5 Irish Writers to Read Today at Country House Library

5 min read

Celebrating Irish Literature at Country House Library

In the world of literature written in the English language, the island of Ireland has punched above its weight for centuries, producing such writing greats as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Iris Murdoch, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney, all laying down seminal works - inspiration for following generations. A literary critic writing recently in The Guardian said, “Irish writing has never shied away from experimentalism, and nor have readers been frightened off by it. There is, in general, a far more relaxed approach to genre, a less divisive bracketing of “posh” and commercial writers, and less policing of the boundaries between fiction, nonfiction and other art forms.” We couldn’t agree more.

Here we select books by five of Ireland’s finest writers who often grace our shelves here at Country House Library.

James Joyce, Dubliners, Guild Books edition, 1947James Joyce's Dubliners (first published 1914)

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (1884 -1951), born in Dublin to middle-class parents, is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His 1922 novelUlysses being the benchmark work of art written in the ‘stream of consciousness’ style. While for the casual reader Ulysses is a challenge, and Finnegans Wake almost impenetrable, this featured book Dubliners,Joyce’s only short story collection, is accessible and a highly recommended starting point for anyone wishing to immerse themselves in this author’s work. 

First published in 1914, the stories form a depiction of Irish middle-class life in and around Dublin in the early 20th century. The tales were written when Irish nationalism and the search for national identity was at its peak and centre on Joyce's idea of an epiphany: a moment when a character experiences a life-changing self-understanding or illumination. The initial stories are narrated by child protagonists. Later stories deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people.

Shop now for vintage James Joyce books at Country House Library

Oscar Wilde, Plays, Prose Writings, and Poems, Everyman's Library editionOscar Wilde's Collected Works (first published 19078)

Poet, playwright, author, socialite, wit,Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854 – 1900), is probably most famous for his countless aphorisms which were interwoven into much of his dramatic and fictional works (Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, to name but three).

"I can resist everything except temptation."
"Everything in moderation, including moderation."
"To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance."

...are just three of the many hundreds of Wilde's witticisms which delighted the metropolitan 19th century middle classes. 

Wilde’s personal life, and death in exile in France, is of course equally infamous. Convicted of gross indecency with men following an unsuccessful suit of libel against his homosexual lover’s father, The Marquess of Queensbury, Wilde was sentenced to two years' hard labour. The experience in Reading Gaol sapped his health and spirit to the extent that he died three years after release.

The works of Oscar Wilde are a must for fans of Irish literature and make  a splendid addition to the shelves of any vintage home library.

Shop now for vintage Oscar Wilde books at Country House Library

Iris Murdoch,The Red and the Green, Reprint Society edition, 1967Iris Murdoch's The Red and the Green (first published 1965)

“We shall be better prepared for the future if we see how terrible, how doomed the present is.” 

Dame Jean Iris Murdoch DBE (1919-99),novelist and philosopher, is best known for her novels about good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious. Her first published novel, Under the Net (1954), was selected in 1998 as one of Modern Library's 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Her 1978 novel The Sea, the Sea won the Booker Prize. In 2008, The Times ranked Murdoch twelfth on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

This 1965 novel The Red and the Green was her ninth novel. It is set in Dublin during the week leading up to the Easter Rising of 1916 and is her only historical novel. Its characters are members of a complexly inter-related Anglo-Irish family who differ in their religious affiliations and in their views on the relations between England and Ireland. The plot combines a thoroughly researched account of the events leading up to the Easter Rising with a complicated sexual farce. This 1967 hardback edition is the perfect example of a vintage edition that would grace any collection of Irish literature.

Shop now for collectable Iris Murdoch books at Country House Library

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, Purnell edition, 1975Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (first published 1726)

Anglo-Irish poet, satirist, essayist, and political pamphleteer Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) was born in Dublin. He spent much of his early adult life in England before returning to Dublin to serve as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin for the last 30 years of his life. It was this later stage when he would write most of his greatest works. Best known as the author of A Modest Proposal (1729), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and A Tale Of A Tub (1704), Swift is widely acknowledged as the greatest prose satirist in the history of English literature.

Much of his masterpiece, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships, better known as Gulliver's Travels, reflects the author’s political experiences of the preceding decade. For instance, the episode in which the giant Gulliver puts out the Lilliputian palace fire by urinating on it can be seen as a metaphor for the Tories' illegal peace treaty; having done a good thing in an unfortunate manner. First published in November 1726, it was an immediate hit, with a total of three printings that year and another in early 1727. The striking red and gold decorative example pictured here is a vintage 1975 edition. 

Shop now for classic works by Jonathan Swift at Country House Library

Bram Stoker, Dracula, Chiltern Classics edition, 2020Bram Stoker's Dracula (first published 1897)

"That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds true love?”Count Dracula, from Dracula.

The Gothic novel Dracula by Bram Stoker (1847–1912, born Abraham Stoker in Dublin), published in 1897, remains the most popular literary work derived from vampire legends and became the basis for an entire genre of literature and film. The book comprises journal entries, letters, and telegrams written by the main characters.

It begins with Jonathan Harker, a young English lawyer, as he travels to Transylvania. When he arrives in Transylvania, the locals react with terror after he discloses his destination: Castle Dracula. When Harker meets Dracula, he acknowledges that the man is pale, gaunt, and strange. Harker becomes further concerned when, after Harker cuts himself while shaving, Dracula lunges at his throat. Soon after, Harker is seduced by three female vampires, from whom he barely escapes. He then learns Dracula’s secret—that he is a vampire and survives by drinking human blood.

The brand new, beautifully bound and patterned hardback edition of Draculahere is published by Chiltern Publishing, a horrifyingly good buy from the crypt of Country House Library!

Explore horror literature in the Country House Library Crypt now... ⚰️

Irish Writers at Country House Library

The magical ‘Emerald Isle’ has produced many jewels in the world of English language literature. Here we have selected five, but there are so many more to choose from in our collection of Irish literature at Country House Library.

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