiences of an Irish RM (UK Dent). The needle pushes the begorra
factor a little too heavily here and there, but Somerville and Ross write with
witty flair and are very significant for what they reveal, accidentally, about
a dying class.
- James Stephens, The Crock of Gold (US Irish Books & Media);
The Charwoman's Daughter (Gill & Macmillan, o/p/North Books). Two
fabulous masterpieces from the country's most underrated genius.
- Bram Stoker, Dracula (Penguin/Oxford University Press). Stoker
woke up after a nightmare brought on by a hefty lobster supper, and proceeded
to write his way into the nightmares of the twentieth century.
- Francis Stuart, Redemption and The Pillar of Cloud (both
New Island Books/Flat Iron, o/p); Black List Section H (Lilliput/Irish
Book Centre, o/p). Once a protégé of Yeats, Stuart has
consistently maintained a stance of opposition, in his life and his art.
Black List, his masterpiece, depicts the life of an Irishman in wartime
- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (Penguin/Oxford University
Press); The Tale of a Tub and Other Stories (Oxford University Press).
Surrealism and satire from the only writer in the English language with as
sharp a pen as Voltaire.
- Colm Tóibín, The South (Picador/Viking, o/p). A
woman turns her back on Ireland for Spain and returns thirty years later to
resolve her life, and to die. The Heather Blazing (Picador/Penguin) is a
powerfully understated novel of personal and political loss.
- William Trevor, Stories (Penguin). Five of Trevor's short-story
collections in one volume, revealing more about Ireland than many a turgid
sociological thesis. Often desperately moving, Trevor is one of the true giants
of Irish fiction. Reading Turgenev (Penguin), a sensitive account of an
unhappy marriage, was shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize.
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin/Oxford
University Press). Wilde's exploration of moral schizophrenia. A debauched
socialite maintains his youthful good looks, while his portrait in the attic
slowly disintegrates into a vision of evil.
- Eavan Boland, The Journey (Carcanet, o/p). Thoughtful, spare and
elegant verse from one of Ireland's most significant poets.
- Pat Boran, The Unwound Clock (UK Dedalus). Wry insightful poems
of contemporary Irish life.
- Austin Clarke, Selected Poems (Dolmen/Penguin). Clarke's tender
work evokes the same stark grandeur as the paintings of Jack Yeats.
- Denis Devlin, Collected Poems (US Wake Forest). Pre-eminent Irish
poet of the 1930s, owing allegiance to a European modern tradition rather than
the prevailing Yeatsian.
- Paul Durcan, A Snail in My Prime (Harvill/Penguin); O Westport
in the Light of Asia Minor (UK Harvill); The Berlin Wall Café
(Harvill/Dufour). Ireland's most popular and readable poet. Berlin Wall
is a lament for a broken marriage, recounted with agonizing honesty, dignity
and, ultimately, forgiveness.
- Padraic Fiacc, Missa Terribilis (Blackstaff, o/p). Fiacc's work
is informed by the political and social tribalisms of Northern Ireland, and
explores personal relationships in these contexts.
- Seamus Heaney, Death of a Naturalist (Faber); Selected
Poems, Station Island and Seeing Things (Faber/Farrar Straus
& Giroux). The most important Irish poet since Yeats. His poems are
immediate and passionate, even when dealing with intellectual problems and
radical social divisions. The Redress of Poetry (Faber, o/p/Farrar,
Straus & Giroux) is an example of his energetic prose, consisting of the
lectures he gave while Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1989 to 1994.
- Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems (Martin Brien &
O'Keefe/Flat Iron). Joyfully mystic exploration of the rural countryside and
the lives of its inhabitants by Ireland's most popular poet. See also his
autobiographical novel, Tarry Flynn (Penguin/Proscenium).
- Brendan Kennelly, Cromwell (Bloodaxe/Dufour). Speculative
meditation on the role of the conqueror in Irish history. Poetry My Arse
(UK Bloodaxe) is an epic poem which "sinks its teeth into the pants of poetry
- Thomas Kinsella, Poems: 1956-1973 (US Wake Forest). See also his
translations from the Irish (see p.618, with Seán Ó Tuama) and
his first-rate anthology The Oxford Book of Irish Verse (Oxford
- Shane MacGowan, Poguetry (Faber, o/p in the UK). Rock-solid debut
by the former Pogues' bardperson. Not for Yeats fans.
- Louis MacNeice, Collected Poems (Faber). Good chum of Auden,
Spender and the rest of the "1930s' generation", Carrickfergus-born MacNeice
achieves a fruitier texture and an even more detached tone.
- Derek Mahon, Selected Poems (Penguin); The Hudson Letter
(Gallery/Wake Forest). One of the more considerable Irish poets, a Northern
contemporary of Heaney. See also his Penguin (UK) Book of Contemporary Irish
Poetry (ed. with Peter Fallon).
- Medbh McGuckian, Venus in the Rain (UK Gallery). Trawling the
subconscious for their imagery, McGuckian's sensuous and elusive poems are
highly demanding and equally rewarding.
- Paula Meehan, The Man who was Marked by Winter (Gallery/Paul
& Co). Memorable work, often concerned with women's lives, issues of
family, gender and sexuality.
- John Montague, Collected Poems (Gallery/Wake Forest). Terse
poetry concerned with history, community and social decay. See also his
anthology, The Faber Book of Irish Verse.
- Eileán Ní Chuilleanáin, The Rose Geranium
(UK Gallery). A promising and constantly surprising young poet. Joint editor of
Cyphers, a good Dublin literary magazine.
- Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Selected Poems (UK New Island Books)
is in Irish and English. Haunting translations of her modern erotic verse by
the fine poet Michael Hartnett are included in Raven Introductions 3 (UK
Colin Smythe) and in Frank Ormsby's anthology (see below).
- Frank Ormsby, (ed), The Long Embrace: Twentieth Century Irish
Love Poems (Blackstaff, o/p/Faber, o/p). Excellent anthology with major
chunks from the work of almost every important twentieth-century Irish poet
from Yeats to the present day. See also his Poets from the North of
Ireland anthology (Blackstaff/Dufour).
- Tom Paulin, Fivemiletown and The Strange Museum (Faber,
o/p in the US); Walking a Line (Faber). Often called "dry" both in
praise and accusation, Paulin's work reverberates with thoughtful political
commitment and a sophisticated irony.
- Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Dover). The great
comedian achieves his greatest success, in tragedy.
- William Butler Yeats, The Poems (Papermac/Cassel). They're all
here, poems of rhapsody, love, revolution and eventual rage at a disconnected
and failed Ireland "fumbling in the greasy till."
- Samuel Beckett, Complete Dramatic Works (UK Faber); Collected
Shorter Plays and Waiting for Godot (Faber/Grove-Atlantic). Bleak
hilarity from the laureate of the void. All essential for swanning around
Dublin coffee shops.
- Brendan Behan, The Complete Plays (Eyre Methuen/Grove-Atlantic).
Flashes of brilliance from a writer destroyed by alcoholism. His The Quare
Fellow takes up where Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol leaves off.
- George Farquhar, The Recruiting Officer (Oxford University
Press). The usual helping of cross-dressing and mistaken identity, yet this
goes beyond the implications of most restoration comedy, even flirting with
feminism before finally marrying everyone off in the last scene.
- Brian Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa (Faber). Family drama by Derry
playwright examines the coexistence of Catholicism and paganism in Irish
society, and the tension between them. Plays (UK Faber) contains six of
his greatest works; also available is Selected Plays (US Catholic
University of America Press).
- Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer (Nick Hern Books/Norton).
Sparky dialogue, with a more English sheen than Farquhar. Included in the same
volume is Goldsmith's novel The Vicar of Wakefield (Penguin/Oxford
University Press), an affecting celebration of simple virtue.
- Augusta, Lady Gregory, Collected Plays (Colin Smythe/Dufour). The
Anglo-Irish writer who understood most about the cadences of the Irish
language. This gives not only her translations, but her original drama, an
authenticity lacking in the work of others.
- Frank McGuinness Plays (UK Faber). Observe the Sons of Ulster
Marching towards the Somme and four other major works by one of Ireland's
most important playwrights.
- Tom Murphy, Famine, The Patriot Game, The Blue
Macushla and The Gigli Concert (Methuen/Heineman). Along with Friel
and McGuinness, Murphy is one of the three outstanding contemporary Irish
- Sean O'Casey, Three Plays (Pan/St Martin's). Contains his
powerful Dublin trilogy, Juno and the Paycock, Shadow of a Gunman
and The Plough and the Stars, set against the backdrop of the civil
- John Millington Synge, The Complete Plays (Eyre Methuen/Random
House). Lots of begorras and mavourneens and other dialogue kindly invented for
the Irish peasantry by Synge; but The Playboy of the Western World is a
brilliant and unique work, greeted in Dublin by riots, threats and moral
- Oscar Wilde, Complete Works (HarperCollins). Bittersweet satire,
subversive one-liners and profound existentialist philosophy all masquerading
as well-made, drawing-room farce.
- William Butler Yeats, Collected Plays (Papermac/Simon &
Schuster). Long-haired hunky Celts and gorgeous princesses, as Yeats
inaugurates the Finian's Rainbow school of Irish History. Stick to the poems.
- A.M. Brady and Brian Cleeve, (eds), Biographical Dictionary of Irish
Writers (Lilliput, o/p/St Martin's Press, o/p). Succinct entries on all the
greats, better used as a magical mystery tour through the lost byways of Irish
- Seamus Deane, Short History of Irish Literature (Hutchinson,
o/p/University of Notre Dame Press, o/p). Deane brings a poet's sensitivity to
a massive and sometimes unwieldy tradition, with skill and a profound sense of
- Katie Donovan & Brendan Kennelly, (eds) Dublines
(Bloodaxe/Dufour). A lively anthology of Dublin writing - history, fiction,
poetry and song - compiled by two poets of different generations.
- Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford University Press); Oscar
Wilde (Penguin/Random House). Ellman's Joyce is a major literary
work in itself, a massive and brilliant book. His Oscar Wilde is at
least its equal, an eloquent corrective to the image of Wilde as an
- Field Day Pamphlets, especially: Seamus Deane, Heroic Styles:
The Tradition of an Idea (o/p); Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish
Attitudes (o/p); Michael Farrell, Apparatus of Repression in
Ireland (o/p); and Seamus Heaney, An Open Letter (o/p). Other
pamphlets by Robert McCartney (a Northern Unionist lawyer), Tom Paulin and
other leading lights of the Irish cultural scene. The Field Day Anthology of
Irish Writing (Field Day/Norton; general editor Seamus Deane) is a book to
visit rather than buy: running to more than 4000 pages (in three volumes), and
covering everything from early Celtic literature to the present, it costs
£150. This insanely ambitious project aims to examine the nature of
Irish writing - emphatically not just literature: as well as plays, poems and
novels, it includes political speeches, pamphlets, analyses and essays; a fine
record of a primarily literary culture.
- Myles na Gopaleen, (aka Flann O'Brien), The Best of Myles (UK
Paladin). Priceless extracts from a daily humorous newspaper column by
O'Brien's alter ego.
- Michael Holroyd, The Search for Love; The Pursuit of
Power; The Lure of Fantasy, 1918-50 (Penguin/Random House).
Holroyd's three-part biography of Shaw has been unfairly slammed by the
critics, but is actually a pretty successful stab at understanding one of the
most difficult and complex authors of the whole Anglo-Irish canon.
- Joss Lynam, (ed.), Best Irish Walks (Moorland/NTC). Seventy-six
walks through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the country.
- Brenda Maddox, Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce
(Minerva/Fawcett). Eminently readable story of the funny, irreverent and
formidable Nora Barnacle and her life with James Joyce - an interesting
complement to Ellmann's Joyce biography.
- Sally and John McKenna, Bridgestone Food Guide (UK Estragon). The
best in an almost non-existent field of Irish food writing. The same authors'
smaller guides, to restaurants and places to stay, are also popular.
- T. Augustine Martin, Anglo-Irish Literature (Irish Department of
Foreign Affairs/Irish Books & Media, o/p). Readable scholarship and precise
insight from the country's foremost Yeatsian scholar.
- Joseph O'Connor, The Secret World of the Irish Male
(Minerva/Heineman). Best-selling collection of the novelist's newspaper
columns; frequently very funny.
- Tim Robinson, The Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (Penguin/Viking,
o/p). Treats the largest of the Aran Islands to a scrutiny of Proustian detail.
The Stones of Aran: Labyrinth (Lilliput/Viking, o/p) completes the
project, to form a uniquely challenging travel book.
- Colm Tóibín,The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic
Europe (Vintage/McKay). Novelist Tóibín uses his journalistic
skills to find the old-time religion in Ireland and elsewhere. Bad Blood
(UK Vintage) is a perceptive account of a journey along the line that divides
Northern Ireland from the rest of the island.
- Brendan Walsh, Irish Cycling Guide (Moorland/Irish Books &
Media). This is a grand tour of the country, in 36 stages, taking the roads
with least traffic.
- John Waters, Jiving at the Crossroads (Blackstaff/Dufour).
Curiously engaging autobiography which traces a fascination with Fianna
Fáil politics through the formative years of a western youth in the
1970s and 1980s.
- Robert Welch (ed.), Oxford Companion to Irish Literature (Oxford
University Press). This encyclopedic tour through who's who and what they've
written fills a long-standing need.
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