With St. Patrick’s Day on its way, here are some classic Irish books to celebrate the rich literary heritage of the Emerald Isle.
“The Complete Plays of John Millington Synge”: In his tragically short life, Synge wrote one of the most memorable Irish plays ever. “The Playboy of the Western World” is a must read comedy that caused a riot when it opened in Dublin in 1907.
“Three Plays by Sean O’Casey”: “Juno and the Paycock” is a tragicomedy set in Dublin during the Irish Civil War when the hopes of the impoverished Boyle family are raised unexpectedly. “The Shadow of a Gunman” and “The Plough and the Stars” are equally brilliant, but only “The Plough and the Stars” caused a riot in its first run at the Abbey Theatre in 1926.
“The Complete Plays of Brendan Behan”: The hard-drinking author, also tragically short-lived, wrote some of the most powerful Irish plays ever written. “The Quare Fellow” set in a prison is stunningly witty and tragic.
“Selected Poems of William Butler Yeats”: Read "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and try not to wish you were there. It is simply not possible. "Red Hanrahan's Song about Ireland" is laden with Irish nationalism.
“The Steward of Christendom” by Sebastian Barry: This compelling play, based in part on the experience of the author’s own father is beautifully written and introduces us to the Dunne family who have subsequently appeared in 2 novels by the author.
“A Long Long Way” by Sebastian Barry: This novel follows Willie Dunne as he enlists in 1914 and then returns home on leave to find Ireland bristling for independence from Britain. The horrors of war, the emotional turmoil, family and loyalty, all figure in this tragic tale.
“The Short Stories of Liam O’Flaherty”: These gems of storytelling genius are full of earthy characters and lyrical, evocative descriptions of Irish life. O'Flaherty's short stories transport you to Ireland.
“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce: For those a bit tentative about struggling with the later works of Joyce, try his first novel. The coming of age story is a great introduction to Joyce’s Ireland. Be sure to check out his short story collection “Dubliners” for solid storytelling, “The Dead” being the most famous.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde: Some of the wittiest lines ever written come from this play. Read it and enjoy Wilde’s famous barbs, like Lady Bracknell’s comment, “To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that remind one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.”
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