The best books for exploring Irish mythology

The Books I Picked & Why

The Book of Conquests

By Jim Fitzpatrick

The Book of Conquests

Why this book?

Jim Fitzpatrick’s CV may include the world’s most famous portrait of Che Guevara, but in Ireland, he is better known for his glorious depictions of our native myths and legends. If anything can be said to be his masterpiece, it is his work in The Book of Conquests. The text is a translation of a medieval manuscript, Lebor Gabála Érenn. This account of the mythical origins of Ireland was my most important inspiration for writing The Call. But as a child, it was the pulse-pounding illustrations that really made my jaw drop.


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The Tain

By Ciaran Carson

The Tain

Why this book?

If you’re going to read Ireland’s most famous epic in English, you might as well read the most vivid translation going. These ancient stories were full of humour and raunchiness, as well as all the action and heroism you might be expecting. In my opinion, Ciaran Carson gets the tone absolutely right.


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Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland

By Lady Gregory

Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland

Why this book?

Although we’ve never stopped telling stories on this island, there is no doubt that a huge part of our heritage would have been lost if not for those who collected it, translated it for a non-Irish-speaking audience, and published it around the world. Lady Gregory’s brilliant collection, Gods and Fighting Men is the one on which so many others are based.


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Ireland's Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth

By Mark Williams

Ireland's Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth

Why this book?

This is a fascinating look at the perceptions of Irish mythology at different points throughout our history. There’s always a lot of fuss on the internet about fantasy writers who get our mythology “wrong”, but Mark Williams shows that the legends themselves and their themes have evolved constantly to reflect the concerns and mores of the times and of the storytellers themselves. Ireland’s Immortals is almost an academic proof of the thesis laid out in Robert Holdstock’s brilliant novel, Mythago Wood, which -- it goes without saying -- I also highly recommend.


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The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne / The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu

By Standish O'Grady, A. H. Leahy

The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne / The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu

Why this book?

Irish mythological tales are usually divided into various cycles. I’ve already included the heart of the aristocratic Ulster Cycle with The Táin above. Here, with The Pursuit, A.K.A., the Tóraíocht, we have my favourite part of the Fenian Cycle, with a Dark Ages hallucinatory road trip across the island as runaway lovers try to evade capture by a jilted king. Did I mention it was funny? I should have. It’s great.


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