Ireland: A Reading List

Image of a light post in Dublin, Ireland

Dublin, Ireland

The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849 Cecil Woodham-Smith.  The Great Famine in the 1840s was a defining moment in Irish history.  Out of a population of approximately 8 million people, an estimated one million died in the famine and millions more emigrated from Ireland to the United States, Canada, England, and Australia.  Cecil Woodham-Smith provides an excellent description of this tragic time, which had broad-reaching impacts on the future of Ireland and the destiny of its people around the world.  Travel Inspiration: Famine Memorial, Dublin.

The Big Wind: A Novel of Great Famine Beatrice Coogan (Fiction).  This is one of my favorite books of all time.  It contains everything I love in a book — history, culture, travel, a compelling story, and an epic romance.  Like all historical fiction, it is based on real-life events, and it provides the reader with a greater understanding of the politics of Ireland and the heart-breaking devastation of the famine.

Biting at the Grave: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair – Padraig O’Malley.  Biting at the Grave recounts the story of prisoners in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.  During this time, those arrested for their associations with the Irish Republican Army and the struggle against British rule embarked on hunger strikes to gain political prisoner status.  The most well-known hunger striker was Bobby Sands, who ultimately lost his life.  Travel Inspiration: Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, where Bobby Sands is buried.

Jaywalking with the Irish David Monagan.  A light-hearted, modern look at Ireland from a man who moved his family to Cork.  Travel Inspiration: We visited Cork, of course!

Brooklyn  Colm Toiban  (Fiction).  Set in both Ireland and the United States in the mid-1900s, the author beautifully tells the story of a young woman who immigrates to the United States and the inner struggle that results in trying to build a new life thousands of miles away from home.

The Princes of Ireland & The Rebels of Ireland Edward Rutherford (Fiction).  Another example of historical fiction at is best.  In these sweeping novels, master story-teller Edward Rutherford takes the reader from pagan times to Irish independence.  After reading both books (and don’t stop at just one!), I had much deeper understanding of the people, history, culture, and politics of Ireland.  Travel Inspiration: General Post Office, Dublin, headquarters of the leaders of the 1916 Rising.

The Green Flag, Vols 1-3 – Robert Kee.  The Green Flag series is hard-core, non-fiction Irish history. Settle in, dig in, and learn.  If you are a fan of fiction like me, I would start with Edward Rutherford and then graduate to The Green Flag series.  Edward Rutherford does a great job of setting the context for Kee’s books.  Travel Inspiration: Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, where leaders of the fight for Irish Independence were imprisoned and executed.

Irish America: Coming Into Clover Maureen Dezell.  Irish America is not actually a book about Ireland.  It is a book about families like mine who are comprised of people who emigrated from Ireland and their descendants.  I could swear that someone followed us around with a video camera to compile observations for this book.  My husband, who is not Irish, felt that this book “explained a lot” about his in-laws.

O  Come Ye Back to Ireland: Our First Year in County Clare – Niall Williams, Christine Breen.  A lovely memoir of two people who move from New York to a farm in County Clare.  Niall and Christie do a wonderful job of describing the hopes, fears, joys, and struggles of their new life.

JFK In Ireland: Four Days That Changed a President – Ryan Tubridy.  JFK In Ireland examines the visit of U.S. President Kennedy to Ireland in 1963, which was his first and last trip to the island as president.  The author expertly details the positive impact of this visit on the people of Ireland, Irish-Americans, and the President himself.  President Kennedy was assassinated only a few months after making the journey to his ancestral homeland.  As Jackie Kennedy is quoted as saying, “That trip meant more to him than any other in his life…”  Travel Inspiration: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.

A Farther Shore: Ireland’s Long Road to Peace – Gerry Adams.  A Farther Shore is not a book for beginners in Irish history.  Adams, the president of the Irish political party Sinn Féin, painstakingly details the fascinating process that led to the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998.  This agreement ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity in Ireland after decades of political violence.  Travel Inspiration: A tour of political murals in Belfast.

Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World 1918-1923 – Maurice Walsh.  This book is for those who have learned the basics of Irish history and would like to know more about the events that led to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. Bitter Freedom examines in detail the period of time between the 1916 Rising and the end of the Irish Civil War.  Travel Inspiration: Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, where the Irish Constitution was drafted in 1922.

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