The best memoirs of an Irish childhood

Who am I?

As an experienced teacher I was fascinated by how writing personal stories helped to develop confidence as well as oral and written self-expression at different levels of complexity in children across the primary school age range. This encouraged me to embark on a MA in creative writing where I wrote an extended autobiographical piece that focused on how the relationship between my father and myself affected my childhood.  I continued this research into my doctoral studies in Irish autobiography. I explored the history of Irish autobiography, memory, and identity formation. This research provided the context to write my own childhood memoir I Am Patrick


I wrote...

I Am Patrick: A Donegal Childhood Remembered

By Patrick Doherty,

Book cover of I Am Patrick: A Donegal Childhood Remembered

What is my book about?

I Am Patrick recalls a deeply traditional world, on the edge of The Atlantic Ocean, that grappled daily with the harsh realities of farming, poverty, and the powers of The Church. Patrick was caught between the demands of his father, who wanted the boys to help on the farm, and his ambitious mother who wanted to give her children opportunities through education. In a distinctive, teetotal, non-smoking family Patrick, the seventh son, struggled to find his place.

Patrick narrates his troubling story through the dialogue of his youth as he shows what it felt like to live through fear and intimidation lifted by moments of family humour. His yearning for belonging, endurance, and eventual escape speaks to generations of a remote, but not distant, Ireland.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Country Girl: A Memoir

Patrick Doherty Why did I love this book?

Edna O’Brien’s 2012 autobiography Country Girl is a blunt, gripping, lyrical and non-self-pitying depiction of her early life in the west of Ireland. It exposes the stultifying conformity imposed by the Catholic Church, family and community which I experienced myself. She rebelled as she sought freedom and self-expression from a domineering mother and drunken father. Edna’s escape to Dublin, London and New York as well as her exile from Ireland reflects an individual addicted to drugs and alcohol who seeks acknowledgement, liberty and success through many failed relationships. Edna’s autobiography resonates with many of my own experiences of the 1960’s. Country Girl demonstrates how one Irish female writer broke the cultural silence so that others would not feel alone. Her writing was an inspiration to me for my own memoir.

By Edna O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Country Girl 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.

I thought of life's many bounties, to have known the extremities of joy and sorrow, love, crossed love and unrequited love, success and failure, fame and slaughter ...

Born in Ireland in 1930 and driven into exile after publication of her controversial first novel, The Country Girls, Edna O'Brien is now hailed as one of the most majestic writers of her era - and Country Girl is her fabulous memoir.

Born in rural Ireland, O'Brien weaves the tale of her life from convent school…


Book cover of Autobiography of a Child

Patrick Doherty Why did I love this book?

In 1899, the Irish novelist, Hannah Lynch wrote her memoir Autobiography of a Child. She caused controversy in Ireland and abroad by attempting to represent her childhood up to the age of twelve narrated through the child’s voice, a strategy I adopted but from the ageing child’s point of view where the language and thought process become more complex as I grow older. Her use of adult reflection upon the child’s unstable memory demonstrates an original understanding of the child’s point of view and its representation. Hannah uncovered the inescapable cycle of harsh treatment by her parents within a large family and the physical abuse by nuns at school. Her book reinforces the unreliability of memory for autobiography and helped me to accept that total veracity is not possible.

By Hannah Lynch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Autobiography of a Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is a powerful first-person narrative follows the story of a young Irish girl from her earliest memory to around twelve years of age, tracing the shaping of "the Dublin Angela" into "the English Angela" and ultimately Angela of Lysterby, "the Irish rebel." This tale is told from the perspective of her older self, now "a hopeless wanderer" with youth and optimism behind her.
The narrative opens with a startling sketch of Angela's mother, "a handsome, cold-eyed woman, who did not love me," before relating fragmented memories of an idyllic time spent in rural Kildare while "put out to nurse"…


Book cover of That Unearthly Valley: A Donegal Childhood

Patrick Doherty Why did I love this book?

McGinley’s 2011 autobiography That Unearthly Valley: A Donegal Childhood is a carbon copy of my own upbringing in a small rural, Irish and narrow-minded community in County Donegal in the mid-twentieth century where the dominance and hypocrisy of the Catholic priest and school instilled fear and religious compliance in daily life. 

McGinley’s clearly narrated memories reveal a young man’s frustration at the silent and secret practices of those in authority from which his only escape was education and by disowning his birthplace. His descriptions of feeling like an outcast hhelpme to question the traumatic impact of our childhoods upon our adult lives. Like myself, it was only by distancing himself from home that he was able to lay bare a disturbing existence of repression.

By Patrick McGinley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked That Unearthly Valley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A canny, loving portrait of a 1940s and 50s rural Irish upbringing, a moving homage to the folk imagination, and a heartfelt valedictory for a traditional way of life 'subsistence farming, sheep-rearing, hand-weaving, fiddle-playing and story-telling' that has largely vanished from our shores. Born in Glencolmcille in 1937, McGinley tells of growing up in the back of beyond, an isolated, seaside village marked by a generosity of spirit and a true sense of community, wherein he first encountered such mysteries as crab toes, family, sex, death, and school, along with a larger-than-life local curate, Fr James McDyer, a radical socialist…


Book cover of All Will Be Well: A Memoir

Patrick Doherty Why did I love this book?

John McGahern’s Memoir is a chronological narrative of his experiences in County Leitrim Ireland from the age of three. His continuous prose of detailed descriptions of places, people, and incidents combined with the child’s voice create a brutal home and school environment from which his only escape is the beauty of the local landscape. His contrasting depiction of his brutal father and loving mother resurrects my parents’ behaviour. He uses the most effective order of words to create a gripping narrative to represent Irish family silence. John’s precise style creates an addictive tension hooking me to every word where I am left to ponder on what is not said. John’s narration of his experiences encouraged me to partially adopt his approach in my own memoir.

By John McGahern,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All Will Be Well as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From award-winning author John McGahern, a memoir of his childhood in the Irish countryside and the beginnings of his life as a writer.

McGahern describes his early years as one of seven children growing up in rural County Leitrim, a childhood was marked by his father’s violent nature and the early death of his beloved mother. Tracing the memories of home through both people and place, McGahern details family life and the beginnings of a writing career that would take him far from home, and then back again. Haunting and illuminating, All Will Be Well is an unforgettable portrait of…


Book cover of The Speckled People

Patrick Doherty Why did I love this book?

Hugo Hamilton’s 2003 autobiography The Speckled People recounts his Dublin childhood experiences of being brought up by a brutal, Gaelic-speaking and nationalist father who forbade him from speaking English and a German mother who escaped from Nazi Germany. 

Hugo’s linguistic difficulties and cultural disparities restricted his personal development where confusion and frustration led to isolation. I am fascinated by his search for self-identity through his love of English resulting in a thought-provoking narrative that reflects the powerful role of language in the representation of the self and identity formation. I can vouch for this in my own memoir where the increasing complexity of language of the ageing child highlights the stages of my linguistic and cognitive development.

By Hugo Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'This is the most gripping book I've read in ages ... It is beautifully written, fascinating, disturbing and often very funny.' Roddy Doyle

The childhood world of Hugo Hamilton, born and brought up in Dublin, is a confused place. His father, a sometimes brutal Irish nationalist, demands his children speak Gaelic, while his mother, a softly spoken German emigrant who has been marked by the Nazi past, speaks to them in German. He himself wants to speak English. English is, after all, what the other children in Dublin speak. English is what they use when they hunt him down in…


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Book cover of The Twenty: One Woman's Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail

Marianne C. Bohr Author Of The Twenty: One Woman's Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail

New book alert!

Who am I?

I married my high school sweetheart and travel partner, and followed my own advice to do graduate work, and started my career working for the French National Railroad in New York City, mapping itineraries for travelers to Europe. Travel means the world to me and if I don’t have a trip on the horizon, I feel aimless and untethered. I worked in book publishing for 30 years and dropped out of the corporate rat race to take a gap year abroad. I wrote about our “Senior year abroad” in my first book Gap Year Girl. I returned to the US to teach middle school French and organize student trips to France. 

Marianne's book list on by women about outdoor adventure

What is my book about?

Marianne Bohr and her husband, about to turn sixty, are restless for adventure. They decide on an extended, desolate trek across the French island of Corsica — the GR20, Europe’s toughest long-distance footpath — to challenge what it means to grow old. Part travelogue, part buddy story, part memoir, The Twenty is a journey across a rugged island of stunning beauty little known outside Europe.

From a chubby, non-athletic child, Bohr grew into a fit, athletic person with an “I’ll show them” attitude. But hiking GR20 forces her to transform a lifetime of hard-won achievements into acceptance of her body and its limitations.

The difficult journey across a remote island provides the crucible for exploring what it means to be an aging woman in a youth-focused culture, a physically fit person whose limitations are getting the best of her, and the partner of a husband who is growing old with her. More than a hiking tale, this is a moving story infused with humor about hiking, aging, accepting life’s finite journey, and the intimacy of a long-term marriage—set against the breathtaking beauty of Corsica’s rugged countryside.

By Marianne C. Bohr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Great for fans of: Suzanne Roberts's Almost Somewhere, Juliana Buhring's This Road I Ride.


Marianne Bohr and her husband, about to turn sixty, are restless for adventure. They decide on an extended, desolate trek across the French island of Corsica-the GR20, Europe's toughest long-distance footpath-to challenge what it means to grow old. Part travelogue, part buddy story, part memoir, The Twenty is a journey across a rugged island of stunning beauty little known outside Europe.


From a chubby, non-athletic child, Bohr grew into a fit, athletic person with an "I'll show them" attitude. But hiking The Twenty forces her to…


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