Irish book list

In honour of the national festival, I’ve produced this list of books about Ireland which I have reviewed on-line. This is not a reading list for Irish studies – I ran through most of that when working on my PhD. But I hope some of you will find some points of interest here.


Medieval history
**** A History of the Black Death in Ireland, by Maria Kelly
***½ Malachy, by Brian Scott – biography of the 12th-century saint

Sixteenth century
****½ Tudor Ireland: Crown, Community and the Conflict of Cultures, 1470-1603 by Steven G. Ellis – best of three on the period
**** Contested Island: Ireland 1460-1630, by S.J. Connolly
***½ Sixteenth Century Ireland, by Colm Lennon

Seventeenth century (and on)
**** The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates, by Des Ekin – how the population of a Cork village were sold to Algiers in 1631
**** Battle of the Boyne 1690, by Padraig Lenihan
**** Science, Culture and Modern State Formation, by Patrick Carroll – science and the state in the 17th and 18th centuries
****½ Belfast, c. 1600 to c. 1900: The Making of the Modern City, by Raymond Gillespie and Stephen A. Royle – found this fascinating

Nineteenth century (and on)
***½ Scholars and Rebels, by Terry Eagleton – intellectual life in nineteenth century Ireland
***** Home Rule: An Irish History 1800-2000, by Alvin Jackson – draws some interesting parallels
**** The Independent Irish Party, 1850-9 by John H Whyte – my father’s first book
**½-**** Four biographies of Arthur McMurrough Kavanagh
**** Parnell – The Uncrowned King of Ireland: His Love Story and Political Life, by Katherine O’Shea – biography of leading Irish political figure by the woman who loved him
**** A Bachelor’s London: Memories of the Day before Yesterday, 1889-1914, by Frederic Whyte – autobiography of a distant cousin of mine; some Irish content
***** Lost Railways of Co. Down and Co. Armagh, by Stephen Johnson – does what it says on the tin

****½ Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, by Charles Townshend – comprehensive account
**** Dublin Castle and the 1916 Rising: The Story of Sir Matthew Nathan, by Leon Ó Broin – looks at one senior official’s experience
**** Slide Rule: An Autobiography, by Neville Shute – the novelist’s father was in charge of the GPO
**½ From Behind a Closed Door: Secret Court Martial Records of the Easter Rising, by Brian Barton – relies too heavily on its source material

The Troubles
***** Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea – heart-rending and complete
***** Making Sense of the Troubles, by David McKittrick and David McVea – excellent overview of What It All Meant
***** The Elusive Quest: Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, by Norman Porter – on the importance of reconciliation, and how to get there
****½ Troubled Images: Posters and Images of the Northern Ireland Conflict from the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, ed. Yvonne Murphy, Allan Leonard, Gordon Gillespie and Kris Brown – fascinating collection of visual images
***½ Endgame in Ireland, by David McKittrick and Eamonn Mallie – chronology from 1984 to 2001.
*** Northern Ireland: A Political Directory, 1968-1999 by Sydney Elliott and W.D. Flackes with John Coulter – previous edition of essential directory

Other 20th century
***½ What If? Alternative Views of Twentieth-Century Ireland, by Diarmaid Ferriter – less interesting than it sounds

***½ The Star Factory, by Ciaran Carson – literary memoir of growing up in Belfast
***½ More Real Than Reality: The Fantastic in Irish Literature and the Arts, edited by Donald E. Morse and Csilla Bertha – scholarly essays


****½ Improbable Frequency, by Arthur Riordan and Bell Helicopter – Myles na gCopaleen and Schrödinger
****½ The New Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction, edited by Dermot Bolger and Ciaran Carty – short stories by new writers
**** A Game of Sharopened Knives, by Neil Belton – De Valera and Schrödinger
**** Odd Man Out, by F.L. Green – base for the classic film
***½ Green Shadows, White Whale: A Novel of Making Moby Dick with John Huston in Ireland, by Ray Bradbury – uneven but interesting

Science Fiction
***½ The Secret Visitors, by James White – aliens in Portballintrae
***½ The Green Gene, by Peter Dickinson – you can tell they’re Celts by their skin colour
*** The Rising of the Moon, by Flynn Connolly – women fighting repression in a future theocratic Ireland
*** Darkness Audible, by Graham Andrews – short shories with linking narrative
** Masters of the Fist, by Edward P Hughes – the only fertile man in the post-Holocaust world gets to impregnate all the women of the village

***** The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien – my favourite of his writings
***** Thud!, by Terry Pratchett – not explicitly about Northern Ireland but it’s not difficult to work it out
****½ The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson – classic fantasy, though the Irish setting is rather incidental
**** At Swim-Two-Birds, by Flann O’Brien – generally regarded as his masterpiece
**** The Prize in the Game, by Jo Walton – interesting Cuchulain treatment
**** Master of Earth and Water, by Diana L. Paxson and Adrienne Martine-Barnes – Finn MacCool treatment
**** The Hounds of the Morrigan, by Pat O’Shea – good fantasy novel, for younger readers
**** The Compleat Enchanter, by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt – last section is another Cuchulain yarn
**** Preacher: Proud Americans, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon – vampire’s eye view of the Easter Rising
***½ Emerald Magic: Great Tales Of Irish Fantasy, ed. Andrew M. Greeley – fifteen fantasy stories, most published here first
***½ Gossamer Axe, by Gael Baudino – time-travelling rock musician rescues her girlfriend
***½ Red Branch, by Morgan Llewellyn – yet another Cuchulain treatment
*** Too Long a Sacrifice, by Mildred Downey Broxon – more time-travelling, from ancient times to the Troubles
*** Most Ancient Song, by Kenneth C. Flint – unexceptional fantasy novel
*** Carolan’s Concerto: a toast to the three sacred pastimes of old Ireland: Music, Storytelling and Whiskey, by Caiseal Mór – Celtic Mist
**½ The Meeting of the Waters: Book One of the Watchers Trilogy, by Caiseal Mór – more Celtic Mist

One thought on “Irish book list

  1. There was a serious history of Europe by, er, somebody, some years back where the writer’s Big Point is that Europe is basically an adjunct of Asia. To ram home the point, he had a map with West at the top, so you had more of a sense of Europe as just being an Asian peninsula.

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