Out of all the countries I’ve visited, I love Ireland the most. I discovered the country is full of life, but also undeniably peaceful. It will also always hold a special place in my heart as the last vacation Jay and I took before Connor entered our lives. We’re hoping to return soon to explore even more of the country. To prep for our next trip to Ireland, I tracked down the best books set in Ireland. These books set in Ireland were all written within the past two decades. So, if you prefer current reads, these Irish books will do the trick. I’m all for reading the classics, but everyone already knows the Irish connection to books such as Dubliners and Frankenstein.
I prefer reading books written more recently. So, you’ll find these are perfect books to read before taking a trip to Ireland. I hope my book list inspires you to plan your own vacation. If you need ideas, I spent a few months prior to our trip putting together our 11 Day Ireland itinerary. I also wrote a full recap of our Ireland vacation to share everything we saw! I love to chat about our trip, so feel free to reach out to me with any more specific questions. Now on to the Irish book list!
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Best Books Set in Ireland
The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherford
Genre: Historical Fiction
Summary: The saga begins in tribal, pre-Christian Ireland during the reign of the fierce and mighty High Kings at Tara, with the tale of two lovers, the princely Conall and the ravishing Deirdre, whose travails cleverly echo the ancient Celtic legend of Cuchulainn. From that stirring beginning, Rutherfurd takes the reader on a powerfully-imagined journey through the centuries. Through the interlocking stories of a memorable cast of characters—druids and chieftains, monks and smugglers, noblewomen and farmwives, merchants and mercenaries, rebels and cowards—we see Ireland through the lens of its greatest city
My Take: I adore everything Rutherford writes, but this is one of my favorites. There’s also a sequel to take you even further into Ireland’s history. When we visited Dublin, it was even more meaningful to see the places I read about in such detail in this epic novel. This series is my top suggestion for books to read before visiting Ireland.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Genre: Literary Fiction
Summary: In this masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, 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.
My Take: I was enthralled by this unique tale. Emma Donoghue is best known for her heartbreaking novel, Room, but this is excellent as well. The suspense and tension about what’s really happening in this young girl’s life will have you quickly turning pages.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Genre: Literary Fiction
Summary: Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamorous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.
My Take: Undoubtedly one of the most-read and loved books of 2017. I still need to get a hold of this one myself, but it received rave reviews from readers everywhere.
P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
Genre: Chick Lit
Summary: 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.
My Take: I love pretty much all chick lit, so the added fact that this book takes place in Ireland makes it even more appealing! The movie adaptation is worth a watch as well.
In The Woods by Tana French
Genre: Murder Mystery
Summary: One summer evening in 1984, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods in a Dublin suburb. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children 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 and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-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.
My Take: Admittedly, this isn’t my usual genre. I very rarely delve into murder mysteries, but the story sounded intriguing. Since this is part of a series, it was a bit abrupt when I stopped reading after this first book. I’ve heard it’s well worth it to keep reading though!
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Genre: Literary Fiction
Summary: At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. When Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal. A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. They circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
My Take: This book was a Book of the Month selection earlier this year and is long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. So, it’s got some serious chops.
The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney
Summary: As World War II rages on, Ben remains haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his wife, the actress Venetia Kelly. While collecting stories for the Irish Folklore Commission, he travels to a remote seaside cottage to profile the Matchmaker of Kenmare. He finds the forthright Miss Begley, a remarkably self-assured woman in her instincts but provincial in her experience. Miss Begley is determined to see that Ben moves through his grief—and a powerful friendship is forged along the way. When Charles Miller, a striking American military intelligence officer, arrives, Miss Begley develops an intense infatuation and looks to make a match for herself. Miller needs a favor, but it will be dangerous. Under the cover of their neutrality as Irish citizens, Miss Begley and Ben travel to London and effectively operate as spies. As they are drawn more deeply and painfully into the conflict, both discover the perils of neutrality—in both love and war.
My Take: I picked this up on a whim at a used book sale. It’s hard to resist a cute cover and an Irish title. The WWII connection makes this even more interesting. I still have yet to read it, but it should be a winner.
An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
Summary: Barry Laverty, M.B., can barely find the Northern Ireland village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek employment there. But he jumps at the chance to secure a position as an assistant in a small rural practice. At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. The older physician has his own way of doing things. At first, Barry can’t decide if O’Reilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met or the best teacher he could ever hope for. Through O’Reilly, Barry soon gets to know all of the village’s colourful and endearing residents who make every day an education for the inexperienced young doctor. Ballybucklebo is a long way from Belfast, and Barry is quick to discover that he still has a lot to learn about country life.
My Take: This reminded me of James Herriott’s All Creatures Great and Small series. Just replace his small-town, rural veterinary practice with a doctor who treats humans. It’s a charming and leisurely read. Plus, if you enjoy the story you’ll be delighted to know it’s the first in a series of 14 books!
The Break by Marian Keyes
Genre: Chick Lit
Summary: Amy’s husband Hugh says he isn’t leaving her. He still loves her, he’s just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. Six months to lose himself in South East Asia. And there is nothing Amy can say or do about it. Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet . . .However, for Amy it’s enough to send her – along with her extended family of gossips, misfits and troublemakers – teetering over the edge. For a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns, if he returns, will he be the same man she married? Will Amy be the same woman? Because if Hugh is on a break from their marriage, then so is she . .
My Take: Marian Keyes is one of the most prolific chick lit writers and practically all of her novels are set in Ireland! This is a more recently published one, but she’s been writing books that take place in Ireland for the past two decades.
Now A Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy
Genre: Young Adult
Summary: Iris Thorne wants to blaze her own path. That’s easier said than done when you’re the granddaughter of M. E. Thorne, famous author of the Elementia series, hailed as the feminist response to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. And with a major motion picture adaptation of her grandmother’s books in the works, Iris can say goodbye to her dream of making her own way in the music industry. When Iris and her brother get invited to the film set in Ireland, she’s pretty sure the trip will be a nightmare. Except Iris can’t deny the rugged beauty of the Irish countryside. And brushing shoulders with the hot, young cast isn’t awful, especially the infuriatingly charming lead, Eamon O’Brien. Iris even finds the impassioned female director inspiring. But when the filming falls into jeopardy, everything Iris thought she knew about Elementia―and herself―is in question. Will making a film for the big screen help Iris to see the big picture?
My Take: Modern Mrs Darcy mentioned this book in one of her book lists and it caught my eye since it takes place in Ireland. There aren’t an abundance of Young Adult Irish books (at least that I could find), so I’m excited to try this one!
The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes – McCoy
Summary: As she drives her mobile library van between villages of Ireland’s West Coast, Hanna Casey tries not to think about the sophisticated lifestyle she abandoned along with her cheating husband, or that she’s back in the rural Irish town she abandoned as a teen, or her fear that her failed marriage and ignominious return have made her a focus of gossip. With her daughter off traveling the world, Hanna is determined to reclaim her independence by restoring a derelict cottage left to her by her great-aunt. When the threatened closure of the local library puts her personal plans in jeopardy, Hanna finds herself leading a battle to restore the Finfarran Peninsula’s fragmented community.
My Take: A great book for book-lovers! I initially gave this 3 stars, but I think I’d appreciate more after visiting Ireland myself.
Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch
Genre: Young Adult
Summary: Addie is visiting Ireland for a wedding, and hoping she can stop thinking about the one horrible thing she did that left her heartbroken. But her brother, Ian, isn’t about to let her forget. and it leads to endless arguments between the two, once inseparable siblings. Miserable, Addie can’t wait to visit her friend in Italy and leave everything behind. When their travel plans change, suddenly Addie finds herself on a whirlwind tour of the Emerald Isle, trapped in a car with Ian and his admittedly cute, Irish friend Rowan. As the trio journeys through the country, Addie hopes an Irish guidebook she found will heal not only her broken heart, but also her shattered relationship with her brother.
My Take: I read Welch’s “prequel” Love & Gelato last year and absolutely loved it. So, I was excited to see she wrote a book that takes place in Ireland. I’m about halfway through right now and it’s living up to expectations!
I can’t resist mentioning one additional book for this Irish book list. When I was planning our trip to Ireland, Rick Steve’s Ireland was absolutely essential! I also brought it along on the trip and regaled our crew with history and stories from his book as we traveled throughout the country. I highly recommend it if you’re planning a trip to Ireland or just interested in Irish history. Honestly, I read it cover to cover like a novel the first time through 🙂
Have you read any of these books set in Ireland?
Do you have any other favorite books set in Ireland to add to this list?