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Irish Roots: 10 Books to Read on St. Patrick’s Day

From contemporary scribes like Sally Rooney and Colm Tóibín to the great James Joyce, these notable books illuminate the history, culture and food of the Emerald Isle / BY Athena McKenzie / March 16th, 2022


While Ireland’s rich literary history includes masters Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and James Joyce, its contemporary scribes also deliver impressive reads. When you’re appreciating Irish culture this St. Patrick’s Day, consider one of these memorable books, from a re-imagined classic and journalistic oral history to a folklore-inspired short story collection and a comprehensive look at the country’s culinary heritage.

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1Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These is set in a small Irish town in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The award-winning author – The Times named her 2010 novella, Foster, one of the top 50 books published in the 21st century – dedicates her latest to “the women and children who suffered time in Ireland’s Magdalen laundries,” but her story focuses on Bill Furlong, a coal merchant born to an unwed teen. While Bill was lucky enough to grow up in an accepting home and marry into a middle-class family, he makes a discovery on one of his morning deliveries that forces him to confront his past and the complicit silence of a town controlled by the church.

 


2Ulysses: An Illustrated Edition by James Joyce and Eduardo Arroyo

Widely regarded as one of the greatest books of all time, Ulysses casts its considerable shadow over Irish writing – and world literature. To mark its 100th anniversary, this new edition is illustrated by the late neo-figurative artist Eduardo Arroyo, widely regarded as one of the greatest Spanish artists of his generation. With over 300 illustrations, this is a new approach for Ulysses – a work of art for a work of art. If you start now, you can finish the 720-page book in time for Bloomsday on June 16, the annual celebration of Joyce that marks the day in 1904 when Ulysses takes place.


3Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney is one of the best-known Irish writers at work today, and the publication of her latest novel was greeted with critical and commercial fanfare similar to that of a new Harry Potter book. There are no wizards here, just a quartet of young people making their way into adulthood. Beautiful World, Where Are You has been hailed as a smart, sexy book, with deeply personal truths that will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled with life, love, relationships, or their career.


4The Irish Cook Book by Jp McMahon

Michelin-starred Irish chef and author Jp McMahon gives an immersive look at Irish heritage, history and cooking habits in this artful book. Its 480 recipes are created with the home cook in mind, and celebrate the range of Ireland’s bounty, from oysters and seaweed to beef and lamb.

 


5We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole

The judges for the An Post Irish Book Awards described Fintan O’Toole’s chronicle of his country as “a book that will remain important for a very long time – a reflection of who we are and where we came from. Truly, this is a book for the ages.” The 64-year-old journalist and author uses his own life and experiences as a guide to chart the course of Ireland’s tumultuous social, cultural, and economic change.


6That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry is considered one of Ireland’s – and the world’s – most promising literary talents. His most recent novel, Night Boat to Tangier, was longlisted for the Booker Prize and named one of the top 10 books of 2019 by The New York Times. His new short story collection, written over eight years, explores small-town Ireland, one of his favoured territories, where folklore and magic persist.


7On Bloody Sunday by Julieann Campbell

Before she was born, reporter and author Julieann Campbell’s uncle was the first person killed on Bloody Sunday, the 1972 civil rights march in Northern Ireland. Considered a pivotal moment in Irish history, 13 people were killed and another 15 were wounded in Derry after the British Army’s 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment opened fire on demonstrators. Fifty years later, Campbell’s oral history collects the testimonies of survivors, relatives, eyewitnesses and politicians, to shine a light on the horrendous events.


8The Magician by Colm Tóibín

What happens when Colm Tóibín, one of the greatest living Irish writers, imagines the life of Thomas Mann, one of the greatest 20th-century German writers? In The Magician, the author of Brooklyn and The Master focuses on the “non-heroic” aspects of the Nobel Prize winner who wrote The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice, to show how his life and career were far more complicated and conflicted than the confident air he projected.


9A Ghost In the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa

It is difficult to describe, let alone classify A Ghost In the Throat by the Irish poet and essayist Doireann Ni Ghriofa. It is, in part, an analysis of The Keen for Art O Laoghaire, a lament by 18th century poet Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill, which was written after her husband was murdered. It’s also an investigation into the life of the poet, beyond the usual classroom platitudes. Then there’s the connection, across the centuries, between the two poets. Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue says it best: “A Ghost in the Throat is something strange and very special: a ravishingly immersive telling of the way in which a poet and mother’s obsession with a poet and mother who died centuries ago makes their different lives chime like bells.”


1056 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

A thoroughly modern psychological suspense story, 56 Days takes place over lockdown in Dublin. Ciara and Oliver meet in a supermarket the same week that COVID-19 is discovered in Ireland. The new couple decides to move in together, but when restrictions are lifted, one of them is dead. Catherine Ryan Howard is a celebrated thriller writer in Ireland, and this title won the 2021 An Post Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction and made both The Washington Post and The New York Times lists of best thrillers of 2021.

 


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