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An Ireland Reading List

Most of the books listed below are in print and in paperback - those that are out of print (o/p) should be easy to track down in second-hand bookshops. Publishers follow each title; first the UK publisher, then the US. Only one publisher is listed if the UK and US publishers are the same. Where books are published in only one of these countries, UK or US precedes the publisher's name.

 

History and Politics

John Ardagh, Ireland and the Irish: Portrait of a Changing Society (Penguin). Comprehensive and lively, this is an excellent anatomy of Irish society and its efforts to come to terms with the modern world.

 

Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Blackstaff/Dufour). A comprehensive account from early settlements to the current Troubles.

 

J.C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923 (Faber/Trafalgar, o/p). Concise and elegant, this is probably the best introduction to the complexities of Irish history.

 

David Beresford, Ten Men Dead (Grafton/Grove-Atlantic, o/p). Revelatory account of the 1981 hunger strike, using the prison correspondence as its basic material; a powerful refutation of the demonologies of the British press.

 

Peter Beresford Ellis, Hell or Connaught and The Boyne Water (Blackstaff/Dufour). Vivid popular histories of Cromwell's rampage and the pivotal Battle of the Boyne.

 

Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-1985 (Fontana/Cornell University Press). Brilliantly perceptive survey of writers' responses to the dog's breakfast made of post-revolutionary Ireland by its leaders.

 

Tim Pat Coogan, The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal 1966-1995 and the Search for Peace (UK Hutchinson). The former Irish Press editor's popular-history writing has many followers. His earlier books on two icons of modern Ireland, Michael Collins (UK Arrow) and De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow (Arrow/HarperCollins), are essential reading.

 

Liz Curtis, Ireland: the Propaganda War (Pluto/InBook). An unanswerable indictment of the truth-bending of the British media.

 

Seán Duignan, One Spin on the Merry-go-round (UK Blackwater). Government press officer's memoirs, well spiced with insider anecdote, of a turbulent period serving Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

 

Michael Farrell, Arming the Protestants: The Formation of the Ulster Special Constabulary and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, 1920-1927 (Pluto/Longwood, o/p). Farrell is a fine journalist and veteran of Northern Ireland's civil rights campaigns. In Northern Ireland: The Orange State (Pluto/InBook) he argues, as the title implies, from a Republican standpoint; it's an occasionally tendentious but extremely persuasive political account of the development of Northern Ireland.

 

Garret FitzGerald, All in a Life (UK Gill & Macmillan). The first former Taoiseach to write his memoirs has produced an extraordinary book, characteristically frank, and full of detail on the working of government.

 

Roy Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (Penguin). Superb and provocative new book, generally reckoned to be unrivalled in its scholarship and acuity, although it has been criticized for what some feel to be an excessive sympathy towards the Anglo-Irish. Not recommended for beginners.

 

Gemma Hussey, Ireland Today: Anatomy of a Changing State (Penguin). A well-regarded and invaluable source of information on Ireland's changing identity by this ex-government minister.

 

Robert Kee, The Green Flag (Penguin; 3 vols). Scrupulous history of Irish Nationalism from the first plantations to the creation of the Free State. Masterful as narrative and as analysis.

 

J.J. Lee, Ireland 1912-1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge University Press). Stunning new history, that is most provocative and readable in its lengthy final part devoted to the Ireland of today.

 

F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (UK Fontana). The most complete overview of recent Irish history; either iconoclastic or revisionist, depending on your point of view.



T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History (UK Mercier). Shows its age a bit, but still very good on early Irish history.



Conor Cruise O'Brien, Ancestral Voices: Religion and Nationalism in Ireland (Poolbeg/University of Chicago Press); On the Eve of the Millennium: the Future of Democracy through an Age of Unreason (Free Press). Essays by the sometimes apocalyptic, always readable and stimulating commentator and former government minister.

 

Cecil Woodham Smith, The Great Hunger (Penguin). Definitive, harrowing history of the Famine.

 

A.T.Q. Stewart, The Narrow Ground (Gregg Revivals/Ashgate). A Unionist overview of the history of the North from 1609 to the 1960s, providing an essential background to the current situation.

 

Kevin Toolis, Rebel Hearts: Journeys within the IRA's Soul (UK Picador). Highly acclaimed and topical account of what makes the IRA tick by this journalist and screenwriter.

 

Gaelic Tales and Music

Brendan Behan, An Giall; in English, The Hostage (Eyre Methuen/Grove-Atlantic). Behan's play is better in Irish, but still pretty good in English. The best work from an overrated writer.

 

Breandán Breathnach, Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Mercier/Dufour). All the diddley-eye you could want, and in one volume.

 

Kevin Danaher, Folk Tales of the Irish Countryside (US David White Co, o/p). The best volume on fairy and folk tales, recorded with a civil servant's meticulousness and a novelist's literary style.

 

Myles Dillon, (ed), Irish Sagas (Mercier, o/p/Irish Books & Media o/p). An excellent examination of Cúchulainn, Fionn Mac Cumhaill etc, in literary and socio-psychological terms.

 

Seamus Heaney, Buile Suibhne; in English, Sweeney Astray (Faber o/p/Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A modern translation of the ancient Irish saga of the mad king Sweeney.

 

Thomas Moore, Irish Melodies, edited by Seán Ó Faoláin (US Scholarly Resources). All the prettied-up tunes Moore stole from the harpers, along with lyrics of mind-numbingly perfect rhythm. Moore is an important historical figure, who expressed the Nationalism of the emerging middle class and brought revolution into the parlour.

 

Pádraig Ó Conaire, Finest Stories (Poolbeg/Dufour). Ó Conaire's dispassionate eye roams over the cruelties of peasant life.

 

Tomás Ó Criomhtháin, (sometimes Thomas O'Crohan), An tOileánach; in English, The Islandman (Oxford University Press). Similar to Ó Conaire but non-fiction and, if possible, even more raw.

 

Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella, An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed (Dolmen/University of Pennsylvania, o/p). Excellent translations of stark Irish-language poems on famine and death. See also Kinsella's translation of one of the earliest sagas, the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Baile Átha Cliath, o/p/University of Pennsylvania, o/p).

 

George Petrie, The Native Music of Ireland (Gregg International Books, o/p). One of the most important cultural documents in Irish history.

 

Mark J. Prendergast, Irish Rock: History, Roots and Perspectives (The O'Brien Press, o/p). The only decent book on Irish rock music.

 

Peig Sayers, An Old Woman's Reflections (Oxford University Press). Unfortunately, Sayers's complacent acceptance of her own powerlessness is still held up as an example to Irish schoolchildren. Still, in spite of itself, a frightening insight into the eradication of the Irish language through emigration, poverty and political failure. A funny deconstruction of the Sayers style is Flann O'Brien's An Beál Bocht; in English, The Poor Mouth (Paladin/Dalkey Archive).

 

William Butler Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland (Colin Smythe/Random House). Yeats gets all misty eyed about an Ireland that never existed.

 

Fiction

John Banville, Birchwood (Minerva/Norton, o/p); The Newton Letter (Minerva/Warner); The Book of Evidence (Mandarin/Warner); Ghosts (Mandarin/Random House); Athena (Minerva/Random House). Five novels from the most important Irish novelist since McGahern, including his 1989 Booker Prize nomination, a sleazy tale of a weird Dublin murder.

 

Leland Bardwell, The House (Brandon Books, o/p/Longwood o/p); There We Have Been (Attic/InBook). Quirky, bleak prose, often dealing with domestic violence, male cruelty, drink and poverty; but funny too, in a black way.

 

Samuel Beckett, Molloy/Malone Dies/The Unnamable (Calder/Riverrun). A wonderful trilogy of breakdown and glum humour.

 

Brendan Behan, Borstal Boy (UK Arrow). Behan's gutsy roman à clef about his early life in the IRA and in jail.

 

Dermot Bolger, The Journey Home (Penguin). Dublin unforgettably imagined as both heaven and hell. A Second Life (Penguin) is an assured novel about a man who, miraculously given a second chance at life, sets out to find out the truth about his adoption.

 

Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart (Penguin). Finely tuned tale of the anguish of unrequited love; generally rated as the masterpiece of this obliquely stylish writer.

 

Clare Boylan, Concerning Virgins (Penguin, o/p). Thirteen short stories from an emerging star of contemporary fiction, her first book since the novel Nail on the Head (Hamish Hamilton, o/p/Viking, o/p).

 

Emma Donoghue, Stir-fry (Penguin/Warner). Well-wrought love story from young Irish lesbian writer.

 

Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Minerva/Penguin). Hilarious and deeply moving novel of Dublin family strife that won the Booker Prize in 1993. The earlier trilogy, The Commitments (Minerva/Random House), The Snapper (Minerva/Penguin), The Van (Minerva/Penguin), lighter and funnier, made Doyle's reputation.

 

Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent (Penguin/Oxford University Press). Best of the "Big House" books, in which Edgeworth displays a subversively subtle sympathy with her peasant narrator. Would have shocked her fellow aristos if they'd been able to figure it out.

 

Anne Enright, The Portable Virgin (Minerva/Butterworth-Heinemann). Highly original stories of life on the outside.

 

Bartholomew Gill, The Death of a Joyce Scholar. Irish cop Peter McGarr is looking for the priced possession of Dublin's most eminent Joyce scholar (stabbed near Glasnevin Cemetry) - a hat originally worn by James Joyce.

 

Hugo Hamilton, The Love Test (UK Faber). Irish-German novelist's thriller set on both sides of the Berlin Wall, before and after its fall, combines excitement with a tender portrait of a disintegrating marriage. Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow (UK Faber) is a fine collection of stories set with equal assurance in Berlin and middle-class Dublin.

 

Dermot Healy, A Goat's Song (Flamingo/Penguin). Dark and deep novel which convincingly weaves a study of obsessive love into a fresh view of the Northern conflict.

 

Aidan Higgins, Asylum and Other Stories (Calder/Riverrun, o/p); Langrishe, Go Down (Minerva/Riverrun, o/p); Lions of the Grunewald (UK Minerva). The most European of Irish writers, whose later works play with language in a mordantly humorous and deeply personal way.

 

Desmond Hogan, The Ikon Maker (Faber/George Brazilier, o/p). Impressive, impressionistic first novel from one of Ireland's most lyrical prose writers, about angst-ridden adolescence in the 1970s, before Ireland was hip. A Farewell to Prague (UK Faber) is an intense, episodic, autobiographical novel that wanders lonely through the new Europe.

 

Neil Jordan, Night in Tunisia (Vintage/Random House). Film director Jordan first made his name with this impressive collection, which prefigures treatments and themes of his films. His most recent novel, Sunrise with Sea Monster (UK Vintage), is a delicate, powerful study in love and betrayal set in neutral Ireland during World War II.

 

James Joyce, Dubliners (Penguin); Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin); Ulysses (Penguin/Random House); Finnegan's Wake (Faber/Penguin). No novel written in English this century can match the linguistic verve of Ulysses, Joyce's monumental evocation of 24 hours in the life of Dublin. From the time of its completion until shortly before his death - a period of sixteen years - he laboured at Finnegan's Wake, a dream-language recapitulation of the cycles of world history. Though indigestible as a whole, it contains passages of incomparable lyricism and wit - try the "Anna Livia Plurabelle" section, and you could be hooked.

 

Molly Keane, Good Behaviour (Abacus/Knopf, o/p). Highly successful comic reworking of the "Big House" novel.

 

Benedict Kiely, God's Own Country: Selected Stories 1963-1993 (UK Minerva). A good introduction to the quirky fiction of a veteran novelist and travel writer.

 

Mary Lavin, In a Café (UK Country House). New collection of previously published stories by one of the great short-story writers, in the Chekhov tradition. Earlier books include The House in the Clew (Joseph, o/p/Viking, o/p) and Stories (Constable/Viking, o/p).

 

Bernard MacLaverty, Cal (Penguin/Norton); Lamb (UK Penguin). Both novels of love beset by crisis; the first deals with an unwilling IRA man and the widow of one of his victims. Lamb is the disturbing tale of a Christian Brother who absconds from a borstal with a young boy.

 

Eugene McCabe, Death and Nightingales (UK Minerva). Powerfully relevant novel of love, land and violence, set in late-nineteenth-century Ireland.

 

Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy (Picador/Doubleday); The Dead School (Pan/Dell). Scary, disturbing, but funny tales of Irish small-town life.

 

John McGahern, The Dark (Faber/Viking, o/p); The Barracks (UK Faber); Amongst Women (Faber/Penguin); Collected Stories (Faber/Random House). The Barracks is classic McGahern; stark, murderous and not a spare adjective in sight. Amongst Women is an excellent tale of an old Republican and the oppression of rural and family life.

 

Eoin McNamee, Resurrection Man (Picador/Warner). Beautifully written psychological thriller set in war-torn Belfast.

 

Deirdre Madden, Hidden Symptoms (Faber/Grove-Atlantic, o/p); The Birds of the Innocent Wood (Faber, o/p in the US); Remembering Light and Stone (Faber); and Nothing is Black ( Faber). Evocatively grim novels of life in the North.

 

Aidan Mathews, Lipstick on the Host (Minerva/Harcourt Brace). Delicate stories of breathtaking skill.

 

Brian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (Paladin/Little Brown). Moore's early novels are rooted in the landscape of his native Belfast; this was his first, a poignant tale of emotional blight and the possibilities of late redemption by love.

 

Danny Morrison, The Wrong Man. Political thriller, bleak, densely plotted by a former public affairs officer for S.F.

 

Mary Morrissy, A Lazy Eye (Vintage/Simon & Schuster); Mother of Pearl (Cape/Simon & Schuster). Impressive stories and a novel by rising star in the new generation of writers.

 

Christopher Nolan, Under the Eye of the Clock (Weidenfeld, o/p/St Martin's, o/p). Extraordinary and explosive fiction debut; largely autobiographical story of a handicapped boy's celebration of the power of language.

 

Edna O'Brien, Johnnie I Hardly Knew You (Weidenfeld/Avon Books, o/p); The Country Girls (Penguin/NAL-Dutton). Sensitively wrought novels from a top-class writer sometimes accused, unjustly, of wavering too much towards Mills and Boon.

 

Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman (Penguin/NAL-Dutton). O'Brien's masterpiece of the ominously absurd and fiendishly humorous. At Swim-Two-Birds (Penguin/NAL-Dutton) is a complicated and hilarious blend of Gaelic fable and surrealism; essential reading. Also see "Other Non-Fiction", p.623, under Myles na Gopaleen.

 

Frank O'Connor, Guests of the Nation (US Dufour). The best Irish political fiction this century.

 

Joseph O'Connor, True Believers (Flamingo/Trafalgar, o/p); Cowboys and Indians (Flamingo/Trafalgar, o/p). Life on the peripheries in London and Dublin: love and loss, madness and redemption; Desperadoes (Flamingo) is a love story stretching from 1950s' Dublin to modern Nicaragua.

 

Peadar O'Donnell, Islanders (Mercier/Dufour). Evocative, mesmerizing prose from important Republican figure.

 

Julia O'Faolain, No Country for Young Men (US Carroll & Graf). Spanning four generations, this ambitious novel traces the personal repercussions of the civil war.

 

Seán Ó Faoláin, Bird Alone (US Oxford University Press, o/p); Collected Stories (Constable/Little Brown). A master of the short-story form and the juiciness of rural dialect.

 

Liam O'Flaherty, The Pedlar's Revenge and Other Stories (Wolfhound/Dufour). Best of the postwar generation of former IRA men turned writers.

 

Timothy O'Grady, Motherland; an allegorical tale of Ireland, its past, and its present political situation. The complex plot revolves around an unnamed and oddly childlike middle-aged narrator and his search for his vanished mother. Along the way, the narrator is assisted by his own clairvoyant powers, a long-lost grandfather, and an ancient, hand-written family history that seems to contain clues to his mother's disappearance. Structured like a heroic myth, the novel describes a long and wandering journey through an Ireland occupied by a nameless military presence and contains dialogue between the petulant and pedantic narrator and the sage discourse of the mysterious and prophetic progenitor. Many apparently unrelated threads are woven together in the novel's conclusion to solve the mystery, revealing the narrator's true identity, the role of his grandfather, the fate of his missing mother, and the final interlocking pieces that comprise the story. A must!

 

Glenn Patterson, Burning Your Own (UK Minerva). Distinctive young Northern writer gives Protestant child's-eye view of late 1960s' Northern Ireland just about to explode.

 

E.O. Somerville and (Violet) Martin Ross, Some Recollections and Further Experiences of an Irish RM (UK Dent). The needle pushes the begorra factor a little too heavily here and there, but Somerville and Ross write with witty flair and are very significant for what they reveal, accidentally, about a dying class.

 

James Stephens, The Crock of Gold (US Irish Books & Media); The Charwoman's Daughter (Gill & Macmillan, o/p/North Books). Two fabulous masterpieces from the country's most underrated genius.

 

Bram Stoker, Dracula (Penguin/Oxford University Press). Stoker woke up after a nightmare brought on by a hefty lobster supper, and proceeded to write his way into the nightmares of the twentieth century.

 

Francis Stuart, Redemption and The Pillar of Cloud (both New Island Books/Flat Iron, o/p); Black List Section H (Lilliput/Irish Book Centre, o/p). Once a protégé of Yeats, Stuart has consistently maintained a stance of opposition, in his life and his art. Black List, his masterpiece, depicts the life of an Irishman in wartime Germany.

 

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (Penguin/Oxford University Press); The Tale of a Tub and Other Stories (Oxford University Press). Surrealism and satire from the only writer in the English language with as sharp a pen as Voltaire.

 

Colm Tóibín, The South (Picador/Viking, o/p). A woman turns her back on Ireland for Spain and returns thirty years later to resolve her life, and to die. The Heather Blazing (Picador/Penguin) is a powerfully understated novel of personal and political loss.

 

William Trevor, Stories (Penguin). Five of Trevor's short-story collections in one volume, revealing more about Ireland than many a turgid sociological thesis. Often desperately moving, Trevor is one of the true giants of Irish fiction. Reading Turgenev (Penguin), a sensitive account of an unhappy marriage, was shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize.

 

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin/Oxford University Press). Wilde's exploration of moral schizophrenia. A debauched socialite maintains his youthful good looks, while his portrait in the attic slowly disintegrates into a vision of evil.

 

Niall Williams, The Fall of Light, Four Letters of Love, As it is in Heaven

 

Poetry

Eavan Boland, The Journey (Carcanet, o/p). Thoughtful, spare and elegant verse from one of Ireland's most significant poets.

 

Pat Boran, The Unwound Clock (UK Dedalus). Wry insightful poems of contemporary Irish life.

 

Austin Clarke, Selected Poems (Dolmen/Penguin). Clarke's tender work evokes the same stark grandeur as the paintings of Jack Yeats.

 

Denis Devlin, Collected Poems (US Wake Forest). Pre-eminent Irish poet of the 1930s, owing allegiance to a European modern tradition rather than the prevailing Yeatsian.

 

Paul Durcan, A Snail in My Prime (Harvill/Penguin); O Westport in the Light of Asia Minor (UK Harvill); The Berlin Wall Café (Harvill/Dufour). Ireland's most popular and readable poet. Berlin Wall is a lament for a broken marriage, recounted with agonizing honesty, dignity and, ultimately, forgiveness.

 

Padraic Fiacc, Missa Terribilis (Blackstaff, o/p). Fiacc's work is informed by the political and social tribalisms of Northern Ireland, and explores personal relationships in these contexts.

 

Seamus Heaney, Death of a Naturalist (Faber); Selected Poems, Station Island and Seeing Things (Faber/Farrar Straus & Giroux). The most important Irish poet since Yeats. His poems are immediate and passionate, even when dealing with intellectual problems and radical social divisions. The Redress of Poetry (Faber, o/p/Farrar, Straus & Giroux) is an example of his energetic prose, consisting of the lectures he gave while Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1989 to 1994.

 

Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems (Martin Brien & O'Keefe/Flat Iron). Joyfully mystic exploration of the rural countryside and the lives of its inhabitants by Ireland's most popular poet. See also his autobiographical novel, Tarry Flynn (Penguin/Proscenium).

 

Brendan Kennelly, Cromwell (Bloodaxe/Dufour). Speculative meditation on the role of the conqueror in Irish history. Poetry My Arse (UK Bloodaxe) is an epic poem which "sinks its teeth into the pants of poetry itself".

 

Thomas Kinsella, Poems: 1956-1973 (US Wake Forest). See also his translations from the Irish (see p.618, with Seán Ó Tuama) and his first-rate anthology The Oxford Book of Irish Verse (Oxford University Press).

 

Shane MacGowan, Poguetry (Faber, o/p in the UK). Rock-solid debut by the former Pogues' bardperson. Not for Yeats fans.

 

Louis MacNeice, Collected Poems (Faber). Good chum of Auden, Spender and the rest of the "1930s' generation", Carrickfergus-born MacNeice achieves a fruitier texture and an even more detached tone.

 

Derek Mahon, Selected Poems (Penguin); The Hudson Letter (Gallery/Wake Forest). One of the more considerable Irish poets, a Northern contemporary of Heaney. See also his Penguin (UK) Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry (ed. with Peter Fallon).



Medbh McGuckian, Venus in the Rain (UK Gallery). Trawling the subconscious for their imagery, McGuckian's sensuous and elusive poems are highly demanding and equally rewarding.



Paula Meehan, The Man who was Marked by Winter (Gallery/Paul & Co). Memorable work, often concerned with women's lives, issues of family, gender and sexuality.



John Montague, Collected Poems (Gallery/Wake Forest). Terse poetry concerned with history, community and social decay. See also his anthology, The Faber Book of Irish Verse.



Eileán Ní Chuilleanáin, The Rose Geranium (UK Gallery). A promising and constantly surprising young poet. Joint editor of Cyphers, a good Dublin literary magazine.



Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Selected Poems (UK New Island Books) is in Irish and English. Haunting translations of her modern erotic verse by the fine poet Michael Hartnett are included in Raven Introductions 3 (UK Colin Smythe) and in Frank Ormsby's anthology (see below).



Frank Ormsby, (ed), The Long Embrace: Twentieth Century Irish Love Poems (Blackstaff, o/p/Faber, o/p). Excellent anthology with major chunks from the work of almost every important twentieth-century Irish poet from Yeats to the present day. See also his Poets from the North of Ireland anthology (Blackstaff/Dufour).

 

Tom Paulin, Fivemiletown and The Strange Museum (Faber, o/p in the US); Walking a Line (Faber). Often called "dry" both in praise and accusation, Paulin's work reverberates with thoughtful political commitment and a sophisticated irony.

 

Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Dover). The great comedian achieves his greatest success, in tragedy.

 

William Butler Yeats, The Poems (Papermac/Cassel). They're all here, poems of rhapsody, love, revolution and eventual rage at a disconnected and failed Ireland "fumbling in the greasy till."

 

Drama

Samuel Beckett, Complete Dramatic Works (UK Faber); Collected Shorter Plays and Waiting for Godot (Faber/Grove-Atlantic). Bleak hilarity from the laureate of the void. All essential for swanning around Dublin coffee shops.

 

Brendan Behan, The Complete Plays (Eyre Methuen/Grove-Atlantic). Flashes of brilliance from a writer destroyed by alcoholism. His The Quare Fellow takes up where Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol leaves off.

 

George Farquhar, The Recruiting Officer (Oxford University Press). The usual helping of cross-dressing and mistaken identity, yet this goes beyond the implications of most restoration comedy, even flirting with feminism before finally marrying everyone off in the last scene.

 

Brian Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa (Faber). Family drama by Derry playwright examines the coexistence of Catholicism and paganism in Irish society, and the tension between them. Plays (UK Faber) contains six of his greatest works; also available is Selected Plays (US Catholic University of America Press).

 

Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer (Nick Hern Books/Norton). Sparky dialogue, with a more English sheen than Farquhar. Included in the same volume is Goldsmith's novel The Vicar of Wakefield (Penguin/Oxford University Press), an affecting celebration of simple virtue.

 

Augusta, Lady Gregory, Collected Plays (Colin Smythe/Dufour). The Anglo-Irish writer who understood most about the cadences of the Irish language. This gives not only her translations, but her original drama, an authenticity lacking in the work of others.

 

Frank McGuinness Plays (UK Faber). Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching towards the Somme and four other major works by one of Ireland's most important playwrights.

 

Tom Murphy, Famine, The Patriot Game, The Blue Macushla and The Gigli Concert (Methuen/Heineman). Along with Friel and McGuinness, Murphy is one of the three outstanding contemporary Irish playwrights.

 

Sean O'Casey, Three Plays (Pan/St Martin's). Contains his powerful Dublin trilogy, Juno and the Paycock, Shadow of a Gunman and The Plough and the Stars, set against the backdrop of the civil war.

 

John Millington Synge, The Complete Plays (Eyre Methuen/Random House). Lots of begorras and mavourneens and other dialogue kindly invented for the Irish peasantry by Synge; but The Playboy of the Western World is a brilliant and unique work, greeted in Dublin by riots, threats and moral outrage.

 

Oscar Wilde, Complete Works (HarperCollins). Bittersweet satire, subversive one-liners and profound existentialist philosophy all masquerading as well-made, drawing-room farce.

 

William Butler Yeats, Collected Plays (Papermac/Simon & Schuster). Long-haired hunky Celts and gorgeous princesses, as Yeats inaugurates the Finian's Rainbow school of Irish History. Stick to the poems.

 

Other Non-Fiction

A.M. Brady and Brian Cleeve, (eds), Biographical Dictionary of Irish Writers (Lilliput, o/p/St Martin's Press, o/p). Succinct entries on all the greats, better used as a magical mystery tour through the lost byways of Irish literature.

 

Seamus Deane, Short History of Irish Literature (Hutchinson, o/p/University of Notre Dame Press, o/p). Deane brings a poet's sensitivity to a massive and sometimes unwieldy tradition, with skill and a profound sense of sociopolitical context.

 

Katie Donovan & Brendan Kennelly, (eds) Dublines (Bloodaxe/Dufour). A lively anthology of Dublin writing - history, fiction, poetry and song - compiled by two poets of different generations.

 

Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford University Press); Oscar Wilde (Penguin/Random House). Ellman's Joyce is a major literary work in itself, a massive and brilliant book. His Oscar Wilde is at least its equal, an eloquent corrective to the image of Wilde as an intellectual mayfly.

 

Field Day Pamphlets, especially: Seamus Deane, Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea (o/p); Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes (o/p); Michael Farrell, Apparatus of Repression in Ireland (o/p); and Seamus Heaney, An Open Letter (o/p). Other pamphlets by Robert McCartney (a Northern Unionist lawyer), Tom Paulin and other leading lights of the Irish cultural scene. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Field Day/Norton; general editor Seamus Deane) is a book to visit rather than buy: running to more than 4000 pages (in three volumes), and covering everything from early Celtic literature to the present, it costs £150. This insanely ambitious project aims to examine the nature of Irish writing - emphatically not just literature: as well as plays, poems and novels, it includes political speeches, pamphlets, analyses and essays; a fine record of a primarily literary culture.

 

Myles na Gopaleen, (aka Flann O'Brien), The Best of Myles (UK Paladin). Priceless extracts from a daily humorous newspaper column by O'Brien's alter ego.

 

Michael Holroyd, The Search for Love; The Pursuit of Power; The Lure of Fantasy, 1918-50 (Penguin/Random House). Holroyd's three-part biography of Shaw has been unfairly slammed by the critics, but is actually a pretty successful stab at understanding one of the most difficult and complex authors of the whole Anglo-Irish canon.

 

Joss Lynam, (ed.), Best Irish Walks (Moorland/NTC). Seventy-six walks through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the country.

 

Brenda Maddox, Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce (Minerva/Fawcett). Eminently readable story of the funny, irreverent and formidable Nora Barnacle and her life with James Joyce - an interesting complement to Ellmann's Joyce biography.

 

Sally and John McKenna, Bridgestone Food Guide (UK Estragon). The best in an almost non-existent field of Irish food writing. The same authors' smaller guides, to restaurants and places to stay, are also popular.

 

T. Augustine Martin, Anglo-Irish Literature (Irish Department of Foreign Affairs/Irish Books & Media, o/p). Readable scholarship and precise insight from the country's foremost Yeatsian scholar.

 

Joseph O'Connor, The Secret World of the Irish Male (Minerva/Heineman). Best-selling collection of the novelist's newspaper columns; frequently very funny.

 

Tim Robinson, The Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (Penguin/Viking, o/p). Treats the largest of the Aran Islands to a scrutiny of Proustian detail. The Stones of Aran: Labyrinth (Lilliput/Viking, o/p) completes the project, to form a uniquely challenging travel book.

 

Colm Tóibín, The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe (Vintage/McKay). Novelist Tóibín uses his journalistic skills to find the old-time religion in Ireland and elsewhere. Bad Blood (UK Vintage) is a perceptive account of a journey along the line that divides Northern Ireland from the rest of the island.

 

Brendan Walsh, Irish Cycling Guide (Moorland/Irish Books & Media). This is a grand tour of the country, in 36 stages, taking the roads with least traffic.

 

John Waters, Jiving at the Crossroads (Blackstaff/Dufour). Curiously engaging autobiography which traces a fascination with Fianna Fáil politics through the formative years of a western youth in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

Robert Welch (ed.), Oxford Companion to Irish Literature (Oxford University Press). This encyclopedic tour through who's who and what they've written fills a long-standing need.