The best books on lesser-known aspects of Irish history

Who am I?

I’m an Irish writer and historian. I always enjoyed history, even in school, and I went on to study it at Maynooth University, receiving a BA. I became a history teacher and eventually head of the history department in Méanscoil Iognáid Rís. I began writing local history articles for the Dunlavin arts festival and the parish magazine. I went back to university and got a first-class honours MA from Maynooth, before being awarded a PhD from DCU. I’ve won the Lord Walter Fitzgerald prize and the Irish Chiefs’ Prize, and my students were winners in the Decade of Centenaries competition. Now retired, I continue to write and lecture about history!


I wrote...

An Irish Village: Dunlavin, County Wicklow

By Chris Lawlor,

Book cover of An Irish Village: Dunlavin, County Wicklow

What is my book about?

This book traces the history of the Dunlavin region from earliest times to the present day, but it is more than the history of a little-known County Wicklow village and its communities. It is the history of a nation in microcosm. This book explores the impact of national events on everyday life within a specific locality. In its pages you will read of Gaelic warriors, Viking raiders, Norman conquerors, English settlers, improving landlords, liberal loyalists, subversive radicals, rebellions, mass political movements, the Tithe War, the Great Famine, the Land War, political upheavals, social change and economic developments—viewed through the prism of one village and its environs. It should appeal to all Irish history enthusiasts. The book is now available exclusively from my website.

The books I picked & why

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Seventeenth-Century Ireland

By Raymond Gillespie,

Book cover of Seventeenth-Century Ireland

Why this book?

I’ve always been interested in developments in Irish history during the under-studied seventeenth century. This was the period when many of the political, social, and economic foundations of modern Ireland emerged. The century began during the major upheaval of the Nine Years’ War and witnessed two more major conflicts—the 1641 Rebellion (which lasted until 1653) and the Williamite War of the 1690s. However, Gillespie’s book is unusual in that it focuses on the various efforts made to reach accommodations between natives and settlers, Catholics and Protestants, the Gaelic Irish, the Old English, and the New English, during the decades between these conflicts. All in all, a fascinating read which shows that things might have evolved differently had these efforts succeeded.

Seventeenth-Century Ireland

By Raymond Gillespie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seventeenth-Century Ireland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Well-established ideas of monarchy, social hierarchy and honour were under pressure in a fast-changing world. Political, religious, social and economic circumstances were all in flux. The common ambition of every faction was the creation of a usable focus of governance. Thus plantations, the constitutional experiments of Wentworth in the 1630s, the Confederation of the 1640s, the republican 1650s and the royalist reaction of the latter part of the century can be seen not simply as episodes in colonial domination but as part of an on-going attempt to find a modus vivendi within Ireland, often compromised by external influences.

This book…


Stacking the Coffins: Influenza, War and Revolution in Ireland, 1918–19

By Ida Milne,

Book cover of Stacking the Coffins: Influenza, War and Revolution in Ireland, 1918–19

Why this book?

The ‘decade of centenaries’ from 2013-2023 has seen a plethora of books published about events during the Irish Revolution of a hundred years ago or so. Most of them have a glaring omission in that they do not mention, or only barely mention, the great influenza pandemic (the Spanish Flu) of 1918-1919, despite the fact that infection rates and mortality rates were extremely high. Milne’s book tackles the subject head-on, and fills a gap in the narrative of the pivotal decade 1913-23 in Irish history. The high quality of the research is evident in the enormous level of detail throughout the book, and Milne has given a human voice to many of the victims’ families by including survivor memories passed down through the generations. A sombre, thought-provoking read!

Stacking the Coffins: Influenza, War and Revolution in Ireland, 1918–19

By Ida Milne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stacking the Coffins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 1918-19 influenza epidemic killed more than 50 million people, and infected between one fifth and half of the world's population. It is the world's greatest killing influenza pandemic, and is used as a worst case scenario for emerging infectious disease epidemics like the corona virus COVID-19. It decimated families, silenced cities and towns as it passed through, stilled commerce, closed schools and public buildings and put normal life on hold. Sometimes it killed several members of the same family. Like COVID-19 there was no preventative vaccine for the virus, and many died from secondary bacterial pneumonia in this pre-antibiotic…


The Liberty and Ormond Boys: Factional Riot in Eighteenth-Century Dublin

By James Kelly,

Book cover of The Liberty and Ormond Boys: Factional Riot in Eighteenth-Century Dublin

Why this book?

I chose this short book because it casts light on a hidden history—that of faction fighting. Contrary to widespread belief, factions were not confined to rural areas in Ireland, nor were they a wholly nineteenth-century phenomenon. Kelly’s book provides a detailed account of the development of factions in eighteenth-century Dublin, from the Kevan Bail to the Ormond and Liberty Boys (and other little-known factions), and vividly describes the periodic disorder associated with them as they tried to establish control in the city. Kelly also outlines how the city’s economic and demographic growth led to the social conditions which nurtured factionalism, and he traces changes in the nature of factionalism as the eighteenth century progressed. An enthralling read about a topic that has often gone under the historiographical radar!

The Liberty and Ormond Boys: Factional Riot in Eighteenth-Century Dublin

By James Kelly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Compared with organised agrarian protest, factional disorder (rural and urban) in eighteenth-century Ireland has escaped close scrutiny. The Ormond and Liberty Boys have achieved a considerable measure of renown but the picture of them available to date is misleading and incomplete. The object of this study is to set the Liberty and Ormond Boys in their contemporary context. The conditions necessary to enable factions to develop and flourish in Dublin were in place by the 1720s, when the city was sufficiently developed physically and demographically to sustain the local and sectoral identities that faction required. Nonetheless, the growth of faction…


Redemption in Irish History

By John Marsden,

Book cover of Redemption in Irish History

Why this book?

This is an unusual, ambitious, and relevant book, focusing on the Christian values contained within Irish political thought over a period of approximately three hundred years (from the late eighteenth century to approximately the year 2000). Many Irish politicians and patriots included a Christian element in their visions of and for an independent or a self-governed Ireland. Beginning with Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen of the 1790s, this Christian element is traced through Emmet, O’Connell, the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the Home Rulers, and the leaders of the 1916 rising. The book goes on to trace the Christian vision through the periods of the Irish Revolution, independent Ireland, and the northern troubles of the late twentieth century. Engrossing and insightful, this excellent book provides much food for thought!

Redemption in Irish History

By John Marsden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Redemption in Irish History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marsden, John. Redemption in Irish History. Dublin, Dominican Publications, 2005. 14 x 21cm. 219 pages. Original softcover. Excellent condition, as new other than inscription to previous owner on half-title page. Redemption in Irish History comes at a critical historical juncture for Irish society and Irish Christianity. Through bringing theology, politics, history and economics into creative dialogue, Redemption in Irish History offers an integrative vision of how Irish society might be nourished from the best of its diverse traditions and thereby truly flourish in our increasingly inter-dependent world. Topics including Pearse and Connolly, history, theology, politics, economics come together in creative…


Van Diemen's Women: A History of Transportation to Tasmania

By Joan Kavanagh, Dianne Snowden (illustrator),

Book cover of Van Diemen's Women: A History of Transportation to Tasmania

Why this book?

Many Irish history books mention the fate of prisoners, often involving transportation to Australia. This book picks up the narrative where they left off. The authors have meticulously pieced together the story of those on board the convict ship Tasmania, which left Ireland for Van Dieman’s Land in 1845, carrying 138 female convicts. The book tells the stories of voiceless people at the bottom of the social scale (being both convicted and female). The process of transportation is explored in detail and the women’s new lives in Tasmania are examined. Two women, Eliza Davis (infanticide) and Margaret Butler (stealing potatoes) form the centre-piece of the study. Both later married and had families and descendants, leaving a legacy in their new home. A sad, informative but ultimately hopeful read.

Van Diemen's Women: A History of Transportation to Tasmania

By Joan Kavanagh, Dianne Snowden (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On 2 September 1845, the convict ship Tasmania left Kingstown Harbour for Van Diemen's Land with 138 female convicts and their 35 children. On 3 December, the ship arrived into Hobart Town. While this book looks at the lives of all the women aboard, it focuses on two women in particular: Eliza Davis, who was transported from Wicklow Gaol for life for infanticide, having had her sentence commuted from death, and Margaret Butler, sentenced to seven years' transportation for stealing potatoes in Carlow. Using original records, this study reveals the reality of transportation, together with the legacy left by these…


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