Irish History

When I first started to put this list together, I didn’t think it would be a very long one, but it seems that I’ve read more historical fiction set in Ireland than I thought! I have also read a few others which aren’t included here as I read them before I started blogging and don’t have reviews to link to.

The Lion and the Cross by Joan Lesley Hamilton

Set in the 5th century, this is the story of St Patrick. From his humble beginnings as a slave herding sheep in the Irish countryside, Patrick will eventually become Ireland’s patron saint. Joan Lesley Hamilton’s novel, first published in 1979, is a mixture of history and mythology, but the religious element was too strong for me.

Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier

A family saga set in Ireland – although the country is never actually named, there are enough clues to leave the reader in no doubt. This is a rather miserable novel which follows a cursed family through five generations, but the themes are universal and I did enjoy reading it.

The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes

This is a dark and atmospheric historical crime novel about a young student at Dublin’s Trinity College who comes up with a very dubious solution to his money problems. I thought it was an excellent book – one of my favourites of 2014!

The Coroner’s Daughter by Andrew Hughes

Maybe not quite as unusual as John Delahunt (above), but this is another excellent historical mystery set in Dublin in 1816, the ‘Year Without a Summer’. Our heroine is Abigail Lawless, the eighteen-year-old daughter of the Dublin coroner, who finds herself caught up in an investigation into the deaths of a maid and her newborn baby. Abigail is a wonderful character and I’m hoping to read more of her adventures!

The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric

Only partly set in Ireland (in the 19th century) but featuring a wonderful set of Irish characters – seven very different sisters, whose long, thick hair brings them unexpected fame and fortune. Another book from 2014 that I loved!

The Good People by Hannah Kent

Set in rural Ireland in the 1820s, this is the story of a woman who becomes convinced that her grandson is a fairy changeling. It’s a harrowing, heartbreaking novel, but I found it fascinating to see how a mixture of superstition and ignorance could have such devastating effects.

Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor

A novel written in the second person (which is quite unusual) and telling the story of the actress Molly Allgood and her relationship with the playwright John Millington Synge. Not a particularly easy read, but I loved Molly’s narrative voice.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

I loved this one! In 19th century Ireland, English nurse Lib Wright is called in to observe the behaviour of eleven-year-old Anna, who claims not to have eaten anything at all for the last four months. Mysterious, fascinating and often harrowing, this is a great book.

The Sunken Road by Ciarán McMenamin

This Walter Scott Prize longlisted novel is written from the perspective of an Irish Catholic who serves in the British Army during World War I, before taking up arms against Britain to fight for the IRA and Irish independence. I found it too violent and brutal for my taste, but the ending is moving and it’s a story that will stay with me.

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

A dual-narrative book describing the tragic life of one-hundred-year-old Roseanne McNulty, who lived through some of the most important events in 20th century Irish history. Like all of Barry’s novels, it’s worth reading for the beautiful writing alone. Of the other books of his that I’ve read, On Canaan’s Side and The Temporary Gentleman are set partly, but not entirely, in Ireland.

The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce

A mysterious stranger arrives in a small town in 1930s Ireland and begins to cast a spell over the local women. A fascinating novel written in a variety of styles and from a range of perspectives – but yet again, not a very happy story!

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Set partly in Ireland and partly in America, this very enjoyable novel gives some insights into the life of a young Irish immigrant who arrives in 1950s Brooklyn in search of a new life.