The best books set in Ireland that capture the essence of the Irishman’s melancholic emotions

Who am I?

Dugan was my grandmother’s maiden name. Her family was from County Wexford, Ireland near Rosslare on the island’s east coast. In recent years I have extensively studied my Irish heritage and have discovered much about my family, and about the DNA running through my own Irish blood. The inquiry has revealed much about my love of storytelling, good conversation, and generally about the way I move through the world. As a writer of several books of personal narrative and fiction, I have tried to write books that capture a certain emotion, and now through my own ancestral discoveries, I understand how those emotions and familial ties are so tightly linked. 

I wrote...

The Islander

By David W. Berner,

Book cover of The Islander

What is my book about?

Seamus Damp is an aging American-born writer who retreats to a remote island off the coast of Ireland to escape to a monastic life. But his troubled past is always near, and his estranged relationship with his son is fraught with heartbreak. When a young woman who carries her own heartache-filled past comes to the island on a solitary spiritual and hiking adventure, she and Seamus discover an unusual bond and together attempt to find a way to heal their hearts and erase their collective sorrows on a beautiful yet rugged, melancholic, wind-swept island where solitude is its greatest gift.

I wrote The Islander considering the kinds of lives my Irish ancestors had lived. 

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The books I picked & why

Small Things Like These

By Claire Keegan,

Book cover of Small Things Like These

Why this book?

This stunning short novel captures everything about the deep ties that both religion and family have on the Irish experience.

As a boy, I remember my grandmother’s deep religious devotion and how it fueled her way of life. The story touches on this, including an affection for the land, love of community, and the power in doing the right thing. Its moodiness reflects both the story’s unspoken depth and its sublime tenderness.

In Small Things Like These, the protagonist struggles with what he should or should not do after hearing rumors about the local convent and the young girls who live there.

Keegan is a master at delivering the below-the-surface emotions that drive men and women through life’s difficult decisions.

Small Things Like These

By Claire Keegan,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Small Things Like These as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize

"A hypnotic and electrifying Irish tale that transcends country, transcends time." —Lily King, New York Times bestselling author of Writers & Lovers

Small Things Like These is award-winning author Claire Keegan's landmark new novel, a tale of one man's courage and a remarkable portrait of love and family

It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him…

Book cover of From a Low and Quiet Sea

Why this book?

Very few writers capture the longings of young men trapped in small towns, struggling to escape to new and better worlds than does Donal Ryan.

I grew up in an Irish-German neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where few people ever left. I knew those kinds of men. 

This book has many of the same elements of Ryan’s past work, yet it brings with it a profound take on Ireland itself. The novel is divided into several sections, each focusing on seemingly unrelated narratives, until the final section when the stories of the men in the novel heartbreakingly come together.

Throughout, Ryan captures the essence of Irish history—the good and the bad—and combines it with the country’s always-present profound and unexpressed emotions, and its beautiful yet curious contradictions.

From a Low and Quiet Sea

By Donal Ryan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From a Low and Quiet Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'Beautiful and affecting' David Nicholls

'An engrossing, unpredictable, beautifully crafted novel' RODDY DOYLE

Farouk's country has been torn apart by war.

Lampy's heart has been laid waste by Chloe.

John's past torments him as he nears his end.

The refugee. The dreamer. The penitent. From war-torn Syria to small-town Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.


By Roddy Doyle,

Book cover of Love

Why this book?

What could be more Irish than two old friends meeting in a pub to tell stories?

Thing is, one of the friends has a life-changing secret to tell. He’s left his wife and kids for another woman, a woman they both know from their school days. Throughout the night, in pub after pub, and pint after pint, the story of the friend’s new love is revealed as the conversation delves deeper into each man’s version of the past they have shared—their fathers, their lovers, and even their collective memories of their Irish childhoods.

At times the story is both amusing and genuinely moving. 


By Roddy Doyle,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A profound examination of friendship, romantic confusion and mortality' John Boyne

One summer's evening, two men meet up in a Dublin restaurant. Old friends, now married and with grown-up children, their lives have taken seemingly similar paths. But Joe has a secret he has to tell Davy, and Davy a grief he wants to keep from Joe. Both are not the men they used to be.

As two pints turns to three, then five, Davy and Joe set out to revisit the haunts of their youth. With the ghosts of Dublin entwining around them - the pubs, the parties, the…


By James Joyce,

Book cover of Dubliners

Why this book?

What can one say about this classic? It is the quintessential story of old Dublin.

Published in 1914, the collection of fifteen short stories takes the reader on a journey through middle-class Ireland, touching on Irish nationalism and country pride, but also on the forces that were slowing changing Ireland at the time. The stories move chronologically from boyhood to manhood and culminate with what some critics say is the finest short story ever written, “The Dead.”

This story, like many others in Dubliners is both a meditation on everyday urban life and a study of human relationships, including how we live with our memories, our heritage, and how we find ways to manifest our personal emotions.


By James Joyce,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A definitive edition of perhaps the greatest short story collection in the English language

James Joyce's Dubliners is a vivid and unflinching portrait of "dear dirty Dublin" at the turn of the twentieth century. These fifteen stories, including such unforgettable ones as "Araby," "Grace," and "The Dead," delve into the heart of the city of Joyce's birth, capturing the cadences of Dubliners' speech and portraying with an almost brute realism their outer and inner lives. Dubliners is Joyce at his most accessible and most profound, and this edition is the definitive text, authorized by the Joyce estate and collated from…

Nothing On Earth

By Conor O'Callaghan,

Book cover of Nothing On Earth

Why this book?

What stands out most after reading this story is the writing itself—simple and direct, unadorned, yet the narrative is complex and nuanced.

O’Callaghan is the author of several books of poetry and his prose is dripping with beautiful language. In this story, a frightened girl bangs on the door of a home and after she is allowed to enter, nothing is ever the same with an air of mystery surrounding her life and her family.

The novel is strange, unsettling, and beautiful. And although at times it is a bit perplexing, leaving you wondering what is real and what is false, its magic lies in the attention it gives to the complexities of human emotion, the said and unsaid, the complicated divide between trust and suspicion, and how it asks the question of whether it is better to listen to your head or to your heart. 

Nothing On Earth

By Conor O'Callaghan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing On Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The critically acclaimed psychological chiller from a powerful new voice in Irish literary fiction.


'As fine as it is frightening' JOHN BANVILLE

'This one will stay with you like your shadow' Guardian

'Extraordinary . . . pitch-perfect' Irish Times

'Strange, beautiful and quietly terrifying' DONAL RYAN, author of The Spinning Heart

'Like many great works, it could so easily have all gone wrong if it hadn't been done exactly right' Sunday Independent

It is the hottest August in living memory.

A frightened girl bangs on a door. A man…

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