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10 Books to Read Before Traveling to Ireland

Kinsale, Ireland

Planning a trip to Ireland? Whether you’re a first time traveler or a frequent visitor, you might want to take a moment before your trip to brush up on the rich history of triumphs and struggles that have led this magnificent country to where it is today. From magical landscapes such as the Cliffs of Moher, to bustling cities like Dublin and Cork, the ten books listed below travel differently through various counties and landmarks, as well as historical moments and monuments, to provide a unique literary journey to help prepare you for your trip.

1. A Short History of Ireland (1994) Richard Killeen
A great introduction to Irish history, this quick read highlights key events from as far back as the Viking and Norman invasions, to the days of the Celtic Tiger. Illustrated with over 150 photographs, drawings, and paintings, and sold in English, French, and German language editions, this is the perfect book for anyone to read to brush up on history before a first time trip to Ireland.

2. 101 Things You Didn't Know About Irish History: The People, Places, Culture, and Tradition of The Emerald Isle (2006) Ryan Hackney, Amy Hackney Blackwell, & Garland Kimmer
This simple and easy-to-read introduction to Irish history dispels numerous myths, and tells the true stories of the Irish and their heritage. As well as 101 different short stories and facts about the country, this book includes a complete Irish language primer and pronunciation guide. Rather than leprechauns, and shamrocks, this book delves deep into the lives of the Celtics before the British invasions, the Potato Famine and Immigration, as well as Irish music and dance, preparing the reader to immerse themselves in the culture of Ireland.

3. Ireland: A Luminous Beauty (2014) Peter Harbison & Leslie Conron Carola
A visual collection of full color photographs taken by some of Ireland’s finest landscape photographers, this photo book will take the reader on a vivid journey across one of the most beautiful countries in the world. From ancient stone ruins, to earthy green countrysides, this book captures the magical settings of Ireland during sunset and early morning light. An inspiring visual guide to the various landscapes of Ireland, Ireland: A Luminous Beauty will prepare the eye of the reader for a trip to this breathtaking country.

4. Angela’s Ashes (1996) Frank McCourt
Rather than a complete overview of the entirety of Irish history, this Pulitzer Prize winning memoir follows author Frank McCourt through his tumultuous childhood. From Depression-era Brooklyn, to the slums of Limerick Ireland, Angela’s Ashes gives readers a more vivid image of what it meant to grow up in Ireland during the 1940’s. Documenting the struggles of an Irish family during the Great Depression, this book is an important component in understanding the lives of the Irish during a time of struggle, and how this shaped the people of Ireland today.

5. The Great Book of Ireland: Interesting Stories, Irish History, and Random Facts about Ireland (2019) Bill O’Neill
This trivia style book about Irish history, pop culture, and folklore is full of interesting facts that may not be found in a typical history book, from the origin of the name of Ireland, to what movies have been filmed there. The Great Book of Ireland is perfect for anyone planning a trip overseas, and will leave every reader with something that they didn't previously know about the magnificent Emerald Isle.

6. McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland (2003) Pete McCarthy
This #1 Irish bestseller will take the reader on a unique journey through the perspective of author Pete McCarthy during his travels from Cork to Donegal, encountering a multitude of “McCarthy’s” pubs, as well meeting a number of fascinating characters during his travels. A successful portrait of a rapidly changing country, as well as an inside look at the humor of the Irish, this book is a must read for anyone planning on travelling to Ireland for the first time.

7. Dublin: The Epic Novel (2005) Edward Rutherfurd
This book provides an extensive yet invigorating history of the city of Dublin, while painting a vivid picture of the history of Irish culture and people as a whole. Working closely with leading Irish historians, author Edward Rutherfurd takes the reader from the viking invasions and the wrath of Henry VIII, through the story of the coming of St. Patrick and his spiritual descendants. For anyone planning a trip to Ireland, this novel does an outstanding job in capturing centuries of groundbreaking Irish history.

8. I Never Knew That About Ireland (2007) Christopher Winn
A tour of the four provinces of Ireland - Connacht, Leister, Munster, and Ulster - as well as their different counties, this book delves into the unforgettable heritage, memories, and monuments that have shaped Ireland’s past. Packed with fascinating stories, and information on the history of the emerald isle, this book provides a captivating insight on the hidden gems of Ireland, and is a perfect book to prepare for a visit.

9. A Secret Map of Ireland (2010) Rosita Boland
In a collection of 32 colorful essays, Rosita Boland visits all of the counties of Ireland telling unique tales that perfectly encompass the essence of the Island itself. Unlike your usual travel guide, this book brings readers through an unusual, engaging, and exploration of the entire map of Ireland, and will prepare you for your trip like none other.

10. Travelers’ Tales Ireland: True Stories (2003) James O'Reilly, Larry Habegger, and Sean O’Reilly
Through a wide variety of short stories written through multiple perspectives, this book uncovers the heart and soul of one of the oldest and richest cultures in Europe. Exploring facets of Irish culture such as it’s Celtic ancestry, modern economy, and predominantly Catholic faith, anyone planning on travelling to Ireland could benefit from this unique and diverse collection of true stories from across the country.

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