Discover the most famous Irish writers and authors of the past and present in order to explore the culture of Ireland through its best literature.
The list is very mixed with both traditional literary works and popular modern fiction, so there’s a great Irish author for everyone here.
This post is meant to help you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and help you properly experience seasonal Spring reading, but these books set in Ireland and written by famous Irish writers can be read year-round to gain a deeper understanding of Irish people, culture, and history — especially if you are traveling to Ireland.
(They also make great picks for the country of Ireland if you are doing a world reading challenge.)
Top 3 Books from Famous Irish Writers
First, below are my personal top 3 picks for my favorite books by famous Irish authors. Personally, I chose three modern works, though largely set in different historical times, and I very highly recommend all three of these bestselling, award-winning books:
Book of the Month Club’s Book of the Year 2017;
Selected one of New York Times Readers’ Favorite Books of 2017;
Winner of the 2018 Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award
Famous Irish Writers
Below are more details about some of the most famous Irish writers of all time, including a “top pick” book recommendation for each one:
Top Pick: Dracula
Bram Stoker (1847-1912) was a Gothic novelist who wrote supernatural horror, romance, and adventure stories. His most popular book, Dracula, is an epistolary vampire novel that has been credited with creating the vampire trope in literature. It remains one of the most well-known works in English literature to date.
Top Pick: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) wrote over 30 books that were translated into over 30 languages, and he sold millions of copies. Of course, he is most known for his bestselling book series Chronicles of Narnia, in which four children are transported by a wardrobe door into the land of Narnia, which is ruled by the White Witch. It remains popular to date, especially due to its modern film adaptation.
Top Pick: Angela’s Ashes
Frank McCourt (1930-2009) is an Irish American author, who spent most of his childhood impoverished in Limerick, Ireland, before immigrating to the United States. His memoir, Angela’s Ashes, about being Irish and poor in both countries is a Pulitzer Prize–winning, #1 New York Times bestseller, and has sold over 4 million copies. The book is known for illustrating his distinctly Irish dialogue and so, it works especially well on audio.
Related Post: Quotes from Angela’s Ashes
Top Pick: Ulysses
James Joyce (1882-1914) is one of the most famous Irish novelists and writers of all time. He is known for drawing upon his own Irish culture and for sharing experimental forms of writing with unique structures and language. (His works are often deemed “difficult” as a result.)
Ulysses famously parallels Homer’s Odyssey, as it tells the story of the passage of a man named Leopold Bloom through Dublin on one ordinary day in 1904.
Top Pick: The Heart’s Invisible Furies
John Boyne (1971-present) hails from Dublin and has penned nearly two dozen works to date. A popular and beloved modern writer, The Heart’s Invisible Furies was named Book of the Month Club’s Book of the Year 2017, was one of New York Times Readers’ Favorite Books of 2017, and won the 2018 Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the history of modern Ireland, told through the colorful lens of a gay man named Cyril Avery and a cast of unforgettable characters, including the birth mother who was forced to give him up. It’s a remarkable work of art and a favorite of many avid readers.
Top Pick: Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift (1667-1775) is one of the most famous Irish authors in Irish literature, known for using his ironic and satirical writing style to comment on Irish politics, religion, and culture. Indeed, his most well-known work, Gulliver’s Travels, is a satire about a man who loves to travel, which acts as a commentary on human nature.
Top Pick: Circle of Friends
Maeve Binchy (1939-2012) is a beloved Irish author, most of whose books are warm-hearted novels set in Ireland. They often explore the tensions between urban and rural living, particularly from World War II to the present day, and some of these novels are interrelated.
One of her most popular books, Circle of Friends, was famously adapted into a film. In the novel, two female friends leave their small town in the 1950s to attend university when they come of age and deal with issues of gender, class, and friendship.
Top Pick: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was a famous Irish poet and playwright, known for his humor and flamboyant personality. Ultimately, he was imprisoned for “homosexuality” and died at a young age from meningitis.
Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is about the moral descent of a man after his portrait is painted. He traverses down a path of moral debauchery in his obsession with youth and beauty. Over time, the portrait, rather than him, becomes less attractive.
Top Pick: Normal People
Sally Rooney (1991-present) is currently one of the most popular modern Irish authors. She writes about the experiences of contemporary Irish young adults with writing that is raw, real, and character-driven. Often, she explores themes like gender and class. Her most famous novel is the unforgettable love story of Connell and Marianne in Normal People.
Now an Emmy-nominated Hulu series as well, Normal People was a New York Times bestseller, was named one of Entertainment Weekly’s Ten Best Novels of the Decade, and was named one of the best books of the year by People, Slate, The New York Public Library, Harvard Crimson, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, O: The Oprah Magazine, Time, NPR, The Washington Post, Vogue, Esquire, Glamour, Elle, Marie Claire, Vox, The Paris Review, Good Housekeeping, and Town & Country. It was also on former President Barack Obama’s Summer reading list!
This gripping cat-and-mouse relationship between two college students pulled in readers who felt deeply about them and their actions. In addition to first love, the novel also very emotionally explores coming-of-age amidst issues of social class, depression, and abuse.
Top Pick: In the Woods
Tana French (1973-present) is a beloved modern psychological thriller writer from Dublin, lovingly known as Ireland’s “First Lady of Irish Crime.”
In the Woods is her popular debut novel (and the first in a series about two Irish detectives), which won several awards for the best first novel. It centers on the investigation of a 12-year-old girl’s murder, which has links to one of the investigator’s own past.
Crime readers simply devour her novels.
William Butler Yeats
Nobel Prize winner William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is one of the most famous Irish poets and writers of all time. He was known for his role in the Irish Literary Revival, which promoted Irish culture. His works were often inspired by Irish folklore and mythology, as well as politics, and they frequently used imagery and symbolic structures.
To recap and help you decide which Irish books to read first or next, my top three picks are: