15 of the best Irish books to curl up with this Christmas

15 of the best Irish books to curl up with this Christmas

CHRISTMAS is nearly here, which means time to sit back, relax and catch up on some reading.

The past twelve months have seen a bumper crop of books published by Irish authors – or with an Irish theme – and we’ve compiled a list of some of the best to suit all tastes.

So, if you are a fan of facts, fiction, sport or politics there is plenty here to curl up with over the festive season.

Or if you need some last-minute gift inspiration, you can never go wrong with a really good book…

The Queen of Dirt Island, by Donal Ryan

Penguin, £14.99

Described in 2016 by fellow Irish novelist Sebastian Barry as “the king of the new wave of Irish writers”, Donal Ryan is no longer one of the newbies.

The award-winning author, who hails from Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, now lives in Limerick where he lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.

His latest release The Queen of Dirt Island is his sixth novel – he has also previously released a book of short stories.

His latest book centres on the Aylward women – who are mad about each other, but you wouldn't always think it.

And in spite of what the neighbours might say about raised voices and dramatic scenes in and around their home - their house is a place of peace, filled with love, a refuge from the sadness and cruelty of the world.
Their story begins at an end and ends at a beginning.

It's a story of terrible betrayals and fierce loyalties, of isolation and togetherness, of transgression, forgiveness, desire, and love.

It is about all the things family can be and all the things it sometimes isn't.

More than anything, Ryan’s latest work is an uplifting celebration of fierce, loyal love and the powerful stories that last generations.

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, by Bono

Penguin, £25

Artist, activist and lead singer of U2, Bono wears many hats.

Now, having found time to write his memoirs, he can add author to that list too.

Released last month, the Irishman’s biography Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story has received critical acclaim for its honesty and the insights it offers into the life and career of one of Ireland’s most successful singer-songwriters.

The book offers up the true story of the remarkable life he’s lived, the challenges he’s faced, and the friends and family who have shaped and sustained him.

"When I started to write this book, I was hoping to draw in detail what I’d previously only sketched in songs,” Bono admits, “the people, places, and possibilities in my life.”

Of the book’s title, he explains: “Surrender is a word freighted with meaning for me.

“Growing up in Ireland in the seventies with my fists up (musically speaking), it was not a natural concept.

“A word I only circled until I gathered my thoughts for the book.

“I am still grappling with this most humbling of commands.

“In the band, in my marriage, in my faith, in my life as an activist. Surrender is the story of one pilgrim’s lack of progress. With a fair amount of fun along the way.”

Surrender’s subtitle, 40 Songs, One Story, is a nod to the book’s forty chapters, which are each named after a U2 song.

Bono has also created forty original drawings for Surrender, which appear throughout the book.

Breaking Point, by Edel Coffey

Hachette, £14.99

Shortlisted for the An Post Irish Book Awards 2022, Edel Coffey’s Breaking Point has remained a bestseller since its release in January of this year.

A journalist by day, Coffey’s debut novel examines the pressures on working mothers, what it means to have to juggle it all and the consequences when tragedy strikes.

Her central character Susannah has two beautiful daughters, a high-flying medical career, a successful husband and an enviable life.

But when – on the hottest day of the year – her strict morning routine is disrupted, Susannah finds herself running on autopilot.

It is hours before she realises, she has made a devastating mistake. Her baby, Louise, is still in the backseat of the car and it is too late to save her.
As the press close in around her, Susannah is put on trial for negligence. It is plain to see that this is not a trial, it’s a witch hunt. But what will the court say?

Ballymaloe Desserts: Iconic Recipes and Stories from Ireland, by JR Ryall

Phaidon, £39.95

Ballymaloe House, in County Cork, Ireland, is heralded as the birthplace of modern Irish cuisine.

There, visitors are treated to acclaimed pastry chef JR Ryall's daily array of seasonally inspired treats, wheeled through the dining room on a vintage dessert trolley.

In Ballymaloe Desserts, Ryall presents 130 recipes for his award-winning confections, tested and perfected for the home baker.
Eye-catching, elegant, and a bit magical, these inspiring yet accessible recipes range from the delightfully retro Ice Cream Bomb to the showstopping Irish Coffee Meringue Gâteau to a Classic Strawberry Shortcake made modern with an edgy geometric presentation.
Ryall is an excellent teacher, providing clear, detailed instructions for each dish, and the recipes are built to be adaptable - highlighting Ballymaloe's commitment to seasonality and fresh local ingredients.

Ryall’s thoughtful advice appears throughout the book, revealing the best method for whisking egg whites, serving tips for adding major 'wow' factor, and more.

Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle, by Shane Ross

Atlantic Books, £12.99

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald is the bookies' favourite to be Ireland's next Taoiseach.

She would be the first woman to reach the office, and the first Sinn Féin leader ever to enter government in the Republic of Ireland.

But how did a quintessentially bourgeois woman become the leader of a political party with such recent links to terrorism?
This exhaustively researched biography unearths new details of her family background and her privileged education, as well as her initial foray into politics through the more traditional Fianna Fáil party.

It explores her unusually late commitment to political life and traces her mysterious but meteoric rise through the ranks of Sinn Féin and her relentless drive to reach the top of the party.
Scrupulously fair and balanced, Mary Lou McDonald illuminates its subject's political awakening and her interactions with the hard men of the IRA, while posing important questions about the evolution and future of Sinn Féin.

Haven, by Emma Donoghue

Picador, £16.99

Haven is Emma Donoghue’s 14th novel - and 18th book of fiction.

In it the author, who previously gave us Room and The Pull of the Stars, has created an adventure story set around the year 600 in Ireland.

There three Irishmen vow to leave the world behind and set out in a small boat to found a monastery on an island their leader has seen in a dream, with only faith to guide them. Drifting out into the Atlantic, they find an impossibly steep, bare rock inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. But in such a place, what will survival mean?

“This novel was inspired by a boat trip around the Skelligs in 2016,” Donoghue admits.

“My plans to return and land on Skellig Michael in 2020 were derailed by what the monks would no doubt have taken in their stride as the latest pestilence to plague humankind, so I’ve never been there, except in spirit and imagination - the one form of travel that can’t be forbidden.”

Abandoned Ireland, by Rebecca Brownlie

Merrion Press, €27.95

Abandoned Ireland travels the length and breadth of the island of Ireland visiting and documenting the country’s forgotten buildings, highlighting their social importance, and bringing their stories back to life through the medium of photography.

From big houses to humble cottages, schools to prisons, churches to dance halls, these buildings may now be abandoned, but they are far from empty.

As a photographer, Co. Down native Rebecca Brownlie’s instincts are remarkable.

In the seemingly ruined and mundane she finds diamonds in the rough; her images of the ordinary ephemera of past lives – dusty love letters, rusting spectacles, photographs yellowed and curled with age – paint the pictures of real people and full lives.

Brownlie’s photography reverberates with the echoes of our ancestors.

Bursting with engaging and often surprising details, each haunting photograph is an invitation to immerse yourself in history, and an Ireland long gone.

The Amusements, by Aingeala Flannery

Penguin, £12.99

Dublin-based author Aingeala Flannery is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster.

In her debut novel The Amusements she focuses on the lives of those living in a forgotten coastal Irish community.

Set in the seaside town of Tramore in County Waterford, The Amusements tells how visitors arrive in waves with the tourist season, reliving the best days of their childhoods in its caravan parks, chippers and amusement arcades.
But local teenager Helen Grant is indifferent to the charm of her surroundings; she dreams of escaping to art college with her glamorous classmate Stella Swaine and, from there, taking on the world.

Although leaving Tramore is easier said than done. Though they don't yet know it, Helen and Stella's lives are pulled by tides beyond their control.

Seven Steeples, by Sara Baume

Tramp Press, £11.99

Following the success of her first two novels, Spill Simmer Falter Wither and A Line Made by Walking, Sara Baume is back with another critically acclaimed work of fiction.

The author released Seven Steeples in April 2022, a powerful novel about a couple that pushes against traditional expectations.

Her central characters, Bell and Sigh are a couple who leave the city with their dogs to rent a cottage by the sea and withdraw steadily from their lives, seeking to live in an atmosphere of continuous temporariness.

They arrive at their new home on a clear January day and look up to appraise the view.

A mountain gently and unspectacularly ascends from the Atlantic, “as if it had accumulated stature over centuries”, Baume writes.

“As if, over centuries, it had steadily flattened itself upwards.”

They make a promise to climb the mountain, but—over the course of the next seven years—it remains unclimbed.

The reader moves through the seasons with Bell and Sigh as they come to understand more about the small world around them, and as their interest in the wider world recedes.

Seven Steeples has been described as “a beautiful and profound meditation on the nature of love and the resilience of nature”.

Baume, who was born in Lancashire but raised in Co. Cork, where she still lives, is at her best once again in this novel, as she explores what it means to escape the traditional paths laid out before us—and what it means to evolve in devotion to another person, and to the landscape.

Scoring Goals in the Dark, by Clare Shine and Gareth Maher

Pitch Publishing, £19.99 (hardback)

Former Irish footballer Clare Shine has released her autobiography, co-written with author Gareth Mather.

The Cork native won her first international call-up at age 13, and by 15 was part of the Republic of Ireland Women's under-17 squad, but the pressure of being a star striker weighed heavily on her young shoulders.

By age 19, she had played in a UEFA European Championship and a FIFA World Cup, scored the winner in a Cup Final, won her first senior international cap and become a full-time professional player.

But she had also become addicted to alcohol, experimented with drugs, suffered panic attacks and attempted suicide for the first time.

Her book, titled Scoring Goals in the Dark - which was nominated for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2022 Award, details the 27-year-old’s battles with mental health, loneliness, drugs and alcohol addiction, and how she eventually found a way back.

It has been described as “a searing and brutally honest account of how the weight of expectation can be an unbearable burden for young female footballers”.

Again, Rachel, by Marian Keyes

Penguin, £20 (hardback)

The long-awaited follow up to Marian Keyes' bestselling Rachel's Holiday finds the Irish author’s titular heroine having hauled her life back on track, only to suffer a spectacular setback when an old flame arrives in her life once more.

Back in the long-ago nineties, Rachel Walsh was a mess, but a spell in rehab transformed everything and these days, Rachel has love, family, a great job as an addiction counsellor and she even gardens.

Her only bad habit is a fondness for expensive trainers.

But with the sudden reappearance of a man she'd once loved, her life wobbles.

She'd thought she was settled. Fixed forever. Is she about to discover that no matter what our age, everything can change?

Fight or Flight: My Life, by Keith Earls

Reach, £20 (hardback)

Keith Earls started out in senior rugby as a teenage star and during the course of his long career has become one of the most admired and respected players of his generation.

A British & Irish Lion at the age of 21, he is now closing in on his 34th birthday and still playing at the top of his game.

He has won 93 caps for Ireland and played 179 times in the famous red of Munster.

A lethal finisher blessed with thoroughbred speed, Earls is the second-highest try scorer of all time for his country, but behind the glittering success, there is another story to be told. He has achieved these milestones whilst being racked by private battles with his mental health for most of his career.

A number of crises brought him to the brink of voluntary retirement from the game, and a long series of injuries have taken their psychological toll too.

A native of Limerick city, Earls grew up in one of its most socially disadvantaged housing estates, but his natural sporting talent brought him into the privileged bastion of elite rugby union.

In this frank autobiography he tells the story of his long struggle to reconcile the world from whence he came with the world opened up by his brilliance with an oval ball.

For the first time he talks in depth and at length about the inner turmoil that went unseen by team-mates, friends and fans.

Crazy Dreams, by Paul Brady

Merrion Press, £19.99 (hardback)

Crazy Dreams is the compelling and highly anticipated autobiography from Paul Brady, a musician whose remarkable career has spanned six decades and who is indisputably one of Ireland’s greatest living songwriters.

This evocative memoir chronicles Paul’s many years at the forefront of the Irish folk scene, from The Johnstons and Planxty through to his seminal work with Andy Irvine and onwards to his own vaunted solo career.

Along the way are the many encounters and collaborations with such musical luminaries as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Carole King, Tina Turner, Mark Knopfler and Bonnie Raitt to name but a glittering few.

From such celebrated tracks as The Island, Nobody Knows and The World is What You Make It, to his interpretations of traditional folk songs like Arthur McBride and The Lakes of Pontchartrain, Brady has carved out his own unique place in Irish musical history.

In Crazy Dreams he tells how it was done and regales the reader with remarkable stories of life on the road and the journey from small-town Tyrone to the world’s stage.

A History of the GAA in 100 objects, by Siobhán Doyle

Merrion Press, €24.95

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is a huge part of the Irish consciousness and plays an influential role in Irish society that extends far beyond the sports.

In popular imagination and experience, the GAA is often evoked in terms of its objects: medals passed down from generation to generation, jerseys worn in All-Ireland finals, Michael Cusack’s blackthorn stick, a pair of glasses damaged during the events of Bloody Sunday.

This fascinating book offers a new perspective on the GAA by assembling a range of objects from every county in Ireland, as well as overseas, to present a chronological history of the GAA that also functions as a social history of the people who have been involved in it.

From a fifteenth-century horsehair sliotar to a tweed camogie dress, Trevor Giles’s sleeveless jersey and Brian Cody’s baseball cap, all corners of the GAA world, personal and official, are explored and celebrated in A History of the GAA in 100 Objects.

Kellie, by Kellie Harrington and Roddy Doyle

Penguin, £20 (hardback)

After Kellie Harrington won gold at the Tokyo Olympics, the Irish public recognised her as not merely a sporting hero, but a deeply inspirational human being.

Now, the sports star tells the story of her unlikely journey to the top, and of the many obstacles and setbacks she overcame along the way.
Through her autobiography, the trailblazer reveals how growing up in Dublin's north inner city, she was in danger of going down the wrong path in life before she discovered boxing. The local boxing club was all-male and initially wouldn't let her join, but she persisted, she adds, although admits she was not an overnight success.

For years Harrington struggled in international competition. At times she felt unsupported by the national boxing set-up and more than once, she considered giving up the sport.

But some spark of ambition and love for boxing kept her going, and gradually she made herself world class.
Writing with Roddy Doyle, the award-winning author of The Commitments, Harrington tells the story of her unlikely rise to greatness and her continuing dedication to living a normal life - which has involved remaining an amateur boxer and keeping the job she loves, at a Dublin psychiatric hospital.

She shares vivid and revealing details about being a woman in a historically male sport, and about how she manages her body and her mind.

It is a vastly inspiring look inside the life and psychology of a woman who is both brilliantly ordinary and utterly exceptional.