The best books about Ireland

24 authors have picked their favorite books about Ireland and why they recommend each book.

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Age of Atrocity

By David Edwards, Padraig Lenihan, Clodagh Tait

Book cover of Age of Atrocity: Violence and Political Conflict in Early Modern Ireland

Notorious for its violence, the 17th century is also a time of sweeping change. Change ignites resistance. When I first started researching Irish history, I was well aware of Cromwell’s march, and soon discovered much more and perhaps worse. How could people survive under constant threat and fear? How could humans justify such cruelty? This book examines several horrific events, the people and the policies that allowed them to happen—in the interest of learning from history that which we should never repeat.


Who am I?

Nancy Blanton is an American author of Irish descent. She’s written three award-winning Irish historical novels and has a fourth underway. A former journalist, her focus on the 17th century derives from a history lesson about Oliver Cromwell, weariness of Tudor stories, decades of enlightening research, and a little help from supportive friends in County Cork.


I wrote...

When Starlings Fly as One

By Nancy Blanton,

Book cover of When Starlings Fly as One

What is my book about?

Based on a true story of the 1641 Rebellion and Ireland's longest siege, When Starlings Fly as One is not a classic hero’s journey, but a story of war, struggle, spirit, and survival—a story of two sides.

Secretive and often bold, Merel de Vries seeks only escape from the English nobility she serves. When Rathbarry Castle is besieged by rising Irish clans, she faces an impossible choice: allegiance to owner Sir Arthur Freke, loyalty to new-found love Tynan O’Daly, and inner yearnings belonging to her alone. Merel insists she can help—but no one will listen. When opportunity comes, can she truly do what her spirit urges? Or, will a sudden betrayal change everything?

The Irish

By Sean O'Faolain,

Book cover of The Irish: A Character Study

This fine introduction to both the Irish themselves, and their tortured history, was first published in 1947 by this respected commentator. The only way to really understand Ireland is to dissect the many distinctive population groups -- their peculiarities of religion, social outlook, political ambitions, and allegiances --  and then to see how the mixture of these complex streams determined the country's history, with positive but also calamitous results over many centuries. O'Faolain deals with the indigenous Celts, the interloping Normans, the increasingly acquisitive English, and how the tumultuous interactions between them produced the core of Irish society: its peasantry, the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, the clergy, politicians, rebels, writers, and dreamers. The only thing O'Faolain missed, because he didn't live to see it, was the emergent, and now dominant, middle class of the Celtic Tiger. A beautifully written book. 


Who am I?

My first introduction to Ireland was in 1953 when my parents took the entire family over for two months. We stayed mostly in Dublin as "paying guests" with a threadbare, though incredibly proud, Anglo-Irish mother and her adult daughter in their decrepit apartment. What a learning experience for a seven-year-old boy! My fascination with the country's culture and history has never dampened, climaxed by my purchase of a 16th-century ruin, Moyode Castle, in County Galway, now finally restored. Over the years I have written seven books, six of them on Irish themes, plus innumerable articles in scholarly journals. The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland is my magnum opus as an Irish historian.


I wrote...

The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland

By James Charles Roy,

Book cover of The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland

What is my book about?

Histories dealing with the reign of the five Tudor monarchs of England in the 16th century, and particularly that of Elizabeth I, have largely been concerned with Continental conflicts involving Catholic Spain and France, "superpowers" in comparison, with more resources and greater populations. The less publicized difficulties with its island colony of Ireland, however, would prove a considerably more intractable problem, resulting in turmoil that even today is largely unresolved. The military conquest of Ireland by Elizabeth, in other words, created more problems than it solved.

This is the story of revolt, suppression, atrocities, and genocide, and ends with a dispirited queen facing internal convulsions and an empty treasury. Her death saw the end of the Tudor dynasty, marked not by victory over their great European enemies, but by ungovernable Ireland – the first colonial ‘failed state.'

Early Irish Myths and Sagas

By Jeffrey Gantz (translator),

Book cover of Early Irish Myths and Sagas

For a quick dive into the most prominent Irish myths, this is an easy translation to get your feet wet. I drew heavily upon the “Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn” as inspiration for my resurrected king in Three Wells of the Sea.


Who am I?

I have been studying Celtic history and lore since I was in college and took a class on Arthurian literature. Drawing heavily from Irish and Welsh lore to build my “land beyond the veil” known as the Five Quarters, I have always been intrigued by the Celtic view of the land of the dead as a distinct world to which we go and then return, like two sides of the mirrored surface of a well. The land below the water, and the land above. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have!


I wrote...

Three Wells of the Sea: Three Wells Series Book 1

By Terry Madden,

Book cover of Three Wells of the Sea: Three Wells Series Book 1

What is my book about?

When high school English teacher Hugh Cavendish is summoned back across the well between worlds, he finds his killer sitting on his throne and invaders at his shore. He was a failure as a king in his last life. Why does this druid think he can fix things now? But this world holds everything he has longed for—vengeance, love, and a second chance at all of them. For he is bound to this land by blood magic and something far stronger.

He soon realizes he wasn't the only one who crossed the well. Someone has followed him here, and they are set on taking him back. But first, Cavendish vows to set things right with his land, his people, and his own soul.

The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland

By Martyn Bennett,

Book cover of The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland: 1638-1651

Still the best introductory text for students covering all major events in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in a concise and accessible manner.  This book steps away from the more Anglo-centric analyses of the conflict, looking at events in Ireland, Scotland and Wales in some detail.  In contrast with the books above, Bennett also steps away from the experience of political elites and examines the experiences of ordinary soldiers and civilians during the conflict.  


Who am I?

I am an academic historian who has had a passion for the wars of the three kingdoms for over three decades. I have been reading books about the civil wars in Britain and Ireland since I was ten years old. I have been a member of the re-enactment society The Sealed Knot and the Cromwell Association. I published my first monograph on the wars of the three kingdoms in 2018. The monograph views the conflict from a three kingdoms perspective through the eyes of the Scottish Covenanters and their English allies. I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.


I wrote...

The Solemn League and Covenant of the Three Kingdoms and the Cromwellian Union, 1643-1663

By Kirsteen MacKenzie,

Book cover of The Solemn League and Covenant of the Three Kingdoms and the Cromwellian Union, 1643-1663

What is my book about?

This book provides the first major analysis of the covenanted interest from an integrated three kingdoms perspective. It examines the reaction of the covenanted interest to the actions and policies of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, drawing particular attention to links, similarities, and differences in and between the covenanted interest in all three kingdoms. It also follows the fortunes of the covenanted interest and Presbyterian Church government as it built and changed in response to the Royalists and the Independents during the 1650s.

Policing Twentieth Century Ireland

By Vicky Conway,

Book cover of Policing Twentieth Century Ireland: A History of An Garda Síochána

In contrast to earlier works on the Garda history, Conway frames policing experience in Ireland by examining its history and development in the context of post-colonialism, its impact, and lived experiences. As Ireland achieved independence, she shows, ‘time constraints and lack of alternative experience led to the retention of many core features of colonial policing’, resulting in an organisation ideologically different but practically similar to the Irish forces of the preceding century. In 1925, the new police of the Irish Free State absorbed the Dublin Metropolitan Police, the Civic Guards, who filled the niche left vacant by the disbanded Constabulary, and contentiously, many ex-RIC men. Conway skillfully weaves gardaí interviews into this varied contemporary history of policing the Republic of Ireland.

Who am I?

I am an historian of urban crime and policing. I specialise in metropolitan forces, for example the Dublin Metropolitan Police, London Police, and their colonial counterparts. I am particularly interested in the transnational exchange of concepts and personnel. The latter decades of the nineteenth century saw a lively and consistent movement of police across countries and continents, cross-pollinating ideas and experiences, shaping the future of organised policing. I have traced Australian policing roots to the streets of Dublin and London, which are explored in To Preserve and Protect: Policing Colonial Brisbane (2020) through personal life stories of policemen and criminals alike.


I wrote...

A History of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Its Colonial Legacy

By Anastasia Dukova,

Book cover of A History of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Its Colonial Legacy

What is my book about?

This book illuminates the neglected history of the Dublin Metropolitan Police – a history that has been long overshadowed by existing historiography, which has traditionally been preoccupied with the more radical aspects of Irish history.

It explores the origins of the institution and highlights the Dublin Metropolitan Police’s profound influence on the colonial forces, as its legacy reached some of the furthest outposts of the British Empire. In doing so Anastasia Dukova provides much-needed nuance and complexity to our understanding of Ireland as a whole, and Dublin in particular, demonstrating that it was far more than a lawless place ravaged by political and sectarian violence. Simultaneously, the book tells the story of the bobby on the beat, the policeman who made the organisation; his work and day, the conditions of service, and how they affected or bettered his lot at home and abroad.

Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland

By Gladys Ganiel,

Book cover of Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland: Religious Practice in Late Modernity

Why, from the 1990s, did the Irish Catholic consensus so suddenly disappear? And what might be the effect of this sudden-onset secularisation? This brilliant account of the recent revolution in Irish religion describes the effects of the clerical scandals that brought down a government, demoralised a denomination, and drove social change on a massive and structural scale. Ganiel shows how the older religious monopolies that did so much to shape the institutions and culture of Ireland, north and south, have given way to a much more fluid religious market, in which individuals can believe without belonging just as much as they might formerly have belonged without believing.


Who am I?

Like anyone else who takes an interest in Ireland, I’ve been fascinated by the long and often very difficult history of the island’s experience of religion. Where I live, in county Antrim, religious imagery appears everywhere – in churches and schools, obviously, but also on signboards posted onto trees, and in the colourful rags that are still hung up to decorate holy wells. This book is the fruit of twenty years of thinking about Christian Ireland - its long and difficult history, and its sudden and difficult collapse.


I wrote...

The Rise and Fall of Christian Ireland

By Crawford Gribben,

Book cover of The Rise and Fall of Christian Ireland

What is my book about?

The Rise and Fall of Christian Ireland is an account of the sudden emergence, long development, several divisions, and sudden decline of Irish Christianity. It’s a book about how Christianity shaped the Irish, and vice versa. It’s a story of success, showing how for one and a half millennia, Irish Christians created and participated in a culture from which there emerged some of the most iconic artefacts in their religion’s history, such as the Book of Kells.

But it’s also a story of failure, of violence, division, and abuse, not least as the extraordinary effort to create a Christian state in the Republic foundered over the course of a single generation and created one of the most liberal of European cultures.

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

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.


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.

Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland

By Clive Ruggles,

Book cover of Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland

Modern Archaeoastronomy was born with the pioneering (and controversial) studies of Gerald Hawkins at Stonehenge and Alexander Thom on the megalithic monuments in Britain and Brittany. This book – although a bit dated with respect to recent research on some sites – remains a milestone to settle the point on debated issues. The technical points are treated in boxes so that the book is readable by the general public. 


Who am I?

I started my scientific career as an Astrophysicist. However, I have always been interested in Archaeology. This finally led me to conjugate the two passions when I started working in Archaeoastronomy, in 2003. Working in Archaeoastronomy first means having a direct experience of the sites (preferably, of every single stone, although in places like Giza they count in the millions…). So I have made fieldworks in Italy, Egypt, Cambodia, and, recently, on Chinese imperial necropolises. I currently teach Archaeoastronomy as a professor at the Politecnico of Milan. I have always been interested also in scientific communication on TV and social media, and my introductive Archaeoastronomy course is available for free on the Coursera platform.


I wrote...

Archaeoastronomy: Introduction to the Science of Stars and Stones

By Giulio Magli,

Book cover of Archaeoastronomy: Introduction to the Science of Stars and Stones

What is my book about?

This book provides the first complete, easy to read, up-to-date account of the fascinating discipline of archaeoastronomy, in which the relationship between ancient constructions and the sky is studied in order to gain a better understanding of the ideas of the architects of the past and of their religious and symbolic worlds.

The book is divided into three sections, the first of which explores the past relations between astronomy and people, power, the afterworld, architecture, and landscape. The fundamentals of archaeoastronomy are then addressed in detail, with coverage of the celestial coordinates; the apparent motion of the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets; observation of celestial bodies at the horizon; the use of astronomical software in archaeoastronomy; and current methods for making and analyzing measurements. The final section reviews what archaeoastronomy can now tell us about the nature and purpose of sites and structures. The book can be enjoyed in augmented reality through the use of a free app.

Over Nine Waves

By Marie Heaney,

Book cover of Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends

This is possibly the best collection of Irish myths and legends that I’ve read. It’s as comprehensive as Lady Gregory’s book but much more palatable. It charts the mythology of Ireland from the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann, right up to the arrival of Christianity. Written in clear, no-nonsense prose, this was one of my prime reference texts when writing my own book.


Who am I?

I grew up in Ireland, where I was surrounded by stories, modern and ancient. Irish myths and legends formed the basis of the history curriculum for most children beginning the subject. Irish children are incredibly familiar with "The Children of Lir" and legendary heroes like Cúchulainn – we even have a rollercoaster named after him in our only proper theme park! As a teacher, I continued to retell these stories to my young, receptive audiences. When I was given the opportunity to write my own book of fairy tales, myths, and legends, I jumped at the chance. The research, including the reading of the books on this page, was almost as much fun as writing my book! 


I wrote...

Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

By Kieran Fanning,

Book cover of Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

What is my book about?

A complete collection of much-loved Irish fairy tales, myths, and legends, bound into a beautiful new edition. Enjoy the rich mythical history of Ireland from the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann on the island and their great battles with the Fomorians, right up to the modern-day fairy tales of Irish storytelling. Including the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, and featuring heroes such as Cúchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill and many traditional favourites such as The Children of Lir.

Tales from Old Ireland

By Malachy Doyle, Niamh Sharkey (illustrator),

Book cover of Tales from Old Ireland

This book, for younger readers, is a collection of retellings of some of Ireland’s most well-known stories like Oisín in Tír na nÓg, as well as less famous ones like Son of an Otter, Son of a Wolf. Doyle writes terrifically well, perfectly pitching his tales at a young audience. Illustrated by Niamh Sharkey in her distinctive style, this is a collection to be treasured. I loved the pronunciation guide for the Irish names, as well as the introduction and the page about Doyle’s sources.


Who am I?

I grew up in Ireland, where I was surrounded by stories, modern and ancient. Irish myths and legends formed the basis of the history curriculum for most children beginning the subject. Irish children are incredibly familiar with "The Children of Lir" and legendary heroes like Cúchulainn – we even have a rollercoaster named after him in our only proper theme park! As a teacher, I continued to retell these stories to my young, receptive audiences. When I was given the opportunity to write my own book of fairy tales, myths, and legends, I jumped at the chance. The research, including the reading of the books on this page, was almost as much fun as writing my book! 


I wrote...

Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

By Kieran Fanning,

Book cover of Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

What is my book about?

A complete collection of much-loved Irish fairy tales, myths, and legends, bound into a beautiful new edition. Enjoy the rich mythical history of Ireland from the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann on the island and their great battles with the Fomorians, right up to the modern-day fairy tales of Irish storytelling. Including the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, and featuring heroes such as Cúchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill and many traditional favourites such as The Children of Lir.

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