The best novels about Ireland and the Irish

Marian O'Shea Wernicke Author Of Out of Ireland
By Marian O'Shea Wernicke

Who am I?

I am a lover of all things Irish because of my heritage, with my maiden name O’Shea. Both of my parents’ grandparents came from Ireland to the United States: the O’Sheas from County Kerry and the Ward and Sullivans from Galway and Bantry. As an English major, I have loved the works of Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and I wrote my Master’s thesis on Ulysses by Joyce. Both of my own novels center around the Irish. I understand their love/hate relationship with the Catholic Church, and I love the stinging wit and lively humor of the people. The Irish are great storytellers!

I wrote...

Out of Ireland

By Marian O'Shea Wernicke,

Book cover of Out of Ireland

What is my book about?

In Bantry, Ireland, sixteen-year-old Eileen O’Donovan is forced to marry an older widower she does not love. Her brother Michael is involved with the outlawed Irish Republican Brotherhood, dedicated to the violent overthrow of British rule in Ireland. Their fates intertwine when they each decide to emigrate to America, where both tragedy and happiness await them. Out of Ireland is a love letter to the strength of the women and men who came before us, full of beauty, pain, and perseverance. 

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The books I picked & why


By Colm Toίbίn,

Book cover of Brooklyn

Why did I love this book?

Brooklyn is one of my favorite contemporary novels.

Written in spare, clear prose, the story reels you in as you follow a young Irish girl in the 1950s, who leaves her small town in Ireland to find work in Brooklyn. Homesickness sets in, but love happens too until she is called home at her sister’s death. Complications ensue! 

This novel has been made into a great film also.

By Colm Toίbίn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Brooklyn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Colm Toibin's Brooklyn is a devastating story of love, loss and one woman's terrible choice between duty and personal freedom. The book that inspired the major motion picture starring Saoirse Ronan.

It is Ireland in the early 1950s and for Eilis Lacey, as for so many young Irish girls, opportunities are scarce. So when her sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York, Eilis knows she must go, leaving behind her family and her home for the first time.

Arriving in a crowded lodging house in Brooklyn, Eilis can only be reminded of what she has sacrificed. She is…

Star of the Sea

By Joseph O'Connor,

Book cover of Star of the Sea

Why did I love this book?

This novel gave me such great insight into the immigrant experience of the Irish in the mid-nineteenth century.

The reality of the voyage over for the poor clashes sharply with the reality for the wealthy. The plot involves a mystery, a love story, and a mysterious person seeking revenge, all of which kept me up late at night reading. 

By Joseph O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Star of the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* Over a million copies sold *

Rediscover Joseph O'Connor's monumental #1 international bestseller.

In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by injustice and natural disaster, the Star of the Sea sets sail for New York.

On board are hundreds of fleeing refugees. Among them are a maidservant with a devastating secret, bankrupt Lord Merridith and his family, an aspiring novelist and a maker of revolutionary ballads, all braving the Atlantic in search of a new home. Each is connected more deeply than they can possibly know.

But a camouflaged killer is stalking the decks, hungry for…

The Last September

By Elizabeth Bowen,

Book cover of The Last September

Why did I love this book?

This novel, set in an upper-class Anglo-Irish great house in the 1920s during Ireland’s fight for independence from British rule, broke my heart.

The central character struggles with her attraction to a young revolutionary hiding on the property and her loyalty to her upper-class English upbringing. An atmosphere of smouldering violence pervades the novel, while the characters have tennis parties, love affairs, and engage in family gossip.

Independence, both personal and political, is the theme, yet at what cost?

This is a great movie also!

By Elizabeth Bowen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Read Elizabeth Bowen's accessible feminist take on the Irish aristocracy


The Irish troubles rage, but up at the 'Big House', tennis parties, dances and flirtations with the English officers continue, undisturbed by the ambushes, arrests and burning country beyond the gates. Faint vibrations of discord reach the young girl Lois, who is straining for her own freedom, and she will witness the troubles surge closer and reach their irrevocable, inevitable climax.

The Ninth Hour

By Alice McDermott,

Book cover of The Ninth Hour

Why did I love this book?

McDermott writes about Irish-American people, and this novel is about nuns in Brooklyn who help out a young widow and her little daughter after the suicide of her husband.

I was a nun for eleven years, so loved the realistic portrayal of the nuns with all their human foibles and virtues! 

The young girl becomes the central character as she grows up helping the sisters in their work with the poor, even deciding she might like to be a nun herself until she has a disastrous encounter on a train. Beautifully written with humor and compassion. 

By Alice McDermott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PRIX FEMINA ETRANGER 2018 SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2017 KIRKUS PRIZE ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2017 ____________________ From the National Book Award-winning author comes a luminous, deeply humane novel about three generations of an Irish immigrant family in 1940s and 1950s Brooklyn - for those who love Colm Toibin, Anne Enright and Anne Tyler On a dim winter afternoon in a Brooklyn tenement, a young Irish immigrant unhooks the oven gas, and inhales. In the aftermath of the fire that follows, Sister St. Savior, an ageing nun appears, unbidden, to direct the way forward…

The Country Girls

By Edna O'Brien,

Book cover of The Country Girls

Why did I love this book?

Edna O’Brien’s work makes me laugh and cry at the same time!

The Country Girls is a rollicking tale of two girls from rural Ireland in the 1950s, convent-educated, who leave home after their secondary school graduation to seek freedom and fun in the big city of Dublin.

Not quite Sex in the City, but a reader will laugh with the girls and sympathize with their troubles with men and work. 

By Edna O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of Edna O'Brien's The Country Girls trilogy begins in August 2019.

Edna O'Brien's wonderful, wild and moving novel shocked the nation on its publication in 1960. Adapted for the stage by the author, The Country Girls, the play, is a highly theatrical and free-flowing telling of this classic coming of age story.

This new edition of The Country Girls was published to coincide with its UK premiere at Chichester Festival Theatre in June 2017.

Edna O'Brien's stunning new novel Girl will be published by Faber in September 2019, available to pre-order now.

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Interested in Ireland, immigrants, and suicide?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Ireland, immigrants, and suicide.

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