If you were so inclined, you could probably spend the rest of your life reading nothing but Irish literature. Quite frankly, I’m half-tempted: as I read and researched for this post, I found enough literary leads to keep even the most voracious reader happy. To do full justice to the subject, I’d have to write a book.
Luckily, many people have beaten me to the punch. Here’s a short list of books our own library offers, meant to be that briefest of introductions to the literature of Ireland.
Irish Literature 1750-1900: An Anthology, ed. Julia M. Wright. A comprehensive overview of 150 years in Irish writing, this work contains treatises both historical and philosophical as well as extracts from folklore, opera and, of course, poetry.
Finding Ireland, Richard Tillinghast. Reading this book is like taking a long walk with a friend whose photographic memory expresses itself in one cheerful, rambly monologue. This delightful literary tour of Ireland is part travelogue, part love poem, and all wonderful.
For something slightly more comprehensive, you can have a Field Day, literally. In fact, you can have several, as all five volumes of the Field Day Anthology are available for checkout. Volumes four and five are specifically dedicated to Irish women’s writing and traditions.
Ciáran Carson’s translation of the Táin bó Cúalinge (the cattle raid at Cooley) is a fine introduction to Celtic epic tales. In this particular saga the mighty warrior Cú Chulainn battles an entire army over a brown bull, all for the sake of Queen Medb’s desire to have nicer livestock than King Ailill’s. It’s much more complicated than that, of course, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to see for yourself.
I could go on, of course. Purists might, for example, deem it sacrilege that I never once mentioned Yeats, Boland, Wilde (mere) or Wilde (fils), but rest assured: the library’s got you covered. In fact, why not stop by today and ask us about your favorite Irish novelist, poet, or playwright?