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7 Books to Read Before You Visit Ireland

Ireland’s landscapes are steeped in myths, legends and stories, and this amazing place has been the literary inspiration of many writers over the years.

Check out our list of 7 books to read before visiting the Emerald Isle.

By Dawn Rainbolt, Marketing Executive
More by Dawn

Happy World Book Day from Ireland, a land of literary inspiration

Read on for 7 texts you should read before you visit Ireland! 

1. Romantic Poetry of WB Yeats - inspired by Sligo

World Book Day

Drinking in the majestic shores of Lough Gill, immortalised forever by romantic poet WB Yeats.

For this World Book Day Ireland, start it off with Ireland’s famous Irish poet WB Yeats. Yeats spent many a happy summer in Sligo, the region his mother’s family comes from, and Sligo had an enormous impact on his work. Most of the places that feature in his famous (and less famous) poems are based on real places in Sligo, a small but beautiful county along Ireland’s northwest Wild Atlantic Way. Lough Gill, for example, is where the famous “lake isle of Inishfree” is supposedly located, though the actual island he describes is a composite of a few places.Dooney Rock, Hazelwood Forest, Ben Bulben, Glencar Waterfall and plenty of others are forever immortalised in Yeats’ romantic 19th century verses. Though you may not be able to read all of Yeats’ poetry, reading a few of his famous lines will help give you a bit of context and appreciation for Sligo before you travel to the southwest!

You too can visit the romantic, windswept landscapes, quiet forests and shimmering lakes of Sligo on our Biking & Yoga Escape.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis - inspired by Northern Ireland

World Book Day

Lanterns in the forest in Ireland – all that’s missing is the friendly centaur! (And perhaps a bit of snow).

CS Lewis is famous for creating the imaginary world of Narnia, where princes, snow queens, centaurs, dwarfs, talking animals and dozens of other fantastical beasts roam the land. Narnia isn’t real, Lewis earns his spot on this list of World Book Day Ireland authors as took enormous inspiration from his native Northern Ireland. Lewis was educated at Oxford, but he was born and bred in Belfast. Lewis has freely admitted that while Oxford inspired some parts of his chronicles (notably, the scenes in the real world), Northern Ireland was his primary source of inspiration for the imaginary land of Narnia.

The Royal Castle at Cair Paravel? He’s said to have been inspired by the clifftop Dunluce Castle. Childhood trips to the cascading slopes of the Mourne Mountains leading down to the narrow, glittering Carlingford Lough had a profound impact on him – and Narnia. He once said that while hiking through the magical canvas of the Mourne Mountains, one simply expects to come across a dwarf or centaur. Though a fantasy series, you’ll see amazing parallels between Northern Irish wilds and the land of Narnia and is a great read during your trip to Ireland!

World Book Day Ireland

Dunluce Castle – or Cair Paravel?

Visit Northern Ireland on our Hiking the Causeway Coast & Donegal trip.

3. Ulysses by James Joyce - inspired by the streets of Dublin

Dublin streets Temple Bar

Follow in the footsteps of James Joyce through the streets of Dublin – or a number of other Irish writers!

Ulysses (a latinised version of the name Odysseus), is the abstract modernist tale that follows Leopold Bloom, our Ulysses, as he wanders through the streets of Dublin over the course of a day (June 16th, 1904). Dublin is a city on the move, and though it is a place changed over time, the novel captures the essence of what life in Dublin was like at the turn of the century.

Though not a Dubliner himself, Dublin served as the streetscape for most of Joyce’s work. Explore Dublin through Joyce’s eyes as you follow the streets walked by Leopold Bloom and so many other characters. In the evening, join local book-loving actors on a literary pub crawl to visit sites (and pubs!) associated with James Joyce and other various Dublin writers such as Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett, WB Yeats and more.

Marsh Library Dublin

Exploring the exquisite Marsh’s Library, which looks exactly the same as it did when Bram Stoker was a scholar there, checking out books about history and Transylvania!

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker - inspired by Derry legends

World Book Day Ireland

Walk the walls and graveyards of Derry, exploring the dark corners of the busy city.

Though most people envision the dark, glowering, gothic castles of Transylvania as Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his gothic masterpiece Dracula, Stoker never actually visited the place (he simply saw images of the castles erupting out of the Carpathian Mountains and thought they were dramatic). He took inspiration closer to home, such as the Victorian graveyards of London, and the myths and legends of County Derry.

One myth in particular stands out, that of Abhartach, a magical and maniacal dwarf who continually rose from the dead, attacking and killing Derry’s villages. The undead dwarf was only definitely killed after a Derry chieftain buried him standing upside down with wooden hazel rods driven through his body. This time he did not return – and it’s not hard to see the connection to Stoker’s work. Explore the winding streets and high walls of Derry, a city that has had a troubled past – and a hopeful future.

Another way to connect with this famous author is by visiting Marsh’s Library in Dublin. Aside from the installation of electricity, this amazing place has not changed since the 1700s. Marsh’s Library was a source of escape and knowledge for a young Bram Stoker, and it was here he did much of his research on Transylvania, the history of Europe, vampires and Vlad the Impaler. A 2019 exhibition about Bram Stocker actually displays the books that Stoker consulted!

Marsh Library Dublin

The amazing Marsh’s Library

5. Poems by Seamus Heaney - inspired by Ireland's Blanket Bogs

World book day Ireland

Hauntingly beautiful, majestically desolate, explore the bogs such as this one in Connemara immortalised by Heaney and others.

And then there’s the Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney. Like Stoker, he too was from Derry. Though many of his poems were politically based, the Irish landscapes had a big impact on him. He was particularly fascinated with bogs – and the things that came out of them. To Heaney, bogs represented a sort of “memory bank” of Ireland as they carefully preserved anything that fell into them (including the famous bog bodies, some of which are today in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin).Unfortunately, bogs have been significantly reduced since Heaney’s day. Though he was a Derry native, today the best way to get a hands-on experience with that it meant to live in bogland in the blanket bogs of Connemara and Mayo, on Ireland’s western fringes. Here, too, you will get a chance to be immersed in Irish traditions – including the ancient Irish language. Even better, Connemara and Mayo are some of the best untouched landscapes in Ireland and make for some of the best hiking.

For World Book Day Ireland, visit the bogs of western Ireland on our more challenging hiking trip, Hiking the Mountains of Connemara & Mayo. For those looking for a gentler trip, consider instead hiking Connemara, the Burren and the Aran Islands.

6. Peig or An Old Woman's Reflections by Peig Sayers - the Blasket Islands

World Book Day Ireland

Overlooking the remote Blasket Islands from Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula – Ireland’s westernmost point.

Less well-known than the other authors on this list, Peig Sayers was an inhabitant of the remote Blasket Islands, a series of islands off the coast of the southernmost tip of the Dingle Peninsula in Co Kerry. Though now abandoned, Sayers lived in an island village until the islands were evacuated in 1952 amid growing governmental concerns about the harsh living conditions and the difficulties of bringing modern amenities to the islands. Peig’s book, simply called Peig, is a memoir of island life, and provides the reader with unique insight in the rural hardships faced by islanders even in 20th century Ireland – what now will feel like a world away.

Visit the Blasket Islands on our Island Hopping in Cork & Kerry trip.

7. Complete Plays by Oscar Wilde - Inspired by Dublin Society

Say hello to Ireland’s wit Oscar Wilde in the Merrion Square Park

Though not tied to a particular place, Ireland’s most famed wit Oscar Wilde must be on this World Book Day Ireland list. His wit perfectly captured the society and various classes of 19th century Ireland and England and provides fascinating insight into what made the Irish tick! Find Oscar Wilde’s statue in downtown Galway or in Dublin’s Merrion Square park, and then hop on a literary pub crawl under the cover of darkness to learn more about the world’s most beloved Oscar. You can also check out the Dublin Writers Museum and the renowned Book of Kells at the fabulous and beautiful Trinity College.

Feeling inspired thanks to World Book Day Ireland? Head to Ireland to discover the places you’ve read about!

Or, check out a tailor made trip perfect for you!

Related Departures

Trip Date Price Availability Book
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 14th Mar - 20th Mar 2020 €1,7108 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 9th May - 15th May 2020 €1,7953 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry 6th Jun - 12th Jun 2020 €1,9106 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Mountains of Connemara and Mayo 20th Jun - 26th Jun 2020 €1,7957 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry 11th Jul - 17th Jul 2020 €1,9107 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 18th Jul - 24th Jul 2020 €1,7953 place(s) leftBook Now
Bike Tour - Connemara & the Aran Islands 25th Jul - 31st Jul 2020 €2,2008 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Mountains of Connemara and Mayo 1st Aug - 7th Aug 2020 €1,7956 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 8th Aug - 14th Aug 2020 €1,7958 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry 22nd Aug - 28th Aug 2020 €1,9108 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Mountains of Connemara and Mayo 29th Aug - 4th Sep 2020 €1,7957 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry 5th Sep - 11th Sep 2020 €1,9106 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 12th Sep - 18th Sep 2020 €1,7958 place(s) leftBook Now

Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

“American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.”

View profileMore by Dawn

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