14 Historical Fiction Books Set in Ireland

Posted on March 14, 2017 by

Saint Patrick’s Day is the perfect time to pick up a book set in Ireland. These historical fiction reads — from authors like Robin Maxwell and Emma Donoghue — will immerse you in stories of the Emerald Isle. Publishers’ descriptions included.

 

The Wild Irish by Robin Maxwell

the wild irish by robin maxwell

Two female titans — perfectly matched in guts, guile, and political genius.

Elizabeth, queen of England, has taken on the mighty Spanish Armada and, in a stunning sea battle, vanquished it. But her troubles are far from over. Just across the western channel, her colony Ireland is embroiled in seething rebellion, with the island’s fierce, untamed clan chieftains and their “wild Irish” followers refusing to bow to their English oppressors.

Grace O’Malley — notorious pirate, gunrunner, and “Mother of the Irish Rebellion” — is at the heart of the conflict. For years, she has fought against the English stranglehold on her beloved country. At the height of the uprising Grace takes an outrageous risk, sailing up the Thames to London for a face-to-face showdown with her nemesis, the queen of England.

In this “enthralling historical fiction” (Publishers Weekly), Robin Maxwell masterfully brings to life these strong and pugnacious women in order to tell the little-known but crucial saga of Elizabeth’s Irish war.

 

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

the wonder by emma donoghue

In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, The Wonder works beautifully on many levels — a tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.

 

Ireland by Frank Delaney

ireland by frank delaney

In the winter of 1951, a storyteller, the last practitioner of an honored, centuries-old tradition, arrives at the home of nine-year-old Ronan O’Mara in the Irish countryside. For three wonderful evenings, the old gentleman enthralls his assembled local audience with narratives of foolish kings, fabled saints, and Ireland’s enduring accomplishments before moving on. But these nights change young Ronan forever, setting him on a years-long pursuit of the elusive, itinerant storyteller and the glorious tales that are no less than the saga of his tenacious and extraordinary isle.

 

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The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd

the princes of ireland by edward rutherford

The saga begins in pre-Christian Ireland with a clever refashioning of the legend of Cuchulainn, and culminates in the dramatic founding of the Free Irish State in 1922. Through the interlocking stories of a wonderfully imagined cast of characters — monks and noblemen, soldiers and rebels, craftswomen and writers — Rutherfurd vividly conveys the personal passions and shared dreams that shaped the character of the country. He takes readers inside all the major events in Irish history: the reign of the fierce and mighty kings of Tara; the mission of Saint Patrick; the Viking invasion and the founding of Dublin; the trickery of Henry II, which gave England its foothold on the island in 1167; the plantations of the Tudors and the savagery of Cromwell; the flight of the “Wild Geese”; the failed rebellion of 1798; the Great Famine and the Easter Rebellion. With Rutherfurd’s well-crafted storytelling, readers witness the rise of the Fenians in the late 19th century, the splendors of the Irish cultural renaissance, and the bloody battles for Irish independence, as though experiencing their momentous impact firsthand.

Tens of millions of North Americans claim Irish descent. Generations of people have been enchanted by Irish literature, and visitors flock to Dublin and its environs year after year. The Princes of Ireland will appeal to all of them — and to anyone who relishes epic entertainment spun by a master.

 

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

brooklyn by colm toibin

Colm Tóibín’s New York Times bestselling novel — now an acclaimed film starring Saoirse Ronan and Jim Broadbent nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture — is “a moving, deeply satisfying read” (Entertainment Weekly) about a young Irish immigrant in Brooklyn in the early 1950s.

“One of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

 

Trinity by Leon Uris

trinity by leon uris

From the acclaimed author who enthralled the world with Exodus, Battle Cry, QB VII, Topaz, and other beloved classics of 20th-century fiction comes a sweeping and powerful epic adventure that captures the “terrible beauty” of Ireland during its long and bloody struggle for freedom. It is the electrifying story of an idealistic young Catholic rebel and the valiant and beautiful Protestant girl who defied her heritage to join his cause. It is a tale of love and danger, of triumph at an unthinkable cost — a magnificent portrait of a people divided by class, faith, and prejudice — an unforgettable saga of the fires that devastated a majestic land, and the unquenchable flames that burn in the human heart.

 

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

transatlantic by colum mccann

In the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann thrilled readers with a marvelous high-wire act of fiction that The New York Times Book Review called “an emotional tour de force.” Now McCann demonstrates once again why he is one of the most acclaimed and essential authors of his generation with a soaring novel that spans continents, leaps centuries, and unites a cast of deftly rendered characters, both real and imagined.

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators — Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown — set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause — despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

The most mature work yet from an incomparable storyteller, TransAtlantic is a profound meditation on identity and history in a wide world that grows somehow smaller and more wondrous with each passing year.

 

The Irish Princess by Karen Harper

the irish princess by karen harper

A grand-scale historical novel from the national bestselling author of Mistress Shakespeare.

Born into a first family of Ireland, with royal ties on both sides, Elizabeth Fitzgerald-known as Gera-finds her world overturned when Henry VIII imprisons her father, the Earl of Kildare, and brutally destroys her family. Torn from the home she loves, her remaining family scattered, Gera dares not deny the refuge offered her in England’s glittering royal court. There she must navigate ever-shifting alliances even as she nurtures her secret desire for revenge. From County Kildare’s lush green fields to London’s rough-and-tumble streets and the royal court’s luxurious pageantry, The Irish Princess follows the journey of a daring woman whose will cannot be tamed, and who won’t be satisfied until she restores her family to its rightful place in Ireland.

 

1916 by Morgan Llywelyn

1916 by morgan llyweyn

At age 15, Ned Halloran lost both of his parents — and almost his own life — when the Titanic sank. Determined to keep what little he has, he returns to his homeland of Ireland and enrolls at Saint Edna’s school in Dublin. Saint Edna’s headmaster is the renowned scholar and poet, Patrick Pearse — who is soon to gain greater fame as a rebel and patriot. Ned becomes deeply involved with the growing revolution… and the sacrifices it will demand.

Through Ned’s eyes, Morgan Llywelyn’s 1916 examines the Irish fight for freedom — inspired by poets and schoolteachers, fueled by a desperate desire for independence, and played out in the historic streets of Dublin against the background of World War I. It is a story of the brave men and heroic women who, for a few unforgettable days, managed to hold out against the might of the British Empire.

 

The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan

the year of the french by Thomas Flanagan

In 1798, Irish patriots, committed to freeing their country from England, landed with a company of French troops in County Mayo, in westernmost Ireland. They were supposed to be an advance guard, followed by other French ships with the leader of the rebellion, Wolfe Tone. Briefly they triumphed, raising hopes among the impoverished local peasantry and gathering a group of supporters. But before long the insurgency collapsed in the face of a brutal English counterattack.

Very few books succeed in registering the sudden terrible impact of historical events; Thomas Flanagan’s is one. Subtly conceived, masterfully paced, with a wide and memorable cast of characters, The Year of the French brings to life peasants and landlords, Protestants and Catholics, along with old and abiding questions of secular and religious commitments, empire, occupation, and rebellion. It is quite simply a great historical novel.

 

Gracelin O’Malley by Ann Moore

gracelin o'malley by ann moore

Set during Ireland’s devastating potato famine, a spellbinding novel of a young woman torn between love for her family and duty to her English husband.

Patrick O’Malley names his newborn daughter Gracelin for the light of the sea that shines in her eyes. But when young Gracelin is only six years old, her mother’s untimely death drains joy and laughter from the O’Malley clan.

At 15, Gracelin saves her family from financial ruin by marrying Bram Donnelly, the son of a wealthy English landowner. But, even though Gracelin is Protestant, she is snubbed by English high society for marrying above her station. To temporarily appease her husband’s cruel nature, she intends to provide him with an heir — but that, too, will end in sorrow.

As famine sweeps Ireland, Gracelin openly defies her husband by feeding the desperate souls who come to their door. In secret, she also sides with the rebels who call themselves the Young Irelanders. Led by Morgan McDonagh and joined by Gracelin’s beloved brother, Sean, the Irelanders are determined to fight and free their homeland from the yoke of English rule.

A vivid chronicle of 19th-century Ireland, the first volume of Ann Moore’s popular trilogy introduces a courageous young heroine and movingly portrays an indomitable people as they struggle to survive the infamous famine and the brutal civil war that arrived in its wake. Fans of gripping historical fiction will love this “epic saga that sweeps you into the life of a remarkable woman” (Romantic Times).

 

Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly

galway bay by mary pat kelly

Here at last is one Irish family’s epic journey, capturing the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience. In a rousing tale that echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family, inhabiting a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations. Selling both their catch — and their crops – -to survive, these people subsist on the potato crop — their only staple food. But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees in one of the greatest rescues in human history: the Irish Emigration to America. Danger and hardship await them there. Honora and her unconventional sister Maire watch their seven sons as they transform Chicago from a frontier town to the “City of the Century”, fight the Civil War, and enlist in the cause of Ireland’s freedom. The Kelly clan is victorious. This heroic story sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today’s 44 million Irish Americans.

 

The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore

the girl in the castle by santa montefiore

International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the 20th century — perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.

Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched — even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.

Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.

When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested — and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.

A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

 

The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey

the yellow house by patricia falvey

The Yellow House delves into the passion and politics of Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 20th Century. Eileen O’Neill’s family is torn apart by religious intolerance and secrets from the past. Determined to reclaim her ancestral home and reunite her family, Eileen begins working at the local mill, saving her money and holding fast to her dream. As war is declared on a local and global scale, Eileen cannot separate the politics from the very personal impact the conflict has had on her own life.

She is soon torn between two men, each drawing her to one extreme. One is a charismatic and passionate political activist determined to win Irish independence from Great Britain at any cost, who appeals to her warrior’s soul. The other is the wealthy and handsome black sheep of the pacifist family who owns the mill where she works, and whose persistent attention becomes impossible for her to ignore.

 

Which of these books have you read? Tell us in the comments!

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