10 Books Set in Ireland

The Hodges Figgis bookstore in Dublin. Editorial credit: noel bennett / Shutterstock.com.

For many of us, visiting Ireland would be a dream come true. If you don't have a trip planned to the Emerald Isle anytime soon, the next best thing is immersing yourself in books that take place in Ireland. Reading is a great way to learn about different places around the world, through the eyes of the writer. Lucky for us, Ireland has a rich culture full of traditions and legends. Whether you're interested in memoir, history, fictions, or sports, here are books that will make the perfect companion. 

The Glorious Heresies (2015)

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa Mclnerney presents to its readers a city plagued with exploitation and poverty but where salvation awaits from unlikely places. The murder of an intruder by Maureen Phelan, using what she calls a “Holy Stone”, affects the lives of four misfits who are struggling against their circumstances in Ireland. Ryan is a 15-year old drug peddler struggling to not be like his alcoholic father, Tony, whose fight with a neighbor is threatening to ruin his family. There is the troubled Georgie, who reluctantly joins a born-again movement to escape her miseries, and Jimmy Phelan, Maureen’s son and a fearsome gangster, whose mother’s actions are threatening his business. The Glorious Heresies explores shame, salvation, and their role in the legacy of Ireland.

Frankenstein (1818)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a classic novel that tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who seeks to be left alone on Orkney Island to create female mates for his creatures. His first creature is proportionally large, tall, about 8 feet tall, and very hideous. The creature escapes from Victor’s apartment and later murders his brother William and frames the situation. The creature demands that Victor makes it a mate or else he would kill all his loved ones. Victor retreats to the Orkney Islands to create a mate for the creature but later destroys the new creation as the old one watches. What follows are consequences of his actions including the killing of his wife by the creature.

A Swift Pure Cry (2006)

A Swift Pure Cry is a novel that was written by Siobhan Award and published in 2006. The book is set in County Cork and is about a young girl named Shell. The 19-year-old-girl is left to take care of her three younger siblings following the death of their mother. When Father Rose, a new priest, is sent to their village, Shell once again believes in Jesus and her mother’s spirit. Her father also becomes a changed man and quits his job to collect money for the church drive, leaving Shell and her siblings in poverty. Shell and her friend Bridie befriend Declan who makes them both pregnant before relocating to America. Shell manages to hide the pregnancy from her father and finally gives birth to a stillborn boy who she names Rose. However, the consequences of her pregnancy spread beyond her village and the matter becomes even more complicated when another baby is found dead.

Conversations with Friends (2017)

Conversation with Friends is a 2017 novel by Sally Rooney, detailing a relationship between four people. They are the narrator Frances, her best friend Bobbi, and a couple (Melissa and Nick). Frances is a student and an aspiring poet and is involved in a secret affair with Nick. Bobbi grows suspicious of the relationship between Nick and Frances and decides to confront her girlfriend Frances. She sends Frances an email which seems to have unsettled her. As the story unfolds, the four people involved in the story ask each other hard-hitting questions about friendship, gender, politics, and literature.

Angela's Ashes (1996)

Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes highlights his early life in Brooklyn during the depression but mainly focuses on his life in Limerick. His parents were immigrants but later returned to the slums of Limerick. Frank’s story is both funny and tragic and includes his father’s struggle with alcoholism. His father is fond of telling fantastical tales about the Irish heroes however, the family lives in poverty as his father, Malachy Sr. cannot sustain his job due to alcoholism. Things get more difficult for the family when Frank’s younger sister Margaret dies. The family is forced to return to Ireland but life is even made worse by the Great Depression.

Circle of Friends (1990)

Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends is a novel set on the 1950s Ireland and centers around Benny and Eva as they escape their village to attend a college together in Dublin. On their first day in Dublin, the two friends meet other students, Jack Foley and Nan Mahon, and friendship was quickly forged. Benny falls in love with the handsome Jack while on the other hand, Nan tries to use Eva’s family connection for her selfish gain. However, she does not succeed and is forced to look for new plans which involve breaking Benny’s heart.

The Yellow House (2009)

The Yellow House is a novel by Patrica Favley about a girl who comes of age during the Irish War of Independence and World War I. Eileen O’Neil, who spent her childhood listening to stories of how a great warrior the O’Neils were, was determined to become like them. Her great grandfather got their home by winning a game of cards. When Eileen was eight years old, her father used much of their scant funds on yellow paints for the yellow house which drove and haunted her for years. The Yellow House touches on many themes including war, politics, religion, gender roles, family secrets, and mental illness.

Solar Bones (2016)

Solar Bones, published in 2016, is a novel that captures the different aspects of the ordinary, decent life of Marcus Conway, a middle-aged man who is reminiscing about his past life’s events on All Soul’s Day. Much of his life’s events baffles him while other instances outrage him. This novel, written by Mike McCormack, is primarily centered on themes such as chaos and order, love and loss, and how small decisions create large outcomes. It also captures the role of a man in contemporary society such as being a son, father, husband, brother, neighbor, and college. Solar Bones has won two major prizes; the Goldsmith Prize in 2016 and the International Dublin Literary Award in 2018.

The Commitments (1987)

The Commitments is one of the three episodes of the Three Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle. The novel follows a group of young Irishmen in the northern part of Dublin who forms a soul band. Two friends, Foster and Scully, get together to form a band but realize that they are not capable of creating a music business that would go beyond their neighborhood. They decide to bring in a friend, Jimmy Rabbitte, who changes the group name to “The Commitments.” However, tension begins to build between band members, which leads to more predicaments.

Amongst Women (1990)

Amongst Women is a 1990 novel by John McGahern who spent over a decade writing the book. Although the book can be read in one sitting, the experience will linger in the mind for decades. The book is centered around the tortured existence of Michael Moran, a veteran in the War of Independence. Moran seems not to understand why he and other veterans struggled for independence in the 20th century since the native misrule has rendered it meaningless. For Moran, the republican dream is no more, and the novel follows him as he grapples with this.


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