This article was written by Chris Ciolli.
Most of us know about Irish writers like Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, and James Joyce. And while these well-known writers are a great jumping off point for exploring all things literary and Irish, the Emerald Isle has produced and continues to produce riches beyond most readers’ imaginations when it comes to words. Magnificent poetry, plays, short stories and novels written by writers hailing from Ireland abound. Check out a few suggestions below for where to begin your armchair jaunt around Eire, just in time for St. Paddy’s Day.
This Irish novelist pens stories of Irish women and their relationships with men and the rest of society. Her first book, The Country Girls was banned, burned and denounced in Ireland and is credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues in repressive post World War II Ireland. The Country Girls later became a trilogy of novels including The Lonely Girl and Girls in the Married Bliss. Her 2011 book of short stories Saints and Sinners, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. O’Brien has written biographies of Joyce and Byron, and is also a winner of the Irish PEN Lifetime Achievement Award and the Ulysses Medal. Novelist Philip Roth has deemed her the most gifted woman currently writing in English and even if you don’t agree with Mr. Roth, O’Brien’s insight into the private lives of Irish women is hard to find elsewhere.
Fascinated by bizarre humor and modernist metafiction? Brian O’Nolan aka Flann O’Brien aka Myles na gCopaleen is your man. Start with At Swim-To Birds—-the novel works with borrowed and stolen characters from other works of fiction based on the idea that there are too many existing fictional characters and was even praised by James Joyce. Then continue your O’Nolan readings with The Third Policeman which is generally considered a more subtle proto-post-modernist work and tells the hilarious plot of a murderous protagonist let loose on a strange world peopled by pudgy policemen.
Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory
Isabella Augusta, also widely known as Lady Gregory, was a dramatist, poet and folklorist who was best known for founding the Irish Literary Theatre and Abbey Theatre with William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn. Augusta’s collections of Irish myths and folklore are an amazing reference for readers interested in Ireland’s traditional stories. Delve into Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, a collection of Irish folk-beliefs from the late 19th and early 20th century twenty years in the making. Gods and Fighting Men, is a fun read about Irish folklore, particularly the Tuatha de Danaan, and at the time of writing, free on Amazon kindle (book title linked to purchase page).
A committed socialist, O’Casey was one of the first Irish playwrights of note to write about the working classes in Ireland. His plays dramatized and bring to life social and political issues in Ireland. His first play to be performed was “The Shadow of a Gunman”, a drama built around the impact of revolutionary politics on Dublin’s slums and the people that live there. For those readers that like to see the plays they read performed, “Juno and the Paycock”, set in Dublin around the Easter Rising, was made into a film and directed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock. No matter it was a box office failure , “Cock-a-Doodle Dandy”, deserves a read. Darkly humorous, the play is a strange fantasy about a magic cockerel that appears in a small parish and forces the characters to make choices about the way they live their lives. Because it was regarded as anti-Catholic by many it was banned from professional public performance in the UK and suppressed in both Ireland and the USA.
Born to Irish parents in Brooklyn, at the age of four, Montague was shipped back to Ireland to live at Garvaghey, his father’s ancestral farm. Montague’s poems (like so many poems) are highly personal, describing his childhood, and relationships, as well as travel and exile, national identity and Irish history. Poetry buffs will be interested to know his poetry is noted for vowel harmonies, and skillful handling of lines and the line break. An interesting comparison of Montague’s past and present work could be made by reading his first book of poems, Poisoned Lands and his most recent book of poems, Speech Lessons back to back. Sample some of his writing for free at the Poetry Foundation. Montague has also written collections of short stories and essays.
A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.
Photo: Some rights reserved by kkmarais.
I love your breadth of knowledge, and how you make readers aware of the richness and variety of writing out there.
Chris Jean Ciolli
Anjali, thanks for the lovely complement and thanks for reading!
T. Lloyd Reilly
Good choices! I would add Seamus Heaney and Morgan Llywellyn . Erin go Bragh!
Chris Jean Ciolli
Thanks for the suggestions, T. Lloyd.
Hi Chris, Thanks for the intros to these great writers! I had not heard of any of them. But I’ll check them out now. Thanks so much.
Chris Jean Ciolli
Glad to be of help, Susan and thanks for reading!
Great suggestions! My personal favourite is John Banville – a really beautiful prose style. I was hooked from the first paragraph of the first book I read by him, Birchwood:
“I am, therefore I think. That seems inescapable. In this lawless house I spend the nights poring over my memories, fingering them, like an impotent casanova his old love letters, sniffing the dusty scent of violets. Some of these memories are in a language which I do not understand, the ones that could be headed, the beginning of the old life. They tell the story which I intend to copy here, all of it, if not its meaning, the story of the fall and rise of Birchwood, and of the part Sabatier and I played in the last battle.”
Chris Jean Ciolli
Ooh, sounds like I have a new author to read. Always exciting, so thanks for the suggestion and the slice of sublime prose.
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