It’s never a surprise to see a hint of green on March 17. The Irish holiday of Saint Patrick’s day is celebrated all over the world, and has evolved from a religious observance, to a celebration of Irish culture, customs and people.  

Credited with introducing Christianity to Ireland, Saint Patrick was actually born in Roman Britain around 400 A.D. Captured by Irish pirates at 16 years old, Patrick spent 17 years as a slave in Ireland before escpaing and returning as a missionary. After founding schools, churches and monasteries, it is believed Saint Patrick died on March 17 in his adopted homeland and became the country’s patron Saint.  

The date transformed into a secular holiday when Irish migrants in the United States started celebrating together. In 1737 Boston held its first Saint Patrick’s Day parade, a tradition that has grown to other cities with large Irish communities such as New York and Chicago. In Chicago, two Irish families dye the city’s river green in a covert operation using a secret recipe that leaves the river green for about five hours.   

Today we associate Saint Patrick’s day with lashings of green and kitschy symbols of ‘Irishness’, although not traditional, these recognisable tokens of Saint Patrick’s Day have now been adopted and embraced by the Irish on their home soil – initially for the benefit of tourists.  

So in the spirit of the Irish – pop on something green, drink a Guinness, search for a four-leaf clover and celebrate by reading one of our top 13 books by Irish authors from Dialogue!  

Top 13 Books by Irish Authors

1. Are You Somebody? Nuala O’Faolain  

Roddy Doyle said of this remarkable memoir: ‘Writing about herself, Nuala O’Faolain has also written about Ireland. It is a cruel, wounded place – and this book has become an important part of the cure’. This extended 1998 edition, subtitled The Life and Times of Nuala O’Faolain also includes almost 200 pages of her lively and perceptive journalism.  


2. Milkman Anna Burns 

An utterly original novel that explores coming of age in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Burns’ strange and ambiguous protagonist (named Middle Sister) is a brilliant narrator, and through her unique point of view, we are delivered a novel that is all too familiar, and at the same time, completely foreign. Milkman’s unique prose and portrayal of the stigma of standing out, the pressure for conformity, static gender roles and the divisions that exist in society will defy reading expectations and provoke a rich discussion.  


3. The Wonder Emma Donoghue

When Nightingale trained nurse Lib is sent to a village in 1850s Ireland to investigate Anna, an eleven-year old girl who stops eating and claims to be nourished by the Manna of Heaven for months, she has two weeks to determine if this girl is a fraud. Inspired by the historical cases of fasting girls, this historical thriller pits motherly love against blind faith, questioning what it means to be nourished.  


4. Instructions for a Heatwave Maggie O’Farrell  

July, 1976. London is sweltering through a heatwave when Robert Riordan walks out on his wife and disappears. His three adult children return home, and family secrets are revealed as tensions mount on a journey to Ireland. Beautifully written with surprising twists, this is a moving portrait of a family that comes undone. 


5. Brooklyn Colm Tóibín  

Eilis Lacey leaves her small town in south-east Ireland in the 1950s, and sets off for a new life in Brooklyn. When tragedy strikes, she is faced with a difficult decision between love in her new land and the promises to her family back home.  


6. A Long Long Way Sebastian Barry  

In this thoughtful, moving novel, Willie Dunne joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1914 and is sent to the killing fields of Europe. When the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland is brutally quashed, he and other Irish soldiers begin to wonder why they are fighting for the Crown. This is a fascinating insight into a rarely examined aspect of Ireland’s troubled past.  


7. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors Roddy Doyle  

Paula Spencer’s uncensored voice convincingly takes us into her brave attempt to struggle free from a violent marriage, her drinking problem and her own denial: ‘After all the years and the broken bones and teeth and torture I still keep blaming myself.’ Doyle’s writing pulls no punches as she is seen in the wider context of the poor in Ireland.  


8. Reading in the Dark Seamus Deane 

In the town of Derry in Northern Ireland, a young boy from a Catholic family is gripped with secrets, fears, suspicions and betrayals, all having to do with IRA involvement and the police. The boy’s gradual piecing together of events provides chilling suspense, but together with this bleakness Deane renders a magical world of a child’s imaginings; of tales, songs and myths. 


9. The Rúin Dervla McTiernan 

Detective Cormac Reilly doesn’t expect to be revisiting a case from 20 years ago. He’s never forgotten the two children left behind after their mother’s body was discovered in their house. And what is the connection with a body found in the river? In this gripping crime debut set in Ireland nothing is what it seems.  


10. An Evil Cradling Brian Keenan 

 Keenan’s story of his years as hostage in Beirut is remarkable for the humour, resilience and compassion which inform his experience and suffering. It includes the record of a friendship between the writer – a working class Northern Irishman – and the upper class English public school humanist, John McCarthy.  


11. The Railway Station Man Jennifer Johnston  

Helen retreats to a village on the Irish coast to recover from the death of her husband. She begins painting again, slowly forming a relationship with war hero Roger who lives at the nearby railway station house – but happiness can be fleeting. An explosive, well-plotted novel from this award winning author.  


12. My Left Foot Christy Brown 

Christy Brown was born in 1932, one of 23 children of a Dublin bricklayer. Born with cerebral palsy, he could not control his speech or his movement, apart from his left foot. Here he tells his own story of learning to read, write, paint and finally type with his left foot, and of his wonderfully supportive family. The film of the same name, starring Daniel Day Lewis as Christy, is based loosely on this book.  


13. The Gathering Anne Enright 

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him; it was the events of the winter of 1968 in his grandmother’s house, which his sister Veronica must now come to terms with. Enright follows a line of hurt and redemption through three generations, as memories warp and secrets fester.