Do you want to expand your literary horizons? If so, discover some of the best Irish authors of all time, and consider picking up a few of their works.
Ireland has a rich and vibrant literary heritage. Some of the best-known Irish authors, writers, and poets dramatically changed the face of modern literature and even shaped popular genres, including horror and contemporary fiction.
So, which Irish authors should you read or pick for your next book club? I’ve picked a selection of Irish authors, some of whom are easy to read. Others on this list require more work and patience, but that investment of time is worth it!
- 1. James Joyce, 1882 – 1941
- 2. Oscar Wilde, 1854 – 1900
- 3. Maeve Binchy, 1939 – 2012
- 4. Bram Stoker, 1847 – 1912
- 5. Roddy Doyle, Born 1958
- 6. John Banville, Born 1945
- 7. Brendan Behan 1923-1964
- 8. Samuel Beckett, 1906 – 1989
- 9. Emma Donoghue, Born 1969
- 10. Frank McCourt, 1930 – 2009
- 11. CS Lewis, 1898 – 1963
- 12. Sally Rooney, 1991
- 13. Claire Keegan, 1968
1. James Joyce, 1882 – 1941
James Joyce is one of the greatest authors of modern literature. His works include The Dubliners and Finnegan’s Wake. Joyce was also a well-known Irish poet and literary critic.
Perhaps his most famous book is Ulysses. Joyce spent years writing this book. It recounts a day in one man’s life: Leopold Bloom. Although a masterpiece, it’s also an exceptionally difficult read. It employs stream-of-consciousness prose that takes some interpretation to wade through. I spent several montsh trying to finish this book. Read our guide to the best 20th-century authors.
2. Oscar Wilde, 1854 – 1900
Oscar Wilde was a flamboyant, fashionable, and popular 19th-century writer. His colorful writing style, fashion sense, and wit were legendary. He’s known for one-liners like, “I can resist everything except temptation.” “Everything in moderation, except moderation.”
Wilde published a wide variety of influential works during his career. Some of his most famous books include A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
3. Maeve Binchy, 1939 – 2012
Maeve Binchy was born in Dublin in 1939. Many of her short stories and novels draw on her life experiences and are set in small towns and rural locations.
Her works are famous for unexpected endings, vivid imagery, and impressive character development. Binchy sold more than 40 million copies of her books. One of her most famous works is Tara Road. This book earned a place on Oprah’s Book of the Month Club and was also turned into a hit film staring Irish actress Brenda Fricker.
4. Bram Stoker, 1847 – 1912
Dublin-man Bram Stoker was a prominent gothic novelist and short-story writer. He wrote dozens of novels and short stories, but he’s best known as the author of Dracula. This famous character spawned more than 1,000 books about vampires. Today, tourists can take guided tours of Dublin and visit some of Stoker’s old haunts! The best horror authors can even win the Bram Stoker award!
5. Roddy Doyle, Born 1958
Roddy Doyle is one of Ireland’s most famous contemporary Irish authors. He excels at capturing the wit of Dubliners and the working class.
One of his most famous works is The Barrytown Pentology. These comprise The Van, The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Guts. The first three were turned into hit movies. Doyle also won the Booker Prize in 1993 for his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.
6. John Banville, Born 1945
Born in Wexford in 1945, John Banville is an award-winning modern literary Irish author. He published a short story collection, two nonfiction books, six plays, and eighteen novels during his prolific career. He is known for his witty sense of humor, dark stories, and attention to detail.
One of his most famous novels is called The Sea. Published in 2005, it won the Booker Prize that same year. The book is a powerful novel that talks about memory, love, and loss. The narrator is a fisherman from Ireland who returns to his childhood home, a seaside town, following the death of his wife. Banville also writes thrillers and noir under the pen name Benjamin Black.
7. Brendan Behan 1923-1964
Another one of the top Irish authors of all time is Brendan Behan. Before starting a literary career, he was a member of the Irish Republican Army. As a result, he served a significant amount of time in prison.
His unique life experiences, and his time in prison, influenced his writing style. Even though he was a controversial figure and a hard drinker, his writing has influenced a lot of authors. One of his most famous novels is called Confessions of an Irish Rebel.
8. Samuel Beckett, 1906 – 1989
Samuel Beckett was one of the most influential novelists, playwrights, and poets of the 20th century. Born in Foxrock in Co. Dublin, he wrote and published books in French and English. Most of his works enbrace themes related to human nature and societal issues of the day, like the horrors of a post war generation.
Many of his books have dark themes, supplemented by slightly comedic undertones. Even though he may not be as well known as his fellow Dubliner, James Joyce, he was a prolific writer. His works are regularly turned into plays in Ireland today. One of his most famous novels is Molloy. Published in 1951, it follows a group of bizarre characters as they go through an anonymous town and countryside. Beckett passed away in Paris in 1989
9. Emma Donoghue, Born 1969
Born in Dublin, Emma Donoghue is a novelist, historian, and screenwriter of Irish and Canadian descent. Her most famous novel is The Room, which was published in 2010. It was a finalist for the Booker Prize and has been widely acclaimed as an international bestseller. One of her earlier novels, The Hood, published in 1995, won the Stonewall Book Award.
In addition to her impressive work as a writer, she has also been a prominent advocate for LGBTQ rights. Other noted works by Donoghue include The Pull of the Stars and Haven. You might also enjoy our list of the best Australian authors.
10. Frank McCourt, 1930 – 2009
Frank McCourt was an author of Irish and American descent. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and was a prolific writer during his career. He wrote several popular novels, including Tis A Memoir, Teacher Man, Angela, and The Baby Jesus.
McCourt’s most famous book is the memoir Angela’s Ashes, which was published in 1996. This memoir recounts his early life in Limerick, Ireland. It generated controversy upon publication after McCourt’s mother, Angela, claimed his stories were overstated. However, the book is still popular today. For more, check out our guide to the best memoir writers. He famously offered this advice for writers, “Everyone has a story to tell. All you have to do is write it. But it’s not that easy.”
11. CS Lewis, 1898 – 1963
CS Lewis was born in Ireland but moved to Britain, where he spent most of his career. As a result, he is considered both an Irish author and a British author. He has had a tremendous influence on Irish culture. He spent much of his career teaching English literature at Oxford and Cambridge University. Even though he is mainly known for his fantasy and children’s books, he wrote in variety of genres, including nonfiction.
Lewis’s novels have been translated into numerous languages. He’s most famous for the Chronicles of Narnia, a fantasy classic that’s been turned into radio plays and films. The most popular book from this series is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Check out our guide to the best fantasy authors.
12. Sally Rooney, 1991
Novelist and screenwriter Sally Rooney was born in 1991 in Castlebar, County Mayo. She’s famous in Ireland and worldwide for her novels Conversations with Friends and Normal People, both of which received widespread critical acclaim. They were also turned into television shows. Her most recent book is Beautiful World, Where Are You? Rooney is considered the voice of the millennials due to her frank depictions of modern relationships.
13. Claire Keegan, 1968
Claire Keegan is an award-winning contemporary Irish short story writer. She was born in 1968 in County Wicklow. She has published several collections of short stories, including Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields, both of which earned widespread critical acclaim. The Oscar-nominated film The Quiet Girl (an excellent watch) is based on one of her short stories.
Keegan’s writing often explores themes of childhood, life in rural Ireland, and the importance of family. If you enjoyed learning about the best Irish authors, you might be interested in reading our guide on the best French authors.
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