10 Irish stories to get you into the spirit of St Patrick’s Day | books to read if you’re missing Éire

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh! It’s the day to don your green and get lucky. You might be on the hunt for a perfect pint of Guinness, or hitting up your local parade, or you might even be staying in and cheering on the Irish from the comfort of your home. Whether you’re an Irish expat or of Hibernian descent, we’ve got a list of recent titles to help you tap into your nostalgia for… dare I say it… the Emerald Isle.


1. Chase of the Wild Goose: The Story of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, Known as the Ladies of Llangollen by Mary Gordon
Lurid Editions, 9781739744106, PB, £12, 1/2/2023

Late 18th century Ireland. Two women from noble families, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, meet and form an intense romantic friendship. Against the will of their families — and overcoming many obstacles — they leave Ireland and settle at Plas Newydd. Here they become famous, as the Ladies of Llangollen.

2. The Gospel of Orla by Eoghan Walls
Seven Stories Press UK, 9781838415990, PB, £10.99, 9/3/2023

A grieving, spirited, and often in trouble teenage girl named Orla McDevitt meets a man called Jesus who can raise the dead in this stunning debut novel about family, faith, and loss by an acclaimed Northern Irish poet.

Fourteen-year-old Orla’s mum is dead. She lives in England with her unemployed father and baby sister Lily, but she’s planning to run away to live in Northern Ireland, where her mother is buried. Preoccupied with trouble at home and at school, she accidentally crashes her bike into a man who calls himself Jesus and says he is the Son of God. He has never seen a smartphone. He can raise animals from the dead by blowing into their mouths, including Orla’s cat Sneaky. Orla convinces Jesus to come with her to Ireland to bring her mum back to life and she teaches him how to ride a bike to get there. But Jesus has plans of his own, and after one of his revivals goes horribly wrong, Orla must decide how far she is willing to go to save her mother. A hilarious coming-of-age story, road novel, and meditation on the mysteries of faith and grief, this debut novel heralds an important new voice in world literature.

3. The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan, introduced by Claire-Louise Bennett
Peninsula Press, 9781913512255, PB, £10.99, 16/2/2023

A devastating collection of stories from one of the twentieth century’s finest writers.

In the 21 stories that compose this scintillating collection, Maeve Brennan writes about the daily lives of three Dublin families. Brennan turns her anatomist’s eye to the resentment, rivalry, and hatred that teem beneath the surface of family life — always doing so, however, with an attention to detail that makes these unsparing stories luminous and exquisite. Brennan’s subjects are ordinary people worn down by life, its little humiliations; yet they are also dreamers, defiantly hopeful of one day stepping beyond the narrow confines of the situation in which, unaccountably, they have found themselves. These stories ache; pitting imagination against circumstance, they are at once claustrophobic and expansive. With a new introduction by acclaimed novelist Claire-Louise Bennett, these stories reveal Maeve Brennan to be one of the most innovative and important writers of the 20th century.

4. A Shorter Finnegans Wake by James Joyce & Anthony Burgess
Galileo Publishing, 9781912916931, PB, £10.99, 23/2/2023

The reduced edition of one of the greatest Classics of the twentieth century — Finnegans Wake — edited by the renowned Anthony Burgess.

Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are usually found in most lists of the great classics of the twentieth century. But, as Burgess points out in his introduction: “they are highly idiosyncratic books and ‘difficult’ books, admired more often than read, when read, rarely read through to the end, when read through to the end, not often fully, or even partially, understood. This is of course especially true of Finnegans Wake. …This present reduction of Finnegans Wake to the length of an ordinary novel — garnished with an introduction and a running commentary is my own attempt to bring a great masterpiece to a larger audience…” (the reduction is to that of about 1/3 of its original length). It took Joyce 17 years to create this extraordinary book (and his final work), written in Paris after the publication of Ulysses. It is written not so much in English as in a language which combines, very often as puns, English with several other languages. Burgess was a huge admirer of Joyce’s work and a great interpreter. His introduction to the shortened version throws a massive light on the structure and meaning of the work and perhaps, most importantly, its position in the literary canon as a great comic book.

5. seven steeples by Sara Baume
Tramp Press, 9781916291485, PB, £11.99, 7/4/2022

The mountain remained, unclimbed, for the first year that they lived there.

Bell and Sigh, a couple in the infancy of their relationship, cut themselves off from friends and family. They turn their backs on a city divided by scores of streets and hundreds of sterile cherry trees, by a foul river and a declining population of house sparrows. Them in and the world out. From the top of the nearby mountain, they are told, you can see seven standing stones, seven schools, and seven steeples. All you have to do is climb. Taking place in a remote house in the south-west of Ireland, this rich and vivid novel spans seven years and speaks to the times we live in, asking how we may withdraw, how better to live in the natural world, and how the choices made or avoided lead us home.

6. The Elephant of Belfast: A Novel by S. Kirk Walsh
Counterpoint, 9781640095113, PB, £15.99, 7/4/2022

Inspired by true events, this vivid and moving story of a young woman zookeeper and the elephant she’s compelled to protect through the German blitz of Belfast during WWll.

Belfast, October 1940. Twenty-year-old zookeeper Hettie Quin arrives at the city docks in time to meet her new charge: an orphaned three-year-old Indian elephant named Violet. As Violet adjusts to her new solitary life in captivity and Hettie mourns the recent loss of her sister, a world war rages, threatening a city already reeling from escalating tensions between British Loyalists and those fighting for a free and unified Ireland. The Elephant of Belfast is a complicated and beguiling portrait of hope and resilience — and how love can sustain us during the darkest moments of our lives.

7. The Horse of Selene by Juanita Casey
Tramp Press, 9781915290007, PB, £12.99, 26/7/2022

A feminist and class-conscious story that explores the eternal choices of youth.

On a remote island off the West coast of Ireland in the 1970s, young farmer Micael catches sight of a girl on a beach with long hair so blonde it could be white. Befriending the girl and her travelling companions, a world of possibility opens up to Micael — but where there’s opportunity, there is also peril.

8. Where I End by Sophie White
Tramp Press, 9781915290045, PB, £11.99, 13/10/2022

A thrilling horror debut about being bound by the blood knot of family by one of Ireland’s most exciting, bestselling authors.

My mother. At night, my mother creaks. The house creaks along with her. Through our thin shared wall, I can hear the makings of my mother gurgle through her body just like the water in the walls of the house… Teenage Aoileann has never left the island. Her silent, bed-bound mother is a wreckage, the survivor of a private disaster no one will speak about. Aoileann desperately wants a family, and when Rachel and her newborn baby move to the island, Aoileann finds a focus for her relentless love.


9. A Traveller’s History of Ireland: Fourth Edition by Peter Neville
Interlink Books, 9781623717988, PB, £15.99, 10/11/2022

A comprehensive history of Ireland, now in its fourth updated edition.

A full and accurate portrait of Ireland from its prehistory right up to the present. The story opens with early Celtic Ireland, through Saint Patrick’s mission which began the process of making it “an island of saints,” to the high King Brian Boru and his struggle with Viking and Irish enemies alike. It moves on through the arrival of the Norman ‘Strongbow’ in the twelfth century, and the beginnings of the difficult and tragic Anglo-Irish relationship, right through to modern times. The book ends with a description of modern Ireland.

10. Irish Wit, Wisdom and Humor: The Complete Collection of Irish Jokes,
One-Liners & Witty Sayings by Gerd De Ley
Hatherleigh Press, 9781578269242, PB, £12.99, 3/3/2022

The greatest collection of Irish wit, wisdom and humour ever published. The best of humorous quotes, witty observations, and funny one-liners from those hailing from the Emerald Isle. Irish Wit, Wisdom & Humor collects over 1000 witticisms, musings, deep thoughts, and one-liners from and about Ireland and its people. It features hundreds of authors, poets, comedians, actors, politicians and many more that best represent the island, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bono, Edna O Brien, C.S. Lewis, Sinead O’Connor, George Bernard Shaw, and many others.

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