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If you are traveling to Ireland, then you will no doubt be aware of the rich literary tradition the country has. Almost everywhere you go there are references to Irish writers, such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. And even today, somehow the Irish seem to be able to tell a story better than just about anyone else – whether it be in written form, or just through a chat in the pub.
So, if a trip to The Emerald Isle is on the agenda, then it is almost compulsory to take some books set in Ireland to read on your travels. But what should you read if Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ is not quite your cup of tea? Here’s a range of novels that will take you the length and breadth of Ireland, and give you a real taste of life over the years in this country filled with passion and history.
‘The Mammy’ by Brendan O’Carroll
If you want to know more about Dublin in the 1960’s, then this story of widow Agnes Browne and her seven children will do it. This is working-class Ireland with all its squalor, laughter and alcoholic fathers, and the best news is that the book is the first of a trilogy. The next time you are approached by a cheeky Dublin lad (and there are many!), you may find yourself thinking back to Agnes and her brood.
‘Little Criminals’ by Gene Kerrigan
And now to Dublin in contemporary times. The country has had its economic miracle and everyone is an entrepreneur, even the criminals. Frankie Crowe has a scheme to make himself some money, planning to kidnap a wealthy banker and set himself up for life. While this could be just a cops and robbers novel, Kerrigan does much to portray the underbelly of Dublin life, and the social changes that have taken place over recent years.
‘Juno and Juliet’ by Julian Gough
If you decide to head to Galway (and I’d highly encourage you to do so), then this novel is one of the few that is set there. This story of identical twins during their first year at university sees them adjusting to life in the city, drinking in the bars and attending classes from time to time. It’s a coming of age story in which Galway itself is one of the main characters.
‘The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty’ by Sebastian Barry
The tensions surrounding the Irish struggle for independence lie at the heart of this novel set in the town of Sligo in Ireland’s north-west. Unable to find work, Eneas joins the British-led police force the Royal Irish Constabulary, and in the process labels himself a traitor. As a marked man he goes on the run, and while the novel follows Eneas from country to country, he sneaks back to Sligo when he can. A compelling look at 20th Century Ireland, through a character who has become a victim of his country’s fight to exist.
‘Pomegranate Soup’ by Marsha Mehran
In this novel we see a different kind of migration — the story of three Iranian sisters who move to an Irish village in the 1980’s. It’s not often you get a food-lit story set in Ireland, but Pomegranate Soup is exactly that, with its celebration of Persian cuisine. Unsurprisingly the village residents take a while to adapt to this foreign influence in one of their local cafes, and despite the novel’s focus on a different culture, it provides plenty of detail of Irish life and landscape for those trying to learn more about the country.
There are many stereotypes about the Irish, but as a traveler you have the opportunity to reach beyond the surface of Irish culture and see what lies beneath. Reading books set in Ireland will help you do that, revealing details of Irish streets and cities, hopes and history – and when you visit the places mentioned, you will feel as if you know it just that little bit better than if you had arrived a stranger.