20 Books by Irish Authors to Add to Your Reading List
Don't limit your Irish literature to St. Patrick's Day. These books by Irish authors are worth reading all year long.
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The luck (and literature) of the Irish
You may not realize it, but you have Irish authors to thank for some truly entertaining and inspiring pieces of literature, from classic tales to modern works of fiction to some of the best books of all time. Chances are, you already know some of the more iconic writers—Sally Rooney, James Joyce and Tana French, to name a few—but there’s a whole world of Irish authors out there, writing in a range of book genres.
With that in mind (and St. Patrick’s Day approaching), we’ve rounded up the best books written by Irish authors. Some are bestsellers. Some are award-winners. Some are taught in colleges across the country. And all have captivated the hearts and imaginations of readers both in and beyond Ireland. Reading these titles makes for a fun St. Patrick’s Day tradition, but they’re worth your time year-round.
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1. Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Let’s start with one of the best-known Irish authors: Sally Rooney. If you gobbled up Normal People and Conversations with Friends (or binged the Hulu TV shows based on the books), you need to get your hands on Beautiful World, Where Are You. Rooney’s latest novel—it was released in 2021—tells the story of four friends who keep in touch throughout the busyness of their lives while navigating the trickiness of communication, work, friendship, sex, relationships and vulnerability.
2. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Fans of Sally Rooney will find another must-read author in Naoise Dolan, whose debut novel, Exciting Times, should be right up their alley. Dolan is a queer Irish author with autism who writes about the complications of work, relationships, sex and modern love. With wit and wry humor, this 2020 LGBTQ novel chronicles a love triangle between an Irish expat living in Hong Kong, the successful banker she falls for and the striking lawyer she also falls for.
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3. In the Woods by Tana French
Tana French’s 2007 novel, In the Woods, is the first in her compulsively readable Dublin Murder Squad mystery book series. A must for amateur sleuths, the book introduces readers to Rob Ryan, an Irish detective brought in to solve the case of a 12-year-old girl who was murdered in the woods. The bizarre part: Rob Ryan was found in the same woods when he was 12 years old, shoes full of blood and no memory of what happened. Now, he must try to solve his own cold case alongside this eerily similar present-day investigation. French is a must-read for mystery lovers, but In the Woods is perhaps her best-known work: More than a million copies have been sold since its release, and it even inspired a TV series on Starz.
4. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
We can’t talk about Irish authors without mentioning Colum McCann, a Dublin-born writer whose Let the Great World Spin took home the National Book Award when it came out in 2009. You might expect one of Ireland’s greats to transport readers to the Emerald Isle, but McCann has instead written an ode to New York City circa 1974. As he spins the tale of a tightrope walker navigating a rope suspended between the Twin Towers, McCann reveals the lives of several different people living in the city: an Irish monk, grieving mothers, a young artist and a determined grandmother. These characters’ stories come together in the end as a reminder of the emotions and wonder that are part of life itself.
5. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
There’s a good chance you’ve read Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel Room, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and adapted into a movie in 2015. She followed that smash hit with 2016’s The Wonder, and it’s worth reading regardless of whether you’ve seen the 2022 Netflix film adaptation. Set in 1859 in the Irish midlands, the haunting historical novel drops readers into the mind of Lib Wright. An English nurse, she’s traveled to a small village to witness a medical anomaly: A young girl has survived without food for months. Determined to discover the truth, Lib becomes entangled in the life of the young girl and a journalist who has also come to ferret out the truth.
6. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
One of the best memoirs you’ll ever read, Angela’s Ashes is the 1996 book that won author Frank McCourt a Pulitzer Prize. On its opening page, McCourt writes, “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all.” With that promise of a fascinating story, McCourt takes readers on his personal journey of survival during the Great Depression. Throw in his abject poverty and alcoholic father, and you might think this is a bleak tale. But as he recounts his life and shares his love for stories, McCourt crafts a compassionate, inspiring memoir.
7. The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan
Award-winning author Donal Ryan has been wowing critics for years (he has two Booker Prize nominations to his name), and Irish readers are such huge fans that The Queen of Dirt Island became a No. 1 bestseller when it was published there. Well, add it to your list of most-anticipated books because it’ll be hitting shelves stateside on Feb. 28. In his newest work, Ryan explores four generations of women living in the small town of Tipperary and expertly navigates themes of isolation, forgiveness, betrayal, love and desire.
8. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s 1890s classic might be a literature class must-read, but it’s worth picking up if you’ve managed to evade it. Many consider it not only one of the best books by Irish authors but one of the best works of fiction, period. Set in late-19th-century England, The Picture of Dorian Gray centers on (no surprise here) a man named Dorian Gray. He sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty, but he must face the consequences of that decision when a hidden portrait of him transforms into a corrupted record of his sins. Ready for more great reads? Many of these dark academia books have the same Gothic vibes as Wilde’s classic.
9. Ulysses by James Joyce
Speaking of classic Irish authors… James Joyce’s renowned 1922 novel, Ulysses, has been both a controversy (it was a banned book in both England and the United States) and a literary sensation for decades. Set in Dublin in 1904 and paralleling Homer’s The Odyssey, the story follows Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in the aftermath of the adultery committed by Bloom’s wife. Widely hailed as a masterpiece, Ulysses is a must for anyone trying to read more of literature’s greats.
10. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Set in 1950s Brooklyn and Ireland, Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel is tailor-made for lovers of historical fiction. Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey, who leaves her small Irish town when she’s offered shelter and work in Brooklyn. It’s at her department store job that she meets Tony, and the two fall in love. But this is no simple love story. Devastating news from her homeland threatens the life she’s built in New York—and threatens to divide her heart.
11. Asking for It by Louise O’Neill
Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It is a stellar, award-winning book. But it deserves a content warning before we proceed: This YA novel deals with sexual assault. The book, published in 2015, tells the story of 18-year-old Emma O’Donovan, who wakes up on the doorstep of her parents’ home missing the details of a party she attended the night before. But when explicit photos surface, so does a hard truth that everyone in town seems to want to ignore. Emma is left to deal with the aftermath in a story that puts a spotlight on the trauma caused by both rape and public shaming.
12. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Dublin-born Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels in 1726 as a satire of the travelogues that were popular at the time. To say it found success would be an understatement. Not only is it widely read (as a book for children and adults), but it’s also credited with advancing the novel as a form of literature. The story follows Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon and sea captain who tells the tale of his eccentric four voyages and offers readers a comic commentary on society.
13. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Best known for his 2006 novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne delivered another heartfelt story with 2017’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Set in Ireland in the 1940s, the novel follows Cyril Avery, who’s adopted by a couple from Dublin and struggles to understand who he is and how he fits into the world. An epic saga about country and identity, The Heart’s Invisible Furies weaves an unforgettable tale.
14. Milkman by Anna Burns
In her 2018 novel, Milkman, Belfast-born Anna Burns transports readers to her home country in the 1970s, during The Troubles. The story introduces readers to an unnamed middle sister who does her best to rebuff a paramilitary member (aka the milkman) who takes interest in her but still finds herself at the center of gossip. Despite the historical setting, this is a timely story that will speak to modern readers. Bonus: It’s available for free on Kindle Unlimited.
15. A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
Maeve Binchy’s 2012 novel, the last she published before her passing, takes readers to the small Irish town of Stoneybridge for the sort of feel-good book we could all use right now. Fall in love with a cast of well-rounded characters, starting with Chicky Starr. She sets out to transform a cliffside mansion into a holiday house with the help of her niece, a bad boy who’s gone good, and welcoming guests like an American actor, a retired school teacher and a librarian.
16. Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen
Fans of Derry Girls will most likely enjoy Michelle Gallen’s 2020 novel, Big Girl, Small Town. Majella O’Neill grew up in a small town in Northern Ireland just after The Troubles. She lives a quiet existence, but after the death of her granny, she begins to think there may be more to life than living within the confines of her town.
17. Actress by Anne Enright
If women’s fiction is your go-to genre, don’t miss Actress, which was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction when it was published in 2020. In the novel, Dublin-born Anne Enright tells the story of Norah, who strives to dig deeper into her mother’s career as the Irish theater legend Katherine O’Dell. Uncovered secrets shed light on Katherine’s past and Norah’s present, which Enright masterfully weaves together in this novel.
18. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
Lisa McInerney’s 2015 novel, The Glorious Heresies, kicks off with a bang and doesn’t let up until the final page. Set in Cork, Ireland, it’s the story of five misfits—a drug dealer, a sex worker, a gangster, an alcoholic and a woman who has just returned to Cork—whose lives collide after an accidental murder.
19. From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
If well-crafted prose is a must in your book, don’t miss Donal Ryan’s 2018 novel, From a Low and Quiet Sea. The Wall Street Journal wrote of it, “There are countless passages … that are so sculpted and beautiful that one’s lips begin to shape their words unbidden, the way a song can move a crowd to its rhythm.” Told in four parts, the book follows Farouk, Lampy and John, three men who strive to find their own versions of home but must face personal reckonings that bring them together.
20. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Paul Murray’s 2010 tragic comedy begins with the aftermath: 14-year-old Skippy has been found dead on the floor of a doughnut shop. Skippy Dies introduces readers to a cast of characters—like Skippy’s friend Ruprecht Van Dore, teenage drug dealer Carl and Skippy’s headmaster—who were all part of Skippy’s life and, possibly, his death. Despite the topic (and title) this is a moving, funny book.