Keen on gaining a better understanding of the Emerald Isle’s long history? Look no further, as we have put together the ten best books on Ireland for history.
The story of Ireland is a history that dates back centuries. It is best viewed through the lenses of colonisation, tragedy, exploitation, hunger, revolution, and resistance.
Credited to the influential men and women who brought life to these words, literature has helped to describe the fabric of Irish times.
Thankfully, modern Ireland is graced with many historians who have put pen to paper, and have depicted the events that characterise the island we live on today.
Here are the ten best books on Ireland for history, from Medieval times to modern-day society, ranked.
10. Modern Ireland by Roy Foster – formulating the Irish Nation
Kicking off the list of the best books on Ireland is Roy Foster’s Modern Ireland. In this book, the Professor critically examines a time-period beginning in 1600 and ending in 1972 to best establish which events created what we now call the ‘Irish nation’.
9. Medieval Ireland by Clare Downham – bringing a distant time back to life
Despite being such a distant time period, Clare Downham’s excellent work brings that time to life. She holds a refreshing view on the culture, politics, and religion that permeated that era.
This was a time that defined much of Ireland’s history, and its significance makes this book a must-read for any Irish history enthusiast.
8. Ten Men Dead by David Beresford – the formative account of the 1981 Hunger Strike
Beresford’s riveting account of the 1981 Hunger Strike is a must-read for anyone interested in recent Irish history or historical sites.
It is perhaps the most formative account of the struggle for political status in the H-Block prison and the ten prisoners, including Bobby Sands, who sacrificed their lives.
7. The Squad by T Ryle Dwyer – the intelligence war of Michael Collins
One of the best books on Ireland is Kerry author T Ryle Dwyer’s formidable documentation of Michael Collins’ ‘Squad’.
It details 12 men selected by ‘The Big Fellow’, who conducted the legendary intelligence operations of Michael Collins between 1919 and 1921.
6. 1916: The Mornings After by Tim Pat Coogan – a state that betrays revolutionary ideals
Tim Pat Coogan, Ireland’s premier historian, masterfully constructs how Irish society emerged from independence in the wake of the 1916 Easter Rising.
Primarily, it describes how the establishment betrayed much of what the 1916 signatories proclaimed and how corruption and decay flourished.
5. The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 by Diarmaid Ferriter – a century of change
Covering the 20th-century of Irish history, Diarmaid Ferriter skilfully depicts how the Emerald Isle developed from its impoverished state in the British Empire to ending the century embellished in the ‘Celtic Tiger’, and a nation on the rise.
4. The Famine Plot by Tim Pat Coogan – one of the best books on Ireland
The most devastating time in Ireland’s history is intimately yet powerfully exclaimed by Tim Pat Coogan in this courageous work.
Coogan evidences England’s critical role and liability in the starvation of the Irish people, and the subsequent deaths and emigration that arose from the Famine in the 1840s.
3. Green against Green: The Irish Civil War by Michael Hopkinson – where Irish fought Irish
The liberation of 26 counties following the Anglo-Irish Treaty led to tragedy as the Irish Civil War emerged. Here, Irish men and women fought against fellow Irish men and women.
Hopkinson’s work is “indispensable reading for those who wish to understand the bloody birth of independent Ireland”, according to Michael Laffan.
2. Irish Freedom by Richard English – the story of nationalism in Ireland
Richard English’s monumental work is a comprehensive account of the history of Irish nationalism, from its birth right through to the modern IRA.
It recounts the most predominant people and events during that time, such as Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell, the push for Home Rule, the 1916 Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and the conflict in the North.
1. Michael Collins by Tim Pat Coogan – the intricate story of ‘The Big Fellow’
Much of Ireland’s recent story cannot be understood without an expert grip on the life of Michael Collins. Tim Pat Coogan’s indispensable biography of Mick takes the crown for the best book on Ireland.
‘The Big Fellow’ was “the man who won the war”, according to Arthur Griffiths. His hand signed the Treaty, his mind brought the British to their knees in the War of Independence, and his governance oversaw the birth of the Irish Free State.