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Best Books to Read Before Travelling to Ireland

Posted on Jul 05, 2018 by Dawn Rainbolt

Thinking about coming to Ireland? Or perhaps you’re already planning a trip? Here’s our list of best Ireland travel books before your journey to the Emerald Isle!

You might use your dog-eared copy of Lonely Planet or Fodor’s to plan your trip’s logistics. However, in this article, we’ve compiled a list of best Ireland travel books to read before travelling to Ireland based on reading recommendations made by local Irish travel enthusiasts, booksellers, and history buffs to really immerse yourself in the culture of Ireland before you arrive.

Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way by David Flanagan & Richard Creagh

Exploring Wild Atlantic Way - David Flanagan - best Ireland travel books

Exploring Wild Atlantic Way by David Flanagan.

The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500 km length coastal road that starts in Kinsale, Co Cork, and ends on the coast of Lough Foyle, just over the border from Derry, Co Antrim (which is in Northern Ireland). This extremely comprehensive book covers the entirety of the Wild Atlantic Way. Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way provides background information on diverse topics such as weather, wildlife, camping, outdoor activities, wild food, water safety and more.

Region by region, Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way follows the Wild Atlantic Way, providing information on towns, villages, islands, beaches and attractions as well as activities in each area, combined with inspiring photography to provide visuals. Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way the perfect companion to anyone eager to explore Ireland’s west coast as well as help visitors narrow down their trip to focus on the regions that interest them the most.

David Flanagan is also the author of several other books about Ireland, including Cycling in Ireland, Bouldering in Ireland, and Rock Climbing in Ireland. 

‘Round Ireland With A Fridge – Tony Hawks

Round Ireland With a Fridge - Tony Hawkes best Ireland travel books

Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks.

This comical tale tells the story of Tony Hawks’ journey of hitchhiking around Ireland. To win one of literature’s most ridiculous bets in Round Ireland With a A Fridge, British comedian Hawks sets off on a ridiculous journey to hitchhike around Ireland in one month…with a fridge in tow.

Together, they hitchhiked from Dublin through the Midlands into remote Donegal then down along the Wild Atlantic Way – Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry, Cork. Following the coast, they swept through Waterford, Wexford and up through Wicklow and back into Dublin, circling all of Ireland. Along the way, Tony and his fridge have all sorts of crazy adventures: a bit of surfing, a visit to a bachelor festival, meeting a real prince and a fake king and the fridge was even christened by nuns.

Round Ireland With a A Fridge is a hilarious take on a travelogue with interesting and intriguing insights into rural Ireland and the Irish people themselves.

The Dublin Saga: The Princes of Ireland & the Rebels of Ireland by Edward Rutherford

Visiting Ireland’s towering cathedrals, abbey ruins, rolling pastures dotted with sheep and cottages, and cheery villages is a lot more meaningful with perspective and historical context! Renowned historical fiction writer Edward Rutherford is famed for his comprehensive historical sagas such as the Princes of Ireland and the Rebels of Ireland, each which follow a group of families living in a specific destination over hundreds years. Rutherford has written two sagas about Ireland, from time just before Saint Patrick all the way to the twentieth century. Though extremely long (both are over 700 pages), the sagas provide a nearly complete historical picture of what life was like in Ireland through the centuries!

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Sligo Folk Tales by Joe McGowan

Sligo Folk Tales is a book by local historian and author Joe McGowan, but it is also part of a series, Folk Tales from the British Isles. Others in the series include titles such as Donegal Folk Tales, Antrim Folk Tales and more folk tales from other regions of Ireland (and the UK), making them perfect some of the best Ireland travel books to pick up on your journey.

In Sligo Folk Tales – as in each book – you will find a series of tales each tied to places within that county, compiled by local historians such as Joe McGowan. The tales will take you on a journey through the landscapes, culture, and history of some of Ireland’s most rural regions. Some of the tales are myths, others are oral histories, fairy tales, ghost stories, tales of legendary battles or heroic quests.

Here you will find tales of traditional rural ways of life among the residents of Sligo, their customs, and superstitions, alongside stories of legendary heroes, epic battles, and heroic deeds, as well as fantastical accounts of mythical creatures, faeries, witches, and ghostly goings-on.

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Paperboy by Tony Macaulay

Paperboy Tony Macaulay

Paperboy by Tony Macaulay

Paperboy: An Enchanting True Story of a Belfast Paperboy Coming to Terms with the Troubles is a memoir set in Belfast’s famed Shankill neighbourhood in the 1970’s, amidst bombings, shootings, fights and conflicts between Loyalists and Republicans. The drama of Belfast’s Troubles serves as the backdrop in this coming of age story about everyday life in Northern Ireland.

For anyone curious to understand the backstory of the Troubles and learn what life was like in Ireland in the late 20th century, this is a must read. Purchase Paperboy here.

Vanishing Ireland by James Fennell 

Vanishing Ireland James Fennell best Ireland travel books

Vanishing Ireland – James Fennell

Vanishing Ireland is the first in a series of Ireland travel books that takes readers back in time to an older Ireland. Through the recollections of over 50 individuals in each book, Fennell reminds us of the old ways of Ireland that are slowly – and unfortunately – dying out.

Themes include agriculture, music, trade, landscape, bringing to life Ireland during its formative years of the 20th century through the eyes of farmers, miners, fishermen, saddlers, publicans, housemaids, musicians, and other ways of life that are dying out. With interviews paired with images, Vanishing Ireland is the perfect companion for anyone looking for the ‘old’ Ireland.

Ireland: Eyewitness Accounts of Irish Life Since 1966, edited by John Bowman

100 Years of Irish Life John Bowman best Ireland travel books

Ireland – The Autobiography

Ireland: Eyewitness Accounts of Irish Life Since 1966 tackles the past one hundred years of Ireland through its people. Through Ireland’s living memory, editor John Bowman has collected tales on various historical events such as the Rising (from various perspectives), WWII, the revolutionary Micheal Collins, religious struggles from various points of view, the rise of the GAA (Gaelic football), emigration, marriage, censorship, women’s rights, Ireland’s vanishing language, traditional Irish music, hunger strikes, the Troubles, the 8th amendment, the Good Friday Agreement, asylum seekers, and more.

In this different take on Ireland travel books, a wide variety of authors have contributed texts, including several famous writers and activists like Constance Markievicz, Elizabeth Bowen, George Bernard Shaw, Seamus Heaney, and Edna O’Brien. This new book is a great way learn about Ireland’s history, people and culture through their own eyes.

Sounds good? Order it here.

The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers, edited by Sinead Gleeson

The Long Gaze Back - Sinead Gleeson best Ireland travel books

The Long Gaze Back

Ireland travel books also includes anthologies, notably, The Long Gaze Back which includes over 30 stories written by Irish women. In response to the general neglect in publicans written by women in the before the 21st century, this collection provides a voice to the women of Ireland.

The Long Gaze Back was chosen for Dublin’s 2018 choice for its award, One City, One Book award, an initiative organised by Dublin Public Libraries. Designed to encourage citizens to read a book connected with Ireland – and Dublin in particular – each spring, One City, One Book then organises events surrounding the text – in the case of The Long Gaze Back, events included literary tours of Kilmainham Gaol or the National Gallery, art exhibitions by female painters, writing workshops, speeches and discussions by writers connected with the book, food festivals, theatre programmes, music events, and more.

I Never Knew That About Ireland by Christopher Winn

I Never Knew that about Ireland - Christopher Winn - best Ireland travel books

I Never Knew That About Ireland – Christopher Winn

With sections focussing on each of the historic regions of Ireland – Connacht (northwest such as Sligo, Connemara, and Galway), Ulster (Donegal & the North), Leinster (Dublin, the southeast and a majority of the Midlands) and Munster (Clare, Kerry, Cork & southwest), this book is a great gateway into Irish culture. Showcasing some of the little-known but fascinating parts of Ireland, I Never Knew That About Ireland is a treasure trove of Ireland travel books wintriguing facts to inspire you on your upcoming voyage!

Follow the Old Road by Jo Kerrigan

Follow the Old Road - Jo Kerrigan - best Ireland travel books

Follow the Old Road – Jo Kerrigan

Newly published this 2018, Follow the Old Road takes us back through Ireland of the ages, looking at different ways people used to travel: rivers, foot trails, canal, rail, sea, as well as how these modes of travel have shaped Ireland, and made it the place we see today.

Kerrigan weaves the stories of the abandoned railway stations, the disused canals, the forgotten ports, taking the reader across Ireland on the scenic route. Follow the Old Road provides us with a unique perspective on Irish culture, history, and travel!

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McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland by Pete MacCarthy

Mccarthy's Bar - Pete McCarthy best Ireland travel books

Mccarthy’s Bar – Pete McCarthy

Another hilarious tale of Ireland travel books, author Pete McCarthy sets off on a discovery journey around Ireland. Obeying his own golden rule, ‘never pass a pub with your name on it,’ Pete McCarthy encounters bars and pubs bearing the name ‘McCarthy’ up and down Ireland.

Intermixed during these wanderings in McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland, Pete meets a host of interesting local characters or fellow travellers as he goes. This is the perfect light-hearted travelling companion for anyone who likes a good laugh.

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This concludes our Irish travel recommended reading list of Ireland travel books. Now that you’ve read about it, want to visit the Emerald Isle? Check out some Ireland Hiking & Biking Trips below!

Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

Hiking Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coastal Route
Location: Northern Ireland – Giants Causeway & Belfast
  • Hike iconic Irish landscapes including UNESCO World Heritage Site the Giant's Causeway, Slieve League Cliffs & Glenveagh National Park
  • Walk Ireland's most northernly peninsula and Star Wars filming location, Malin Head, where mountains meet sea.
  • Hike through Donegal, voted National Geographic's Coolest Place on Earth in 2017
  • Island hopping to Rathlin Island, in search of myths and puffins

Price: from €1,710

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Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry

Skellig Islands tours, Kerry, hiking and island hopping in Cork and Kerry
Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Guided gentle hikes & island hopping along the spectacular coastline and islands of southwest Ireland
  • Climb Skellig Michael, UNESCO World Heritage, and now a Star Wars filming location
  • Explore remote islands where the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) culture & tradition is still strong

Price: from €1,795

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Bike Tour - Donegal From Cliffs to Coast

Mamore Gap Bike Donegal Ireland - biking Donegal
Location: North West – Donegal & Sligo
  • Explore Slieve League, some of Europe's highest sea cliffs!
  • Cycle Donegal's remote landscapes - National Geographic's #1 Coolest Place on Earth
  • Reach Ireland's northernmost point of Ireland, Malin Head - a Star Wars filming location

Price: from €1,995

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Hiking the Wicklow Way

Hiking the Wicklow Way - Glendalough valley and lakes
Location: East – Dublin & Wicklow
  • Hike the best of the famous Wicklow Way in Ireland's Ancient East
  • Discover the magic of the ancient valley and monastic city of Glendalough
  • Visit Powerscourt Estate & Waterfall, rated among Top 10 Gardens of the World
  • One night's stay a deluxe eco-lodge & celebratory final night in Dublin

Price: from €1,795

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Bike Tour - The Kerry Peninsulas

Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Traverse the 3 wild and diverse peninsulas of Kerry: Beara, Iveragh & Dingle
  • Explore classic cycling routes: Molls Gap, the Gap of Dunloe & the Healy Pass
  • Pedal through Ireland's highest mountain range & Killarney National Park
  • Cycle to Ireland's westernmost point at Slea Head

Price: from €1,995

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About the author

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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.

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