Top 10: Irish Reads for St. Patrick’s Day

If you’re more the type to spend St. Patrick’s Day reading in bed than in a bar, this reading list of books set in Ireland, or with Irish characters, might be what you need to celebrate in spirit.


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10. A centuries-old murder in an Irish castle.Crime Writers of Canada awards multi-winner Anne Emery shares a centuries-old murder at Enniskillen Castle in The Keening (ECW Press). When the Tierney family hopes to save their County Fermanagh hotel’s view of the castle from greedy developers, they contract archaeologists in the hopes of finding artefacts of historical value at the site. Instead, they find a body: one that the Tierney’s ancestor was accused of murdering 400 years before, on the eve of the Tudor invasion of Ireland. 


9. A self-reckoning walk through the roses.In Des Kennedy’s Climbing Patrick’s Mountain (TouchWood Editions), Irish expat Patrick Gallagher plans a triumphant return home, having made a name for himself breeding prized roses. Instead, he faces a painful reckoning with the reasons he left his home country in the first place. A three-time finalist for the Leacock Medal for Humour, Kennedy leverages levity against tragedy in this bittersweet story.8. A poetic examination of words and place.The poems in multiple award-finalist writer Heather Nolan’s Land of the Rock (Breakwater Books) reimagine the lost utopia of Gaelic Ireland, and transmutes it onto Newfoundland, looking for meaning in the words and places along the way.7. A look at what it means to be hyphenated Irish.Denis Sampson’s A Migrant Heart (Linda Leith Publications) is an affecting memoir detailing Sampson’s emigration from Ireland’s rural farmlands and urban Dublin both for cosmopolitan Montreal, when he was a student. His adopted city showed him a multiplicity of backgrounds and cultures, and at the same time, brought him closer to his own.6. A visit to Ireland goes very wrong.In C.K. Kelly Martin’s middle-grade novel Stricken (Cormorant Books), soon-to-be 13-year-old Naomi travels to Ireland to visit her Grandparents and hang out with her friends Ciara and Shehan. But the country is stricken by a virus that affects its adult population, leaving Naomi and her friends alone to survive while a cure is found. 


5. A writer’s retreat opens doors into grief and love, both.After losing her parents, the protagonist in Catherine Graham’s The Most Cunning Heart (Palimpsest Press) flees Canada for Northern Ireland, where she takes up residence in a seaside cottage. Caitlin works through her grief by writing poetry, and soon falls into a whirlwind romance with a local, fellow poet Andy.4. A multi-generational family tale spanning continents and the 20th century.Set in Ireland, the Canadian prairies, and Brooklyn, NY, Catherine Hunter’s After Light (Signature Editions) spans four generations of the Garrison family, the places that hold them, and the creativity that they harbour despite the myriad tragedies that befall them over the century.3. A darkly funny look a contemporary Ireland.Galway writer Elaine Feeney’s As You Were (Biblioasis) follows property developer Sinead Hynes, her insatiable drive to succeed, and her biting wit. When she receives a terminal cancer diagnosis and befriends her fellow hospital dwellers Margaret Rose and Jane, each with their own ailments, the power of friendship between women and laughter are a balm against institutional failures and the spectre of a dark history in the country.


2. A description-rich novella about a tiny, protective island.Theresa Kishkan’s Inishbream (Goose Lane Editions) sees a wanderer from British Columbia head to this titular island; a tiny, rocky landmass off the western coast of Ireland. Soon, she marries the owner of the cottage where she’s staying and repays her island hosts with tales of her own country. When the winter ends, though, the islanders are offered houses on the mainland, putting the future of Inishbream into question.1. A book of poetry that puts the stories of Irish labourers first.In the long poem of A. Mary Murphy’s The Hungry Grass (Inanna Publications), the poet shines a light on the living conditions, religious and spiritual beliefs, and day-to-day realities of 19th-century working Irish people, culminating in An Gorta Mór, The Great Hunger. 

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! (Aren’t you glad you stayed in?)For more Top 10, click here.