11 Incredible Books Set in Ireland
The rolling green countryside.
The awe-inspiring cliffs.
The rough, rocky shores.
Is it these natural wonders you think of when you think of Ireland?
Or does your mind, instead, immediately travel to the concept of over-indulgence and marvel at the impressive rate of beer consumption?
It is almost St. Patrick’s day, so we can’t really fault you if you think of the latter.
And the Irish admittedly do drink a lot of beer — 11 liters per person, per year.
But, regardless of the season, we would argue that what should immediately come to mind is really neither of these things, but instead, the amazing literature that is set against the backdrop of contemporary or historical Ireland.
If your response to this statement is, “what books?” You really need to take some time from fancying up your beer with green food coloring — that shit will make your hangover worse, anyways — and check out our line-up of the best books set in Ireland.
Circle of Friends
by Maeve Binchy
If you were to ask a random person on the street to name a book set in Ireland — Okay, you shouldn’t really do that. Because that’s creepy AF — but, if you were to, they would probably rattle off a title of a book written by Maeve Binchy.
Binchy is arguably the most famous Irish author, and the most famous book by her is rather inarguably Circle of Friends.
This sweeping tale of friendship and betrayal centers around lifelong friends, Benny and Eve, who leave the sleepy village of Knockglen — yeah, it’s imaginary. Don’t waste your time looking for it on the map — and venture to the vastly different — and vastly more dangerous — Dublin.
There a new friend, Nan, turns their friendly twosome into a threesome. But Nan’s addition to the group results in complications and heartbreak that are entirely new to these relatively sheltered girls.
The book was memorably made into a film, which served as Minnie Driver’s debut.
I remember this film for many reasons, but primarily because my friend, Heather, rented it thinking that it would effectively reflect our trio of friends.
We were like 12 at the time so — *Spoiler Alert* — It didn’t.
In the Woods
by Tana French
Rob Ryan, the protagonist of this novel, is the lead detective on the Dublin Murder Squad. It’s hard to say what, exactly, made him want to become a police officer, but his past almost certainly played a role in this decision.
You see, when Ryan was a child, he and two others friends ventured out into the woods that surround Knocknaree, but as the sun set, they didn’t return. It wasn’t quite some time after their expected arrival home that Ryan was found, alone, hugging a tree, wearing sneakers filled with blood. And, as if matters could get any worse, he couldn’t remember anything that had happened in the hours prior, making him useless in helping solve the mystery of what happened to his playmates.
When a twelve-year-old girl is found dead in the same woods into which Ryan almost disappeared twenty years prior, he finds himself back under the canopy of trees, searching through the literal — and figurative — darkness for answers not only about this murder but about the one from his past that still remains unsolved.
This rich, gritty police procedural was Tana French’s debut and the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series.
P.S. I Love You
by Cecelia Ahern
If you like romance.
And you like Ireland.
And you like crying.
This book’s for you.
And, also, you have a really weird collection of interests. #NoJudgement
When Holly married her childhood sweetheart, Gerry, she likely had lots of plans for their future.
Among those plans was not losing Gerry to a terminal illness before she even reached the age of 30.
But, unfortunately for Holly, that is how their love story comes to a close. Or so she thinks.
Fortunately for her, Gerry has left behind a series of letters to get her through the year leading up to her 30th birthday.
As Holly opens the letters, one per month, she not only comes closer to getting Gerry back than she ever thought possible. She also benefits from his guidance as she navigates this new, vastly outside-of-her-plans future and develops a renewed hope for future happiness.
by Eoin Colfer
Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl isn’t a simple pre-teen. No, this eponymous protagonist is a criminal mastermind—- the most successful and smart one in history, mind you.
Wanting to go even further in his already successful criminal enterprises, Fowl seeks to take for his own the gold at the end of the rainbow. But he knows he can’t simply go and take this gold. He must, instead, kidnap one of the little people who are charged with protecting this gold. Then, he is certain, he will receive this gold as a ransom in exchange for the elf with which he’s unceremoniously absconded.
As you would expect — because it wouldn’t be much fo a book otherwise — things don’t go quite according to plan for the used-to-things-working-out Fowl. Instead, he finds himself facing off with Captain Holly Short and her senior officer Commander Root — two elves who make up for in cunning what they lack in size.
Though it ventures outside of Dublin to fanciful — and fictitious — lands, the story starts in Dublin — which is, if this book is to be believed, more magical than I previously realized.
by Mary Pat Kelly
Honora and Michael Kelly certainly didn’t live a lavish life in their native Ireland, but they have what they needed to survive.
That all changes when their primary source of sustenance — potatoes — all but disappears as the result of blight.
Knowing that they can’t continue — and, more importantly, that their children can’t continue — to live as they always have given this new and unexpected hardship, they join with millions of other Irish and seek refuge in a distant land — America.
But they find — like many refugees found — that while America might be rich in food, it’s certainly not as welcoming as they might have hoped.
While this saga focuses on one family, it’s really the story of all of the families who made the fateful decision to leave behind the only lives they’d ever known and venture across the ocean on faith that they would be able to build a better life.
by Marian Keyes
There are lots of shitty times to leave a woman in general, and your wife in particular.
Her birthday is a pretty bad choice.
Your anniversary, also not stellar.
A major holiday… yeah, not a great idea.
But no time, I would argue, is as bad a time to inform the woman you promised to stay with til death do you part that you’re vacating that agreement than the day she gives birth to your baby.
But that’s just what happens to Claire, the protagonist in this Marian Keyes novel.
Left in an obvious lurch — by a man who is obviously an asshole — Claire can think of no other option but to go home, to Dublin, and try to form a new life.
Will life in Dublin prove as restorative an experience as Claire is hoping, or will she continue to suffer the ill-effects from hitching her horse to a clearly unreliable wagon?
The Spinning Heart
by Donal Ryan
When most people — at least those that don’t live in Ireland — think of periods of depression in Ireland, they immediately think of the potato famine — you know, because that’s the one they teach in history class.
But things haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows since then, either.
Though not covered heavily in the states, Ireland experienced a serious financial downturn in 2008.
This book is about that financial collapse. Or, more specifically, about the impact that the collapse has on the cohesion in a small Irish town.
As its residents find themselves facing mounting challenges, they find that their close-knit community is becoming increasingly fractured. As the situation worsens, the erosion of this foundation on which so much rests threatens to have a far- and long-reading impact.
The Yellow House
by Patricia Falvey
Eileen, the protagonist in this Falvey novel is dedicated to one driving goal — reclaiming the home that once belonged to her family.
Can you guess what color it is?
But as she works in the local mill, trying to save up the money necessary to realize this goal, the world erupts in violence around her as a world war begins.
And, to make matters even worse, her heart begins to complicate matters as well. When she finds herself torn between two vastly different men, she finds her courage and dedication tested in ways she never anticipated when she set out on her journey to regain her ancestral home.
by Ann Moore
From the moment Gracelin is born, her parents are certain that there’s something special about her.
And she proves them right when, at 15, she agrees to marry the son of a wealthy Englishman to save her family from what would otherwise be financial ruin.
When a famine hits Ireland, Gracelin again demonstrates her tenacity and bravery, going against her husband’s wishes and feeding the hungry who show up at her doorstep begging for food.
But this is not where her defiance ends. As the Irish rebels mount an offensive to escape the rule of the Englishmen who control their lands, she finds herself facing a particularly difficult dilemma. Is she strong enough to actively stand against her husband and his family and fight for what she believes is right?
The first in a trilogy, this novel will hold particular appeal to lovers of Ireland who also appreciate unabashedly strong female protagonists.
For The Love Of God
by M.G. Sweeney
I worried about a lot of things when I was 12, but one of these worries certainly wasn’t whether I would go to heaven or hell.
Granted, I was neither Catholic nor Irish, so this might explain my lack of interest in that particular topic.
The protagonist of this book, on the other hand, is particularly preoccupied with where he will spend his afterlife.
What’s more, he wants to do something to up his chances of earning a spot in heaven.
So he sets on a quest to save himself and his little brother. Unfortunately, his older brother, Patrick, seems to be fighting against his efforts.
Set in 1985 in a small Irish town, this novel provides a humorous glimpse into the lives of these brothers.
by Frank McCourt
This memoir details — rather excruciatingly — McCourt's experience as the son of a well-meaning mother and an often-out-of-work-even-more-often-drunk father.
What sets this book apart is McCourt’s ability to look back on an admittedly pretty fucking shitty childhood with unexpected lightness and love. As the story moves through McCourt’s birth in Depression-era Brooklyn to his childhood in Limerick, Ireland, readers receive loving insight into how the events of his past shaped the author and influenced the world in which we live today.
Though it’s certainly not what anyone would call a feel-good read, this Frank McCourt modern classic — is it still “modern” if it was written in 1999? Fuck, I’m getting old — is as important as it is powerful — I mean, it earned its author a Pulitzer Prize for fuck sake!