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7 Irish authors to read on St. Patrick’s Day

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, the saying goes. I love this sentiment and its idea of open-heartedly sharing each other’s celebrations. Since parades aren’t really my thing, I do believe my bookish self will mark the holiday by reading Irish (and Irish-born) authors … and I might just help myself to some bangers and mash.

If you’re of a mind to honor the day in a similar fashion (perhaps with a group of like minded readers?), here are seven Irish-born authors from whom to choose. And for nourishing the body as you nourish the mind, St. Patrick’s Day style, enjoy a link to a yummy bangers and mash recipe.

TransAtlantic coverColum McCann

Born in Ireland, McCann features his native country prominently in his novel TransAtlantic. It tells three distinct stories, each based in historical fact. An Atlantic crossing and a visit to Ireland figure into all three. In the first, circa 1919, British airmen Alcock and Brown seek to fly from Canada to Ireland in a converted World War I bomber. The second follows Frederick Douglas’ 1845 visit to Ireland just as the Great Famine is taking hold. Senator George Mitchell’s attempt to broker the 1998 Good Friday agreement provides the foundation of the third.

McCann writes mesmerizing prose that reveals characters’ emotional landscapes while simultaneously dancing around them. Reading this novel, I felt very aware of each character’s position in space, emphasized through narrative details and perspective.

Irish Authors - Artemis Fowl coverEoin Colfer

Born in Wexler, Ireland, Colfer is the author of the eight-novel Artemis Fowl series (among others). The books follow criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl as he battles pixies, goblins, and other heavies and undergoes quite a transformation as the series progresses. I have not read the books personally, but my son tore through them. When he completed the last novel in the series, he mourned arriving at the end even more than he did when he finished the final Harry Potter.

James Joyce

Irish authors - James JoyceJoyce, born in a Dublin suburb, is probably best known for Ulysses, a modern, stream of consciousness take on The Odyssey set in Dublin circa 1904. The story takes place on a single day (with sentences that go on for days) and, if my graduate school experience may be taken as representative, has possibly caused much rending of garments and wails of, “Whyyyyy?”

For a more, shall we say, gentle introduction into Joyce’s themes and literary stylings, I like Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s autobiographical coming-of-age novel.

Irish authors - Oscar WildeOscar Wilde

I’m thinking his best known works are the gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and the wickedly funny, biting, and utterly timeless play “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Bram Stoker

Irish authors - Bram StokerSo how many of you knew Stoker was born in Dublin? I did not! In 1897, Stoker penned the classic horror novel Dracula. After talking about reading it for years, I finally enjoyed reading it last October.

William Butler Yeats

Irish authors - William Butler YeatsDublin-born poet Yeats was the son of Irish painter John Butler Yeats, a supporter of Irish nationalism (despite being a member of the Anglo-Irish minority), and a Nobel Prize-winner (1923). I would guess his most widely anthologized poem is “Leda and the Swan”?

Laurence Sterne

Laurence SterneAnglo-Irish novelist and Anglican clergyman Laurence Sterne was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary in 1713. His probably best-known work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, was published in five volumes between 1759 and 1767. It is quite hilarious, filled with bawdy humor, and (my favorite part) pokes fun at the very solemn and long-winded among us.

And now for the bangers and mash: Click here for Ina Garten’s recipe on the Food Network website.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day reading and eating!

Feature photo credit: AlphaTangoBravo / Photo on Flickr

2 thoughts on “7 Irish authors to read on St. Patrick’s Day

  1. It’s funny – since St. Patrick’s Day isn’t such a big deal here, I had no idea it was today, until I was on the phone with my mom and she mentioned it. But coincidentally, I went to our library yesterday and checked out Colm Tóibín’s novel “Brooklyn”, the one the recent movie is based on. So I guess I’m following the spirit of your list, but, like, even before it was published! Whoa….

    Also, I love, love, love Yeats. So many amazing poems. I own a well-worn copy of “Early Poems” (Dover Thrift Edition). In the spirit of things, and knowing how much you love your son, I feel like sharing this one, if that’s okay:

    A Cradle Song

    The angels are stooping
    Above your bed;
    They weary of trooping
    With the whimpering dead.
    God’s laughing in Heaven
    To see you so good;
    The Sailing Seven
    Are gay with His mood.
    I sigh that kiss you,
    For I must own
    That I shall miss you
    When you have grown.

    The last lines have always stuck with me, long before I had or even wanted a child.

    Also, I just found out what “the sailing seven” refers to (I’d previously believed it was a reference to Irish political heroes, which would not be out of place in Yeats’s work). It turns out that, as this source (http://www.gradesaver.com/poems-of-wb-yeats-the-rose/study-guide/summary-a-cradle-song) so nicely puts it:

    “The ‘sailing seven’ refers to either the planets, or the seven stars of the Pleiades. They link the child to a cosmic order, suggesting that an infants pleasure not only affects human beings, but resonates with the order of the universe as a whole.”

    But since it’s a merry holiday, I’d love to add an Oscar Wilde quote that always makes me laugh – and that’s become a joke between me and my boyfriend:

    “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

    This is said by the infamous Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest”. It always makes us crack up…and has helped us through hard times; we both recently either lost a parent or were very close to losing one, and in the darkest moments, we’d sometimes say this and lift our spirits for a moment. So, thanks, Oscar Wilde.

    Sorry – I couldn’t help but include those. Thanks for this great list, and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

    1. Thank you, Alysa! How funny that you picked up “Brooklyn” – we must be on the same wavelength! In fact, my book club is reading “Brooklyn” for our next meeting, and we’re planning to watch the film as well. Plus, the screenplay was written by Nick Hornby (not Irish, but one of my favorite contemporary authors).

      I love this poem by Yeats and love that you shared it here (along with those excellent Wilde quotes). Thank you! The Yeats poem moves me in a big, big way. Those last four lines really stick in my throat. I think of that often when I look at my dear boy!

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