The best books for exploring Irish mythology

Who am I?

In Ireland, there’s barely a rock or a hedge that doesn’t have a story attached to it. Lots of them are dark, some are sexy and many are downright hilarious. I myself grew up near a river whose name in the Irish language means “eyeballs”. We lived a short but rocky drive from Gleann Nimhe, A.K.A., “Poisoned Glen”, and the origins of these names lie in tales that are even more twisted than you might expect. My very Catholic school relished enthralling its overcrowded classrooms with these pagan stories. We were introduced to gods and saints, famous slaughters, and tragic heroines. For some of us, it sank in. Deep.


I wrote...

The Call

By Peadar Ó Guilín,

Book cover of The Call

What is my book about?

I usually describe my book, The Call, as “a Harry Potter where everybody dies”. It’s a fast-paced, horrific tale for teens that is deeply rooted in Irish mythology and poetry. 

In a future Ireland, teens attend boarding schools whose whole purpose is to teach them to survive an event known as “The Call”. Before they reach adulthood, each of them will be summoned to a hellish fairyland, where for an entire day, the vengeful and slightly insane inhabitants will hunt them down. The book was nominated for a slew of awards and it even won a few of them in the end.

The books I picked & why

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The Book of Conquests

By Jim Fitzpatrick,

Book cover of 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.

The Book of Conquests

By Jim Fitzpatrick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Conquests as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BOOK OF CONQUESTS, published in 1978, is the first volume of a trilogy of works, which tell the story of the ancient and magical race: the Tuatha Dé Danann. The second volume, THE SILVER ARM was published in 1981; while volume three, THE SON OF THE SUN is in preparation. THE BOOK OF CONQUESTS tells the story of Nuada, king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and the First Battle of Moy Tura, one of the most important sagas in Early Irish Literature.


The Tain

By Ciaran Carson (translator),

Book cover of 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.

The Tain

By Ciaran Carson (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Tain Bo Cualinge, centrepiece of the eighth-century Ulster cycle of heroic tales, is Ireland's great epic. It tells the story of a great cattle-raid, the invasion of Ulster by the armies of Medb and Ailill, Queen and King of Connacht, and their allies, seeking to carry off the great Brown Bull of Cualige. The hero of the tale is Cuchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, who resists the invaders single-handed while Ulster's warriors lie sick.


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

By Lady Gregory,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Lady Gregory,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gods and Fighting Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A few months ago I was on the bare Hill of Allen, "wide Almhuin of Leinster," where Finn and the Fianna lived, according to the stories, although there are no earthen mounds there like those that mark the sites of old buildings on so many hills. A hot sun beat down upon flowering gorse and flowerless heather; and on every side except the east, where there were green trees and distant hills, one saw a level horizon and brown boglands with a few green places and here and there the glitter of water. One could imagine that had it been…


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

By Mark Williams,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Mark Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ireland's Immortals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sweeping history of Ireland's native gods, from Iron Age cult and medieval saga to the Celtic Revival and contemporary fiction

Ireland's Immortals tells the story of one of the world's great mythologies. The first account of the gods of Irish myth to take in the whole sweep of Irish literature in both the nation's languages, the book describes how Ireland's pagan divinities were transformed into literary characters in the medieval Christian era-and how they were recast again during the Celtic Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A lively narrative of supernatural beings and their fascinating and…


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

By Standish O'Grady, A.H. Leahy,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Standish O'Grady, A.H. Leahy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne / The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For a thousand years and more audiences have delighted in these Irish tales, wondering at the elopement of the impetuous Grainne with the heroic Diarmuid and heartbroken by the fateful flight of Deirdre. Two strong women take control of their destinies and both pay grievous prices.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Irish mythology, Ireland, and Celtic mythology?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Irish mythology, Ireland, and Celtic mythology.

Irish Mythology Explore 9 books about Irish mythology
Ireland Explore 169 books about Ireland
Celtic Mythology Explore 16 books about Celtic mythology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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