Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by Maggie McKneely

Planning a trip to the Emerald Isle? Be sure to pick up one of these awesome books about Ireland!

*This post contains affiliate links. That just means that if you happen to click on one of those links and end up making a purchase, I make a small commission (and you will have made my day!)

Books About Ireland

Pristine emerald countryside, rugged and wild coastlines, irresistible foot-tapping music, and a rich spiritual history, from the Druids at Newgrange to the monks at Glendalough – Ireland is a small but magical island that enchants everyone who visits.

But it’s a complicated nation with a complex history. The very idea that people would want to go to Ireland is relatively new. For most of modern history, Ireland has been famous for being the European country that everyone tried to leave. That’s why if you’re planning a trip to the Emerald Isle, it’s helpful to do some reading beforehand! Understanding its ancient past, its tumultuous struggle for independence, and the culture of Ireland today will enrich your visit to this wonderful country.

I asked some fellow travel bloggers for their recommendations for the best books about Ireland and the result is this list of fiction, travel guides, historical books, and even some books for kids. There’s something on this list to appeal to every reader!

Fiction

Brooklyn

If you’re traveling to Ireland, pick up Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, one of the best books about Ireland to read before a trip. Set both in Ireland and the United States, Brooklyn features Eilis Lacey, a young woman living in Ireland in the 1950s. Unable to find work or opportunities at home, her older sister puts her in contact with a priest who arranges for her to emigrate to Brooklyn in New York City.

Eilis settles into life in America and even starts a romance, but she continues to feel homesick for her homeland and what she’s given up to move overseas. Eventually, she receives news that sends her back to Ireland quickly. When she is there, Eilis is at a crossroads, faced with some big life decisions to make.

Brooklyn takes you back in time to the 1950s in Ireland, as well as the Irish experience of emigrating to America, which was very popular at that time. Whether you’re traveling through Dublin or the Irish countryside, you’ll be able to imagine Eilis’s experiences in the novel.

Also, a bonus: an award-winning movie based on the novel was made in 2015, so you’ll be able to watch the movie after finishing the book!

Recommended by: Kristin from Tiny Footsteps Travel

Brooklyn: A Novel by [Colm Toibin]

 

Normal People

Long before the Normal People TV show became a phenomenon during the COVID lockdown, this was a well-known book written by the Irish writer Sally Rooney.

Normal People is a book about how a friendship develops between the most popular boy at school, Connell, and a shy girl with few friends called Marianne. It follows the two from their school days through their time at Trinity College in Dublin. Here their roles reverse with Marianne blossoming and being well-liked whilst Connell struggles to fit in.

The book is about first love but it also explores some of the darker sides of growing up such as loneliness, difficulty with fitting in, and how socioeconomic backgrounds impact people’s relationship with money.

Normal People was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018 and despite some of the heavier topics, it is an easy read and one of the best books about Ireland to bring on holiday there.

Recommended by: Kristin from Scotland Less Explored

normal people books about ireland

Lion of Ireland

If inspirational is what you’re looking for, then Lion of Ireland by Morgan Llywelyn is one of the best books about Ireland for you to read!

Lion of Ireland is a fictionalized account of Brian Boru, one of Ireland’s most famous legendary characters. Boru was High King (“Ardri”) of Ireland and ruled for a time from the famous Irish landmark, the Rock of Cashel, the seat of Ireland’s High Kings for 700 years. Set in the 10th century, in what is known simultaneously as Ireland’s most violent era and its golden age, the book weaves a tale of Irish history intermingled with Irish folklore and tells the tale of how Boru finally ended the Viking invasions of Ireland.

You’ll get a greater sense of why Boru became one of Ireland’s greatest historical figures, as well as an urgent desire to visit the Emerald Isle.

Recommended by: Angie from We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

lion of ireland

Irish Fairy Tales

The Emerald Isle is known for its history of mythological creatures and folklore. These include trooping faeries, famous Irish kings and queens, and of course, the iconic leprechauns we have all come to know and love. Irish Fairy Tales by William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest authors that ever came out of Ireland, combines these stories with strong national pride.

This is one of the best books about Ireland for travelers to read because it helps to show the rich cultural heritage of this country. It will make you want to explore all the nooks and crannies in the Irish countryside in hopes of spotting some of the famed mystical creatures. The combination of history and storytelling makes it perfect for both adults and children.

This book can be found among many containing Irish history, mythology, and folklore at the National Leprechaun Museum in Dublin. A perfect stop on the itinerary for first-timers to Dubin, here you get to explore the impact that these kinds of tales have had on the country and what it means to have a magical world at your fingertips.

Recommended by: Nick of The World Overload

irish fairy tales yeats

The Yellow House

Written by Irish author Patricia Falvey, The Yellow House is set in early 20th-century Northern Ireland.

The novel tells the story of a woman from Northern Ireland whose life is filled with political and personal challenges. Eileen O’Neal faces religious intolerance and complicated family history that tears her family apart. Determined to save her ancestral home and reunite her fractured family, she begins working at the local mill to save money.

However, as war breaks out locally and globally, she finds it hard to separate the political turmoil from its personal impact on her life and finds herself torn between two men. One is a political activist fighting for Irish independence from Greta Britain, and the other is a member of a wealthy family who owns the mill where she works. Their persistent attention forces her to make a difficult choice.

The book is interesting and captivating to read, inviting readers to reflect on the profound impacts of world events on personal conflicts. And it is a compelling read for those interested in Irish history.

Recommended by: Imee from Ireland Travel Guides

the yellow house

The Copper Beech

The Copper Beech by Irish author Maeve Binchy is an engaging novel about the lives of the inhabitants of a small Irish town, Shancarrig. It’s one of the best fiction books about Ireland and life in its rural communities.

Like many of Binchy’s novels, this book examines the themes of love, friendship, and family. While the story centers around the titular old tree at the local schoolhouse, each chapter focuses on a different character, from the naive schoolteacher to the miserable doctor. Readers learn how the townspeople grow and change in the 1950s and 60s as Ireland itself is developing and modernizing.

Travelers to Ireland will enjoy The Copper Beech not only because of Binchy’s strong characterizations and vivid descriptions of rural Irish landscapes but also because the book provides a genuine sense of small-town Irish culture and traditions. It highlights the tight-knit nature of rural Irish communities, where everyone knows each other’s business (or thinks they do) and the impact of Ireland’s Catholic heritage on day-to-day life.

Recommended by: Melanie of Postcards and Places

The Copper Beech: A Novel by [Maeve Binchy]

Under the Hawthorn Tree

Delve into one of the most significant moments in Irish history through the eyes of three siblings – Eily, Michael, and Peggy O’ Driscoll – in Under the Hawthorn Tree by Dublin-born author Marita Conlon McKenna. The story is against the backdrop of the devastating Great Famine, which caused an estimated one million deaths and another million souls to emigrate in the mid-19th century.

One of the best historical fiction novels about Ireland, this first book of a trilogy follows the children as they set out to find their grandaunts. Their father leaves in search of work but sends no word. Their mother is then forced to leave to find food. Neither of them has returned. To avoid the dreaded workhouse, the children have no choice but to embark on a perilous journey to find their family.

Under the Hawthorn Tree is a heart-wrenching tale of survival, family, and unwavering determination. Although it’s ultimately a children’s novel, it’s one of the best books about Ireland to understand, in simple terms, the impact that the famine had on the Irish psyche and why, to this day, you’ll find the Irish diaspora all over the world.

Recommended by: Kaz from The Honeymoon Guide

under the hawthorn tree

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne tells two stories beautifully – one is of the life of Cyril Avery, born out of wedlock to a young Irish woman in 1945 and adopted into a well-to-do family. The other is the transformation of Ireland from a conservative society to one that is far more liberal.

Through the life of Cyril and the characters close to him, including his unconventional adoptive parents, you will get a clear picture of Ireland’s modern history. And a better understanding of its society as the story casts a critical eye on controversial topics ranging from sexism and the role of the Church, but with a dose of humor and sympathetic human experience.

At nearly 600 pages, this is not a quick read, though it is a rewarding one as it spans seven decades from the 1940s to the 2010s. This historical backdrop will add depth and context to any visit to Ireland. And Boyne’s vivid imagery and insightful prose will grip you straight from the first paragraph, drawing pictures of places and people that bring Ireland to life.

Recommended by: Janice from Gather and Go Travel

the heart's invisible furies

Trinity

If you’re looking for inspirational books for when you’re traveling to Ireland, you should consider the novel Trinity by Leon Uris.

This book was published in 1976 and is one of the great Irish fiction bestsellers of all time – it was on the bestsellers list of the New York Times for more than 20 weeks.

Trinity follows the lives of several families and individuals during Ireland’s decades-long struggle for independence. Characters such as a young Catholic rebel and a valiant Protestant girl who defied her heritage to join him help create a saga filled with glories and defeats a the small island nation navigates deep-rooted conflict. The book offers great insight into the country’s classes, religion, and culture that have shaped its history. Furthermore, the book covers some major events in the nation’s history, such as the Great Famine of the 1840s and the 1916 Easter Rising.

Travelers to Ireland will like the book because it provides a great introduction to Irish life and culture, which helps tourists better appreciate the country when visiting the cities and countryside. Also, when you are visiting museums in the country, you’ll already have had an introduction to some subjects that you can learn more about.

Recommended by: Daniel from North Carolina Travel Guides

books about ireland

Dublin Saga

When traveling to Ireland, be sure to read the Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherfurd. Set in and around Dublin, this series of two novels provide an in-depth account of Irish history, from Celtic times to the foundation of the Irish Free State, through brilliant storytelling and vibrant characters. Rutherford manages to pack eleven centuries of Irish history into 2,000 gripping pages.

The first book of the saga, The Princes of Irelandintroduces the reader to Celtic Dublin. As we move through the series, we follow the main characters and their descendants through the years. Rutherfurd masterfully weaves together the many characters and plot lines along with real historical events.

In book two, The Rebels of Irelandthe reader zooms through 400 years of Irish history in what feels like a flash. From the start of the plantation system to the Flight of the Earls and the fight for independence, the second novel sets up the series of events that led directly to the foundation of the Irish free state in 1922.

The Dublin Saga is an excellent and accurate account of Irish history, told in a compelling and engaging manner. Reading these great books about Ireland before or after your trip will help you understand the deep and complex history of the island and how that history has shaped its people and culture.

Recommended by: Tamar of World by Weekend

books about ireland

Non-Fiction

The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923

If you want to understand Ireland and its history before you travel, you can’t find a better book than this. The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923 by JC Beckett stands the test of time due to its accuracy of Irish history and lack of emotionally derived political rhetoric.

Professor JC Beckett was one of Ireland’s most distinguished Irish historians. He was born in Belfast and educated at The Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen’s University and taught at Belfast Royal Academy for 11 years.

If you are fascinated by the history of Ireland, this is one of the best books about Ireland to pick up and learn more. The book was groundbreaking in that it presented the findings of a critical generation of Irish historians and was said to be “not only learned but cool, objective, unimpassioned and yet always alive and compassionate as well.”

The Making of Modern Ireland may have been written in the 1960s but due to its almost scientific focus with fact-based information and critical thinking, this book is still recognized as one of the most important books on Irish history today.

Recommended by: Faith of XYUandBeyond

books about ireland

Say Nothing

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe tells the story of “the Troubles” in Ireland from the perspective of a single murder.

On December 7, 1972, Jean McConville was abducted in front of her 10 children from her home in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was one of the most notorious episodes of the conflict and while everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible, the climate of fear In Northern Ireland at that time prevented anyone from speaking about it. It wasn’t until 2003 that her body was discovered and the truth was unearthed. Say Nothing tells the true story of her murder as well as details the cultural and societal impacts of Northern Ireland’s bloody 30-year conflict.

For reasons that become clear when you read the book, visitors to Ireland are advised not to flippantly mention the Troubles when in the country. If broached with a local, it should be handled with care and genuine curiosity.

For understanding recent Irish history, this is one of the best books about Ireland history to pick up.

Recommended by: Amber from Amber Everywhere 

Say Nothing books about ireland

McCarthy’s Bar

Before embarking on an Irish adventure, diving into Pete McCarthy’s captivating book McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey in Ireland is a must. In this delightful travelogue, McCarthy weaves together wit, humor, and a heartfelt account of his experiences on the Emerald Isle.

McCarthy’s mission? To visit every bar bearing his surname across Ireland. Along the way, he encounters colorful characters, unravels folklore, and unveils hidden gems nestled within Ireland’s picturesque landscapes. His keen observations and engaging storytelling make this book an absolute delight.

One of the best books about Ireland, McCarthy’s Bar is a lot more than a typical travel guide. It is a personal companion, fueling your wanderlust and igniting your desire to experience Ireland firsthand. As you sip a pint in a cozy pub or explore the rugged coastline, McCarthy’s tales will deepen your connection to a country considered to be one of the world’s friendliest.

So, pack this literary gem in your luggage and let Pete McCarthy be your witty guide through dramatic coastlines like the Wild Atlantic Way and mystical places like Newgrange. Prepare to be enchanted, inspired, and embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Recommended by: Teresa from Brogan Abroad

ireland coast

Wild Atlantic Way

Mythical Irish Places

One of the most interesting things about Irish mythology and folklore is the intertwining of legend and reality. It can be hard to tell fact from fiction, especially when the locations of these stories are often real places in Ireland. Mythical Irish Places by Mark Joyce showcases 50 of these iconic destinations. Joyce offers a magical perspective on famous sites like Croagh Patrick, Newgrange, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Giant’s Causeway.

Each chapter focuses on a specific place, providing historical context and delving into the mythical stories that took place there. You’ll meet Irish heroes like St. Patrick, Fionn mac Cumhaill, the fairy queen Cliodhna, and the fabled warrior Cú Chulainn.

This book is not just a collection of stories; it also acts as a guidebook with detailed descriptions and useful information for anyone who wants to visit these legendary sites. Mythical Irish Places is one of the best books about Ireland for travelers interested in Irish mythology or Irish history and culture.

Recommended by: Maria from Martha’s Vineyard Travel Tips

Ireland for Dummies

If you’re planning a trip to Ireland and want to make the most of your visit, consider picking up a copy of Ireland for Dummies. This book is a fantastic resource for anyone exploring the Emerald Isle. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, this user-friendly guidebook will help you make the most of your time in Ireland.

The book covers every region of Ireland, including all of the main cities and the gorgeous Irish countryside. Insider, you’ll discover exciting things to see, including popular sites like Dublin Castle, the Blarney Stone, and the Rock of Cashel, and memorable things to do like jaunting car tours in the Gap of Dunloe, afternoon tea at Ashford Castle, and walking along the Cliffs of Moher.

Ireland for Dummies also includes detailed maps, recommendations for places to stay and eat, and valuable tips to enhance your trip to Ireland. It’s like having a knowledgeable guide in your pocket who knows all of the best spots and can help you have a fantastic adventure! It is certainly one of the best books about Ireland if you’re planning a trip there.

Recommended by: Janae of Adventures with Tucknae 

Rick Steves’ Ireland Travel Guide

One of the most helpful resources when planning a trip to the Emerald Isle is a Rick Steves Ireland travel guide! Rick and his team are constantly updating the guidebooks, so you know the information is relevant and the recommendations are top-notch.

Pore through the pages to learn about all of the must-see attractions in Ireland. Whether you’re looking to experience famous Dublin attractions like the Guinness Storehouse and the Books of Kells, planning a trip to the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, or researching the best things to do in Kilkenny, Rick’s guidebook has you covered!

Rick Steves is famous for his ‘Europe through the back door’ approach to experiencing a country like a local. His Ireland travel guide provides information on the best places to stay for any budget and which restaurants have the most authentic Irish cuisine. You’ll also get helpful maps and essential information for traveling to Ireland, from the currency used in Ireland to tips for driving there.

If you’re looking for both Ireland inspiration and practical travel tips, this is one of the best books on Ireland travel to pick up!

Recommended by: Lisa from Waves and Cobblestones

 

kilkenny castle

Kilkenny Castle

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Planning a trip to the Emerald Isle? Be sure to pick up one of these awesome books about Ireland! The list includes fiction, guidebooks, history books, and even books for kids - there's definitely something for everyone! #ireland #irishbooks #books #dublin #travelguides   Planning a trip to the Emerald Isle? Be sure to pick up one of these awesome books about Ireland! The list includes fiction, guidebooks, history books, and even books for kids - there's definitely something for everyone! #ireland #irishbooks #books #dublin #travelguides Planning a trip to the Emerald Isle? Be sure to pick up one of these awesome books about Ireland! The list includes fiction, guidebooks, history books, and even books for kids - there's definitely something for everyone! #ireland #irishbooks #books #dublin #travelguides

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