A Library of Irish Gold: Contemporary Irish Authors

This St. Patrick’s Day bring on the corned beef and cabbage…and books!

In honor of this wonderful holiday, we thought we’d focus on literature from Ireland. Even if you’re familiar with books that hail from the Irish lands, hopefully you’ll learn something new about these authors and the origins of their works. So sit back, pour yourself a cuppa’, and learn about some truly intriguing these Irish lads and lasses.

Maeve Binchy

Mauve Binchy

(Also known as Binchy-Snell)

Until her passing in 2012, Binchy was an influential Irish novelist, poet, playwright, columnist, public-speaker, and short-story writer (that is quite a list!). Binchy was best known for the skill with which she portrayed Ireland in a sympathetic and often humorous manner, including the oft-seen occurrence of a welcome twist ending.

The New York Times once reported that Binchy’s writing “…career began on accident in the early 1960’s, after she spent time on a kibbutz in Israel. Her father was so taken by her letters home that “he cut off the ‘Dear Daddy’ bits,” Ms. Binchy later recounted, and sent them to an Irish newspaper, which published them.

Don’t we all wish for a long and successful career that starts on accident?

Binchy published sixteen novels, four short-story collections, a play, and a novella. For obvious reasons, including her addition to Oprah’s Book Club and appearances on the New York Times’s Bestseller List on multiple occasions, Binchy is still remembered as one of Ireland’s more influential writers.

Some of Binchy’s best known works are her novels The Glass Lake, Scarlet Featherand Quentins.

John Boyne

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A rather well known author, Boyne has been fortunate enough to see his work translated into forty-eight languages around the world. Much of this fame stemmed from what could arguably be considered his most famous work, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

In producing content for both young and adult readers, Boyne reaches into his depth of creativity and knowledge about his homeland in Ireland (he was born and raised in Dublin).

Throughout his career, Boyne has received (and likely will continue to receive) a number of critical acclaims, such as the Hennessey Literary Award and his 2015 award for the Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of East Anglia.

To look into his work beyond The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (which actually if you haven’t read, you really should—it’s fabulous), you could check out titles such as A History of Loneliness and This House is Haunted.

Marian Keyes

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Keyes is best known for her work in women’s literature, some going so far as to hail her as a “pioneer” of woman’s lit.

All in all, Keyes had something of a tough time of it; after graduating from Dublin University and moving to London to take on a post at an office job she fell into a deep depression that led her to a period of severe alcoholism (Keyes writes quite frankly about this time in her history, as it is relevant to her later work). Though this time in her life was painful, Keyes manages to work this darkness into her novels, turning her more or less comedic stories into deeper narratives that draw on life’s hardships.

Keyes’s debut novel Watermelon became a landslide success which eventually opened the door to her continuation as an author. Other popular works by Keyes include Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married and This Charming Man.

Tana French

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If you’re a fan of modern-day mystery novels set primarily in Ireland and the UK, then French is the author for you. Actually, chances are you’ll be a big fan of French regardless to where you prefer your mystery novels to be set!

Though she started out as an actress training at the Trinity University Performing Arts school, French also went into her career with a strong working knowledge of literature. Couple her writing skills with the experience of growing up in numerous countries around the globe and you have a recipe for a talented storyteller.

French began her debut novel In the Woods during lulls between casting. Almost immediately upon the novel’s publishing, it became a critically acclaimed hit, topping charts around the world and taking a firm place on the New York Times Bestseller list. Since then, French has published four more novels (sequels to In the Woods) and has another on the way with an assumed publishing date in August of this year. With only five books currently under her belt, French has already sold over one million copies of her work, so we have to assume she’s doing something right (though you could also figure that out by reading one of her novels—The Likeness and Faithful Place are just fabulous).

Frank McCourt

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Now there are some people who have had tough lives, and then there are people who have had tough lives. Well, Mr. McCourt is without a doubt one of the latter.

Born in 1930 (yep, during the Great Depression), in the boroughs of New York, McCourt lived out some of his younger years with his family (his father being ex-IRA and his mother a devout Catholic) in what can only be described as a slum. After mourning the loss of newborn siblings, the family returned to Ireland where they continued to live in absolute squalor. After being abandoned by his father, McCourt was kicked out of school at age thirteen and turned to stealing odd bits of food and change in order to feed his remaining family members.

Eventually, McCourt saved the money required to move back to New York where eventually he managed to weasel his way into New York University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. McCourt became an English teacher and overtime saved the money needed to assist his family members in their immigration to the States.

In 1997, McCourt won the Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography and Biography for his work Angela’s Ashes, a memoir written about the struggle of his family, and particularly the strength of his mother. Though it has been criticized as being too harsh to Ireland, Angela’s Ashes remains an incredibly influential and powerful story that earned the author international recognition.