This list of books set in Ireland appears in chronological order; starting with the modern period, spanning through to contemporary works from today. It starts with classics such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and James Joyce’s Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. 🇮🇪
Maeve Binchy is one of the most widely recognized Irish authors, well-known for her portrayal of small-town Ireland across over 20 novels. During her career as a novelist, she lived in picturesque Dalkey in Dublin. It would be hard to cover all her works, so this list includes just one for a little taste, her much beloved Circle of Friends.
And finally, some more recent best-sellers on this list of books set in Ireland include Brooklyn (I know, it starts in Ireland I swear!) by Colm Tóibín, The Good People by Hannah Kent and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. I hope you’ll enjoy these reads set in the emerald isle, please let me know your thoughts below! 🍀
Books Set In Ireland
by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1818
Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
by James Joyce, 1914
This work of art reflects life in Ireland at the turn of the last century, and by rejecting euphemism, reveals to the Irish their unromantic reality. Each of the 15 stories offers glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners, and collectively they paint a portrait of a nation.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce, 1916
The portrayal of Stephen Dedalus’s Dublin childhood and youth, his quest for identity through art and his gradual emancipation from the claims of family, religion and Ireland itself, is also an oblique self-portrait of the young James Joyce and a universal testament to the artist’s ‘eternal imagination’. Both an insight into Joyce’s life and childhood, and a unique work of modernist fiction, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a novel of sexual awakening, religious rebellion and the essential search for voice and meaning that every nascent artist must face in order to fully come into themselves.
by James Joyce, 1922
Literature, as Joyce tells us through the character of Stephen Dedalus, ‘is the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man’. Written over a seven-year period, from 1914 to 1921, Ulysses has survived bowderlization, legal action and bitter controversy. An undisputed modernist classic, its ceaseless verbal inventiveness and astonishingly wide-ranging allusions confirm its standing as an imperishable monument to the human condition. Declan Kiberd says in his introduction Ulysses is ‘An endlessly open book of utopian epiphanies. It holds a mirror up to the colonial capital that was Dublin on 16 June 1904, but it also offers redemptive glimpses of a future world which might be made over in terms of those utopian moments.’
The Commitments (The Barrytown Trilogy 1/3)
by Roddy Doyle, 1987
Barrytown, Dublin, has something to sing about. The Commitments are spreading the gospel of the soul. Ably managed by Jimmy Rabbitte, brilliantly coached by Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan, their twin assault on Motown and Barrytown takes them by leaps and bounds from the parish hall to the steps of the studio door. But can The Commitments live up to their name?
The Book of Evidence (Frames: The Freddie Montgomery Trilogy 1/3)
by John Banville, 1989
Freddie Montgomery has committed two crimes. He stole a small Dutch master from a wealthy family friend, and he murdered a chambermaid who caught him in the act. He has little to say about the dead girl. He killed her, he says, because he was physically capable of doing so. It made perfect sense to smash her head in with a hammer. What he cannot understand, and would desperately like to know, is why he was so moved by an unattributed portrait of a middle-aged woman that he felt compelled to steal it
Circle of Friends
by Maeve Binchy, 1990
Big, generous-hearted Benny and the elfin Eve Malone have been best friends growing up in sleepy Knockglen. Their one thought is to get to Dublin, to university and to freedom. On their first day at University College, Dublin, the inseparable pair are thrown together with fellow students Nan Mahon, beautiful but selfish, and handsome Jack Foley. But trouble is brewing for Benny and Eve’s new circle of friends, and before long, they find passion, tragedy – and the independence they yearned for.
The Snapper (The Barrytown Trilogy 2/3)
by Roddy Doyle, 1990
Meet the Rabbitte family, motley bunch of loveable ne’er-do-wells whose everyday purgatory is rich with hangovers, dogshit and dirty dishes. When the older sister announces her pregnancy, the family is forced to rally together and discover the strangeness of intimacy. But the question remains: which friend of the family is the father of Sharon’s child?
The Van (The Barrytown Trilogy 3/3)
by Roddy Doyle, 1991
Jimmy Rabbitte, Sr. is unemployed, spending his days alone and miserable. When his best friend, Bimbo, also gets laid off, they keep by being miserable together. Things seem to look up when they buy a decrepit fish-and-chip van and go into business, selling cheap grub to the drunk and the hungry – and keeping one step ahead of the environmental health officers.
Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt 1/3)
by Frank McCourt, 1996
“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”
So begins the Pulitzer Prize winning memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy– exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling– does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.
by Jennifer Johnston, 1997
When Stella first meets Martyn, he’s just a stranger on a train. She knows nothing at all about him. But very quickly she is won over by his charm and breathtaking illusions, and when he asks her to marry him, she agrees.
However, as they begin their life together, Stella starts to feel uneasy. What exactly is the show-stopping illusion he claims to be working on, locked away in that room? Who are those men that visit the house at strange hours? And why are her questions never answered? As Stella realises that she barely knows the man she married, her thoughts turn to escape.
1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion (Irish Century Novels 1/5)
by Morgan Llywelyn, 1998
Ned Halloran has lost both his parents–and almost his own life–to the sinking of the Titanic. Determined to keep what little he has, he returns to his homeland in Ireland and enrolls at Saint Enda’s school in Dublin. Saint Enda’s headmaster is the renowned scholar and poet, Patrick Pearse – who is soon to gain greater fame as a rebel and patriot. Ned becomes totally involved with the growing revolution…and the sacrifices it will demand.
A Star Called Henry (The Last Roundup 1/3)
by Roddy Doyle, 1999
Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Henry Smart lives through the evolution of modern Ireland, and in this extraordinary novel he brilliantly tells his story. From his own birth and childhood on the streets of Dublin to his role as soldier (and lover) in the Irish Rebellion, Henry recounts his early years of reckless heroism and adventure. At once an epic, a love story, and a portrait of Irish history, A Star Called Henry is a grand picaresque novel brimming with both poignant moments and comic ones, and told in a voice that is both quintessentially Irish and inimitably Roddy Doyle’s.
The Blackwater Lightship
by Colm Tóibín, 1999
It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Helen, her mother, Lily, and her grandmother, Dora have come together to tend to Helen’s brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. With Declan’s two friends, the six of them are forced to plumb the shoals of their own histories and to come to terms with each other.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, The Blackwater Lightship is a deeply resonant story about three generations of an estranged family reuniting to mourn an untimely death. In spare, luminous prose, Colm Tóibín explores the nature of love and the complex emotions inside a family at war with itself.
by David Mitchell, 1999
A gallery attendant at the Hermitage. A young jazz buff in Tokyo. A crooked British lawyer in Hong Kong. A disc jockey in Manhattan. A physicist in Ireland. An elderly woman running a tea shack in rural China. A cult-controlled terrorist in Okinawa. A musician in London. A transmigrating spirit in Mongolia. What is the common thread of coincidence or destiny that connects the lives of these nine souls in nine far-flung countries, stretching across the globe from east to west? What pattern do their linked fates form through time and space?
Haunted Ground (Nora Gavin 1/4)
by Erin Hart, 2003
Introducing Erin Hart, who brings the beauty, poignancy, mystery, and romance of the Irish countryside to her richly nuanced first novel. When farmers cutting turf in a peat bog make a grisly discovery – the perfectly preserved severed head of a young woman with long red hair – Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin team up in a case that will open old wounds.
P.S. I Love You
by Cecelia Ahern, 2003
Holly couldn’t live without her husband Gerry, until the day she had to. They were the kind of young couple who could finish each other’s sentences. When Gerry succumbs to a terminal illness and dies, 30-year-old Holly is set adrift, unable to pick up the pieces. But with the help of a series of letters her husband left her before he died and a little nudging from an eccentric assortment of family and friends, she learns to laugh, overcome her fears, and discover a world she never knew existed.
The Princes of Ireland (The Dublin Saga 1/2)
by Edward Rutherfurd, 2003
Brilliantly weaving impeccable historical research with stirring storytelling, Edward Rutherfurd explores our shared Celtic roots in a magnificent epic of Ireland spanning eleven centuries. While vividly conveying the passions and struggles that shaped particularly the character of Dublin, Rutherfurd portrays the major events in Irish history: the tribal culture of pagan Ireland; the mission of Saint Patrick; the coming of the Vikings; the making of treasures like the Book of Kells; and the tricks of Henry II, which gave England its first foothold in medieval Ireland. Through the interlocking stories of a memorable cast of characters–druids and chieftains, monks and smugglers, noblewomen and farmwives, laborers and orphans, rebels and cowards–Rutherfurd captures the essence of a place and its people in a thrilling story steeped in the tragedy and glory that are Ireland.
by Frank Delaney, 2004
In the winter of 1951, a storyteller arrives at the home of nine-year-old Ronan O’Mara in the Irish countryside. The last practitioner of an honored, centuries-old tradition, the Seanchai enthralls his assembled audience for three evenings running with narratives of foolish kings and fabled saints, of enduring accomplishments and selfless acts – until he is banished from the household for blasphemy and moves on. But these three incomparable nights have changed young Ronan forever, setting him on the course he will follow for years to come – as he pursues the elusive, itinerant storyteller… and the magical tales that are no less than the glorious saga of his tenacious, troubled, and extraordinary isle.
The Rebels of Ireland (The Dublin Saga 2/2)
by Edward Rutherfurd, 2004
The Rebels of Ireland opens with an Ireland transformed; plantation, the final step in the centuries-long English conquest of Ireland, is the order of the day, and the subjugation of the native Irish Catholic population has begun in earnest.
Edward Rutherfurd brings history to life through the tales of families whose fates rise and fall in each generation: Brothers who must choose between fidelity to their ancient faith or the security of their families; a wife whose passion for a charismatic Irish chieftain threatens her comfortable marriage to a prosperous merchant; a young scholar whose secret rebel sympathies are put to the test; men who risk their lives and their children’s fortunes in the tragic pursuit of freedom, and those determined to root them out forever. Rutherfurd spins the saga of Ireland’s 400-year path to independence in all its drama, tragedy, and glory through the stories of people from all strata of society – Protestant and Catholic, rich and poor, conniving and heroic.
by John Banville, 2005
In this luminous new novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.
A Swift Pure Cry
by Siobhan Dowd, 2006
Ireland 1984. After Shell’s mother dies, her obsessively religious father descends into alcoholic mourning and Shell is left to care for her younger brother and sister. Her only release from the harshness of everyday life comes from her budding spiritual friendship with a naive young priest, and most importantly, her developing relationship with childhood friend, Declan, who is charming, eloquent, and persuasive. But when Declan suddenly leaves Ireland to seek his fortune in America, Shell finds herself pregnant and the center of a scandal that rocks the small community in which she lives, with repercussions across the whole country. The lives of those immediately around her will never be the same again.
In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad 1/6)
by Tana French, 2007
As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (his partner and closest friend) find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.
Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes (Ma 1/6)
by Martha Long, 2007
‘Then I heard the most beautiful music, an suddenly I was outa me body an flyin. An I wanted te cry inside meself. I wasn’t dead any more, I was lifted away, far away. I can do anythin. I can be somebody, I can be beautiful, I can be gentle, I can be rich, I can smell good. The world is waitin fer me. I can be what I want. Then it ended. An I was back in the room. I opened me eyes slowly an took in everythin aroun me. One day I’ll be able te stop this. Nobody will keep me down. I’ll work hard, an I’ll be at the top, cos I don’t want anyone lookin down on me.’
Born a bastard to a teenage mother in the slums of 1950s Dublin, Martha has to be a fighter from the very start.
by Anne Enright, 2007
Anne Enright is a dazzling writer of international stature and one of Ireland’s most singular voices. Now she delivers The Gathering, a moving, evocative portrait of a large Irish family and a shot of fresh blood into the Irish literary tradition, combining the lyricism of the old with the shock of the new. The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him—something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968. As Enright traces the line of betrayal and redemption through three generations her distinctive intelligence twists the world a fraction and gives it back to us in a new and unforgettable light. The Gathering is a daring, witty, and insightful family epic, clarified through Anne Enright’s unblinking eye. It is a novel about love and disappointment, about how memories warp and secrets fester, and how fate is written in the body, not in the stars.
The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad 2/6)
by Tana French, 2008
The haunting follow up to the Edgar Award-winning debut In the Woods.
Tana French astonished critics and readers alike with her mesmerizing debut novel, In the Woods. Now both French and Detective Cassie Maddox return to unravel a case even more sinister and enigmatic than the first. Six months after the events of In the Woods, an urgent telephone call beckons Cassie to a grisly crime scene. The victim looks exactly like Cassie and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only who killed this girl, but, more importantly, who is this girl? A disturbing tale of shifting identities, The Likeness firmly establishes Tana French as an important voice in suspense fiction.
The Secret Scripture (McNulty Family Series)
by Sebastian Barry, 2008
Nearing her one-hundredth birthday, Roseanne McNulty faces an uncertain future, as the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital where she’s spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure. Over the weeks leading up to this upheaval, she talks often with her psychiatrist Dr Grene, and their relationship intensifies and complicates.
Told through their respective journals, the story that emerges is at once shocking and deeply beautiful. Refracted through the haze of memory and retelling, Roseanne’s story becomes an alternative, secret history of Ireland’s changing character and the story of a life blighted by terrible mistreatment and ignorance, and yet marked still by love and passion and hope.
by Colm Tóibín, 2009
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America – to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” – she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love.
The Yellow House
by Patricia Falvey, 2009
The Yellow House delves into the passion and politics of Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 20th Century. Eileen O’Neill’s family is torn apart by religious intolerance and secrets from the past. Determined to reclaim her ancestral home and reunite her family, Eileen begins working at the local mill, saving her money and holding fast to her dream. As war is declared on a local and global scale, Eileen cannot separate the politics from the very personal impact the conflict has had on her own life. She is soon torn between two men, each drawing her to one extreme. One is a charismatic and passionate political activist determined to win Irish independence from Great Britain at any cost, who appeals to her warrior’s soul. The other is the wealthy and handsome black sheep of the pacifist family who owns the mill where she works, and whose persistent attention becomes impossible for her to ignore.
by Mary Pat Kelly, 2009
In a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family. Because they and their countrymen must sell both their catch and their crops to pay exorbitant rents, potatoes have become their only staple food.
But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees–victims saving themselves–in the emigration from Ireland.
by Paul Murray, 2010
A tragic comedy of epic sweep and dimension, Skippy Dies wrings every last drop of humour and hopelessness out of life, love, mermaids, M-theory, the poetry of Robert Graves, and all the mysteries of the human heart.
Why does Skippy, a fourteen-year-old boy at Dublin’s venerable Seabrook College, end up dead on the floor of the local doughnut shop? Could it have something to do with his friend Ruprecht Van Doren, an overweight genius who is determined to open a portal into a parallel universe using ten-dimensional string theory? Could it involve Carl, the teenage drug dealer and borderline psychotic who is Skippy’s rival in love?
Spill Simmer Falter Wither
by Sara Baume, 2015
A misfit man finds a misfit dog. Ray, aged fifty-seven, ‘too old for starting over, too young for giving up’, and One Eye, a vicious little bugger, smaller than expected, a good ratter. Both are accustomed to being alone, unloved, outcast – but they quickly find in each other a strange companionship of sorts. As spring turns to summer, their relationship grows and intensifies, until a savage act forces them to abandon the precarious life they’d established, and take to the road.
The Girl in the Castle
by Santa Montefiore, 2015
Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched – even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.
The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers
by Sinéad Gleeson, 2015
The Long Gaze Back, edited by Sinéad Gleeson, is an exhilarating anthology of thirty short stories by some of the most gifted women writers this island has ever produced. Taken together, the collected works of these writers reveal an enrapturing, unnerving, and piercingly beautiful mosaic of a lively literary landscape. Spanning four centuries, The Long Gaze Back features 8 rare stories from deceased luminaries and forerunners, and 22 new unpublished stories by some of the most talented Irish women writers working today. The anthology presents an inclusive and celebratory portrait of the high calibre of contemporary literature in Ireland.
The Good People
by Hannah Kent, 2016
Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference.
Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow’s house.
The Lesser Bohemians
by Eimear McBride, 2016
Note: This one isn’t technically set in Ireland, but is about a young Irish girl in London.
Upon her arrival in London, an 18-year-old Irish girl begins anew as a drama student, with all the hopes of any young actress searching for the fame she’s always dreamed of. She struggles to fit in—she’s young and unexotic, a naive new girl—but soon she forges friendships and finds a place for herself in the big city.
Then she meets an attractive older man. He’s an established actor, 20 years older, and the inevitable clamorous relationship that ensues is one that will change her forever.
by Emma Donoghue, 2016
An English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months -soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life. Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.
Through the Barricades
by Denise Deegan, 2016
She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her. ‘Make a difference in the world,’ are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart, years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.
‘Don’t go getting distracted, now,’ is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.
What do you think of these books set in Ireland?
Have a great book recommendation I’ve missed? Are you planning a trip to Ireland soon? I’d love to hear about more about your travels and tips for books set in Ireland in the comments below!