TOP READS: These 13 Irish books offer something for everyone this festive season

TOP READS: These 13 Irish books offer something for everyone this festive season

CHRISTMAS DAY has passed which means you might now just find time to catch up on some reading while enjoying the rest of the holidays.

There’s been a multitude of excellent books released this year, written by Irish authors or with an Irish theme, one of which even won the prestigious Booker Prize.

You may not have had the chance to get your hands on these reads just yet, so we have collated a list of the best of the best from 2023 to get you started.

From fact to fiction and home-cooking to politics, these titles offer something for everyone and prove that Irish literature really is the gift that keeps on giving…

Old God’s Time: A Novel, By Sebastian Barry

Faber and Faber, £18.99

Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023, Sebastian Barry’s eleventh novel centres on a murder investigation led by a retired policeman.

In Old God’s Time the acclaimed novelist, who twice won the Costa Book of the Year - for The Secret Scripture in 2008 and Days Without End in 2016, tackles the grisly history of the Catholic church in Ireland, but ultimately examines the impact of trauma on memory.

Protagonist Tom Kettle is settling into the quiet of his new home, a lean-to annexed to a Victorian Castle overlooking the Irish Sea.

For months he has barely seen a soul and occasionally, fond memories of the past return - of his late family, his beloved wife June and their two children.

But when two former colleagues resurface with questions about an old case he finds himself pulled into the darkness of his past.

In their longlist announcement, the Booker Prizes judges described Barry’s latest work as a “beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite what it seems”.

They added: “Sebastian Barry explores what we live through, what we live with, and what may survive of us.”

Old Ireland in Colour 3, By John Breslin and Sarah-Anne Buckley

Merrion Press, £22.99

Old Ireland in Colour 3 is published by Merrion Press

A third instalment of the popular Old Ireland in Colour book series was released this year.

Old Ireland in Colour 3 sees authors John Breslin and Sarah-Anne Buckley returned with a host of captivating new images which tell the story of Ireland’s history.

Breslin, a Professor at NUI Galway, and Buckley, an Associate Professor in History at NUI Galway and former President of the Women’s History Association of Ireland, published the first instalment of the successful series in 2020 and Old Ireland in Colour 2 followed in 2021.

For their 2023 edition the authors have included a wide snapshot of life on the Emerald Isle.

From an eviction in Clare in 1888 to devastating floods in Strabane and an insight to working life in Dublin, all aspects of day to day lives gone by are featured.

There are also famous faces from politics and the arts within the book, alongside hard-working labourers and farmers, as well as mischievous children from all corners of the island who light up the book’s pages.

Rough Beast: My Story and the Reality of Sinn Féin, By Máiría Cahill

Head of Zeus, £16.99

‘Shocking, important and unputdownable’ is how author Roddy Doyle described Máiría Cahill’s book Rough Beast.

In it she tells the harrowing story of her life as a member of the IRA and the sexual abuse she alleges she endured at the age of 16 by a senior figure within the organisation.

Ms Cahill, who waived her right to anonymity as a victim of abuse in 2014, takes readers through the grisly details of her experience within the IRA, including the “inept and grotesquely insensitive internal investigations” she was subjected to once she reported her abuse to the organisation.

Belfast-based Cahill, who is a former Labour party senator and also a former SDLP councillor, claims she wrote the book to ensure no-one else experiences what she went through.

"Writing this book, I didn't want it to be simply a documentation of the abuse I suffered,” she said.

"I wanted it to do more: to both explain and explore how powerful organisations can mould minds and life journeys through their actions, so that people will learn from it and ensure that no one else is treated in the same way.”

The Happy Couple, By Naoise Dolan

Orion Publishing, £16.99

There was high praise from Irish literary icon Colm Tóibín for Dubliner Naoise Dolan’s second book.

The Happy Couple, which explores the uncertainty within protagonists Celine and Luke’s relationship in the days before their wedding, was released in May.

It follows her 2020 debut, the Hong Kong-based Exciting Times, which told the story of the jealousy and obsession which ensues as three people became entangled in a love triangle.

Sticking with relationships for her second offering, The Happy Couple centres on the flaws that come to light ahead of what should be the happiest day in the lives of Celine and Luke.

Released in May, critics were quick to commend the work, which has been described as “warm” and “sympathetic”, while Tóibín claims it is a “brilliant contemporary novel” which boasts “daring, exciting sentences and close, sharp observation”.

Dirty Linen: The Troubles in My Home Place, By Martin Doyle

Merrion Press, £21.99

In Dirty Linen journalist and editor Martin Doyle offers a personal, intimate history of the Troubles seen through the microcosm of a single rural parish.

That parish is the author’s own, which forms part of both the Linen Triangle – heartland of Northern Ireland’s defining industry – and the Murder Triangle – the Badlands devastated by paramilitary violence.

Doyle lifts the veil of silence drawn over the horrors of the past, recording in heartrending detail the terrible toll the conflict took on his hometown – where more than twenty violent deaths occurred in just a few square miles – and the legacy of trauma it has left behind.

Neighbours and classmates who lost loved ones in the conflict, survivors maimed in bomb attacks and victims of sectarianism, both Catholic and Protestant, entrust Doyle with their stories for the book, which was shortlisted for the An Post Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2023.

The Wren, The Wren, By Anne Enright

Jonathan Cape, £18.99

Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright published her eighth novel this year.

The Dubliner, who worked as a television producer and director for RTE before she began writing full time in 1993, has consistently won high acclaim for her work to date.

In 2007 she won the Booker Prize for her fourth novel The Gathering.

Her 2012 novel The Forgotten Waltz won the Andre Carnegie Medal for Fiction and her 2015 novel The Green Road the The Irish Novel of the Year title.

Her latest work The Wren, The Wren, examines the world of daughterhood and motherhood.

It is described as “a meditation on love: spiritual, romantic, darkly sexual or genetic”.

The multigenerational novel traces the inheritance of trauma within a family.

“It is a testament to the glorious resilience of women in the face of promises false and true,” publishers Jonathan Cape state.

“Above all, it is an exploration of the love between mother and daughter - sometimes fierce, often painful, but always transcendent.”

How to Build a Boat, By Elaine Feeney

Harvill Secker, £16.99

Elaine Feeney’s second novel was longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023 and shortlisted for the An Post Novel of the Year Award 2023.

Set on the west coast of Ireland, How to Build a Boat tells the tale of 13-year-old Jamie O'Neill and the two things he especially wants in life: to build a Perpetual Motion Machine, and to connect with his mother Noelle, who died when he was born.

Feeney, who is based in Athenry, Co. Galway, expertly weaves a narrative which takes readers on a journey with young Jamie as he pursues his mission to achieve those goals.

And at his new school, where all else is disorientating and overwhelming, he finds two people who might just be able to help him.
“Written with tenderness and verve, How to Build a Boat is about love, family and connection, the power of imagination, and how our greatest adventures never happen alone,” publishers, Harvill Secker, of the Penguin group, explain.

Feeney, whose 2020 debut novel As You Were won the Kate O'Brien Award, the McKitterick Prize, and the Dalkey Festival Emerging Writer Award, lectures at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Service, By Sarah Gilmartin

Pushkin Press, £16.99

Fellow author Joseph O’Connor has described Sarah Gilmartin’s second book as a “powerful and compelling novel from a very gifted writer”.

Gilmartin, who published her first book, bestseller The Dinner Party, in 2021, tackles the high-pressure world of the restaurant kitchen in her second novel.

Set in Dublin, tensions are at an all-time high at an upscale restaurant where employees are grappling with the fallout from a shocking scandal involving its head chef.
The waitress, the chef, and the chef’s wife may all lovingly describe the food, but they agree on little else as their voices reveal a story of power and complicity, and the courage it takes to face the truth.
Beautifully written and cleverly told through these three voices, this scorching novel explores uncomfortable truths about our changing social norms and how hard it can be face them.

A Place to Play: The People and Stories Behind 101 GAA Grounds, By Humphrey Kelleher

Merrion Press, £24.99

Humphrey Kelleher’s A Place to Play is the first ever comprehensive survey of all the GAA county grounds.

Covering their history and their sporting stories, it features unique panoramic aerial photographs and rare or previously unpublished images.

Every county in Ireland is covered, from Casement Park in Belfast to Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork, and from O’Moore stadium in Portlaoise to Markievicz Park in Sligo.

There is an international section too, with just two entries, McGovern Park in Ruislip, England, and Gaelic Park in New York, USA.

Named after saints, landowners, priests, political
figures, rebels and businessmen, every GAA ground featured in the book has a unique and absorbing history.

Released in October, the book was shortlisted for the An Post Best Irish-Published Book of the Year Award 2023.

Prophet Song, By Paul Lynch

Oneworld, £16.99

The winner of the Booker Prize 2023, Paul Lynch’s novel Prophet Song is set in an imagined dystopian Ireland.

The government is becoming a police state and rebellion will not be tolerated, leaving the Limerick author’s protagonist Eilish - like the many other civilians around her – to make unthinkable decisions.

On a dark, wet evening in Dublin, the scientist and mother-of-four answers her front door to find the GNSB on her step.

Two officers from Ireland’s newly formed secret police are here to interrogate her husband, a trade unionist.

The country is in the grip of a government turning towards tyranny and when her husband disappears, Eilish finds herself caught within the nightmare logic of a society that is quickly unravelling.

Prophet Song has been described as “a crucial book for our current times”.

Last month Lynch was announced as the winner of the Booker Prize 2023, making him the fifth Irish author to take that title.

Esi Edugyan, head judge on this year’s judging panel, said they "sought a winning novel that might speak to the immediate moment while also possessing the possibility of outlasting it".

She added: "In these troubled times, we sought a novel with a guiding vision - a book to remind us that we are more than ourselves, to remind us of all that is worth saving."

The Bee Sting, By Paul Murray

Hamish Hamilton, £18.99

Dubliner Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023.

The tragicomic novel, which was named the Eason Novel of the Year at this year's An Post Irish Book Awards, tells the tale of the life of the Barnes family.

Dickie's once-lucrative car business is going under and his exasperated wife Imelda is selling off her jewellery on eBay while their teenage daughter Cass, formerly top of her class, seems determined to binge-drink her way to her final exams.

And twelve-year-old PJ, in debt to local sociopath 'Ears' Moran, is putting the final touches to his grand plan to run away from home.

Murray’s fourth novel follows his critically acclaimed 2010 release Skippy Dies, which also made the Booker Prize Longlist, and The Mark and the Void in 2015, which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize the following year.

His first novel An Evening of Long Goodbyes was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and nominated for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award in 2003.

My Father’s House, By Joseph O’Connor

Harvill Secker, £20

Joseph O’Connor’s latest book is based on the true story of Irish priest Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty.

The Kerry priest saved thousands of Jewish civilians and allied Prisoners of War from certain death during World War II.

In My Father’s House the story begins in September 1943 in wartime Rome.

The city is occupied by German forces and ruled by the Gestapo commander, Paul Hauptmann.

But the one place Hauptmann can’t control is the Vatican City, which is deemed a neutral, independent country.

Inside it are diplomats, as well as priests, several of whom dedicate themselves to helping Jews and escaped allied prisoners get out of Rome.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was the leader of one such escape line and in in the capable hands of O’Connor, his powerful story becomes a literary thriller which examines the nature or sacrifice and what it means to be human in the most extreme circumstances.

Home Kitchen, By Donal Skehan

Yellow Kite, £25.99

In his new book, celebrity chef Donal Skehan invites fans into his kitchen where he shares how he cooks for his family and where his inspiration comes from.

From his granny’s handwritten recipes to flavours he discovered during his time living in LA, the Dubliner draws on many influences to provide easy recipes for food that families will want to eat every day.

And the chef, who is a familiar face on television cooking shows in Britain and Ireland, has the whole week covered.

His book includes chapters such as make-ahead Sundays, everyday dinners, weekday rush, slow-cooking weekend, and scrumptious desserts.

And the recipes range from Speedy Parmigiana Pasta, Slow Cooker Beef Ragu and Harissa Fried Chicken with a Garlic and Herb Aioli to Sticky Soy Pork Sliders with Chilli and Coriander and Irish Coffee, Hazelnut and Chocolate Tiramisu.

It is packed with his personal stories, insights, tips and trick too, making this the perfect kitchen companion for any keen home cook.