Great Irish Non-Fiction [Extended]


UPDATE: Closing time extended until Midnight Sunday by popular demand

Fill those shelves!

The underrated, the overlooked, the once-censored and the mould-tweaking,

Can you recommend a book from the Irish non-fiction canon that deserves a place on the Shelf of Non-Fiction Goodness (above).

Choose from any genre: sporting memoir, Irish language classic, investigatory tome, frothy historical polemic…the choice is yours.

Your picks will be included in a Decent Irish Non-Fiction Reading List (for our eight birthday next month) with a copy of the fiction-free Broadsheet Book of Unspecified Thngs That Look Like Ireland to the finest entry.

To enter, complete this sentence.

‘Please place________________by_________________ as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its_______________________’

Lines MUST close at 9.45pm Midnight, Sunday!

Pic: ArtBay

107 thoughts on “Great Irish Non-Fiction [Extended]

  1. Ronán FitzGerald

    ‘Please place The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy by Tim Pat Coogan as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its factual depicting of an attemped genocide that has long been, and still is, brushed under the carpet.

    1. Ger Fay

      Ronan congratulations on raising the Truth on this scandal. You may already know but can I direct you to the excellent discussion on the topic on red Ice TV her and there you will also get a link to his site and research.

      I might also suggest to watch their documentary on the most evil bastard ever to come in the world, Peter Sunderland FG and there you will see just what Kenny and Varadgar are doing to the Country. All the major destructive events happening across Europe is there also and how Sunderland was tasked with it. Followed by Tony Blair. .

  2. Rugbyfan

    Please place Roy Keane: the autobiography by Roy Keane as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its detailing of what caused Irish people to take sides in was akin to a mini-civil war was as intriguing in the content as was the result we all witnessed in 2002.

    1. Optimus Grime

      To counter this I will suggest Captain Fantastic by Mick McCarthy owing to its detailing of actually doing well at a World Cup 12 years previously

      1. Rugbyfan

        yes agree, was a great read.
        Pity he took the eye off the ball in 2012 and forgot he had a captain fantastic that could have lifted the cup in 2002.

  3. Spud

    Please place ‘Chuck Feeney: the billionaire who wasn’t’ by Conor O’Clery as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its fascinating insight into the reclusive philanthropist who has given much to his ancestral home.
    It’s rare I’d get the time, or the motivation, to pick up a book to be honest, but this was such an engaging read.

    Notable hat tip to Johnny Giles autobiography.

    Looking forward to seeing more recommendations on here.

  4. Rapscallion

    Ireland Since the famine by F.S.L. Lyons because it’s an excellent history of Ireland as well as being a piece of literature in its own right.

    1. Tim.

      It’s a revisionist piece of rubbish. Lyons’ central point is that we should’ve been glad we were colonized.

      1. Bernie

        Tim. – you’d be amazed how many in Ireland suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, strange but true…

  5. Ina

    Whittled Away by Padraic Fogarty. Very well researched, very disturbing, it’s about the agro-business and nature in Ireland. Frank Connolly’s book on Gilmartin is a masterpiece.

  6. Ina.

    Also, and Broadsheet should give a prize to anyone who get get a copy of this book, The Death of Fr. Molly by Tom Reddy. It was pulped almost as soon as it was published. Even the National Library of Ireland doesn’t have a copyright copy of it which is pretty much unheard of. Have been dying to read it the last decade, but it can’t be got for love or money.

  7. fez

    Please place An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its great insight into life as a hostage in the middle east

  8. scottser

    please place ‘send em home sweatin – an irish showband story’ by vincent power as a great example of non-irish fiction owing to its complete lack of misery and pessimism and for its glorification of balls-out shenanigans.

  9. Bernie

    ‘Please place, ‘On Another Man’s Wound’ by Ernie O’Malley, as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to it’s being a valid account of the backstory of the struggle in Ireland, between 1916-1921, of, as stated in the book, “an empire and an unarmed people”.’

  10. Rugbyfan

    also Peig by Peig Sayers, while not everyone has read it they are certainly aware of it!

  11. kellma

    I must shamefacedly admit that I did not know that Peig was non-fiction or that she wrote it herself.

  12. johnny

    Please place The Moriaity Tribunal Vol 2 by The Honourable Mr Justice Michael Moriarty as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its stark illustration and reminder that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

  13. Nigel

    Hard Cases by Gene Kerrigan, absolutely riveting true crime stories that ends with the epic account of the Border Fox that is tense, fast-paced and amazing with its twists and turns.

    Also another vote for Whittled Away. Essential reading.

  14. Sarah K

    Please place A Dictionary of Hiberno English by Terence Patrick Dolan as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its legitimising and honouring of the Irish use of English and recognition and promotion by the author of Dublinese as a dialect rather than us just ‘not knowing how to speak proper’.

  15. ReproBertie

    Please place Brexit and Ireland by Tony Connelly as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its incredible insight to Irish preparations and jaw dropping UK naivety.

  16. Cian

    Please place Down Down Deeper and Down – Ireland in the 70s and 80s by Eamonn Sweeney as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its ability to effectively be an academic, paper equivalent of Reeling in the Years – including bits too bad to ever go on RITY

    Had to go dig it out as thinking of a submission led me to ‘that 80s book by that journo’. Thorough and usable as a tertiary historical source yet written in an entirely accessible manner. Was some suggestion of an 80s/90s follow up but nothing as yet.

  17. Clampers Outside!

    ‘Please place A Ton of Malice by Barry McKinley as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its in your face humour and great heart… and it comes with an acknowledgement to The Story House, and that first TSH course promoted by Broadsheet a few years ago :)

  18. The Real Shrimply Pibbles

    Please place The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival & Manners by J.P. Dunleavy as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its essential guidance on how to rise above the filth around you.

  19. DaithiG

    Please place The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party by Brian Hanley and Scott Millar as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its explaining how the North of Ireland could have gone down the route of a Working Class revolt as opposed to the sectarian route that it did’

    1. Ina.

      With Eoghan Harris and Eamonn Gilmore leading them into the paradize of Bertie Ahern worship.

    2. Cian

      Decent read, wouldn’t have thought of it myself but its on the shelves here, somewhere.

      1. Willie Banjo

        Great read. Amazing how many WP figures there were in the Irish media in the 1970s and 80s. Though a small party, they had a disproportionate influence on public debate and the media consensus of the time, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland.

        1. Ina.

          The Worker’s Party introduced a huge dose of revisionist rhetoric into RTE. They seemed more intent on defeating the Provos than defeating British militarization.

  20. DaithiG

    Please place “Guerrilla Days in Ireland” by Tom Barry as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its account of true Irish revolutionaries fighting for something worthwhile.

    1. Otis Blue

      A great read.

      To which I’d add:

      Stone Mad by Seamus Murphy on the Stone Carvers craft.

      Irish Heritage by E. Eystn Evans

      Michael O’Sullivan’s brilliant biography of Brendan Behan.

      Finders Keepers – three decades of selected prose by Seamus Heaney

      Eileen Gray – HerWork and Her World by Jennifer Goff

      Only a Game? And The Rocky Road by Eamon Dunphy

      Irish Country Furniture 1700-1950 by Claudia Kinmonth

      1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

        I was taught art by Seamus Murphy’s wife! We hadn’t a clue who he was.

          1. Otis Blue

            True. He had an interesting book of Irish photos about a year ago.

            He’s a different Seamus Murphy though.

        1. Otis Blue

          Random fact: his nephew Prof Ciaran Murphy is Dean of the Cork University Business School, UCC.

      2. Otis Blue

        Not forgetting the Atlas of the Irish Revolution. A fabulously detailed door stopper of a tome on the defining era in modern Irish history.

        I’d also make room for Brand New Retro by Brian McMahon which with great humour reminds us of who we were.

        The Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney is a brilliant read and poses many questions that remain to be answered. It’s essential reading in understanding how peace was achieved in the North.

        Lastly I love David Creedon’s Ghosts Of The Faithful Departed and his photographs of abandoned Irish Houses

        Pro Tip: A couple of hours in Charlie Byrnes bookshop in Galway is one of life’s simplest pleasures. It’s everything a bookshop should be and everything that Amazon isn’t.

        1. Otis Blue

          If you’re keen on a copy of the Irish Heritage book or of Stone Mad, I’m sure I have spare copies. I’ll happily send them to you for free. I managed to replace these with first editions in hardback.

          On Tom Barry’s Guerilla Days in Ireland I did manage to pick up a hardback first edition from 1949 with original dust jacket in super condition. It has b/w photos and pull out maps of the ambush sites and the positions taken by the West Cork Brigade. It’s a thing of beauty.

          Random fact: Tom Barry saw out his final days in a apartment in Daunt Square in Cork city, the ground floor of which is now a McDonalds restaurant. Freedom Fries how are ya?

          1. Otis Blue

            Could well have been. It’s at the intersection of Grand Parade and Pana.

            It’s where various protests and assemblies tend to start.

  21. Feargus

    Please place ‘In Irish Waterways’ by Edward O’Regan as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to it being an evocative memoir of the exploration of rivers in the countryside of 1940’s Ireland. Full of the adventures and escapades of an amateur boxer and his pals, with innocent bromance, local lore and practical advice. ‘It was upon one fine sunny day, sitting by the banks of the Liffey and dreaming under half-closed eyelids of the romance of rivers, that it came upon me how i had so carelessly neglected exploring them….’

  22. Feargus

    Please also place ‘My England, My Ireland – Two Irelands, One Capital’ by Paddy McGarvey as an example of great Irish non fiction owing to it’s description of a remarkable North-South solution told through the memoirs of a former Fleet Street hack. (I told you I’d give you a plug Dad!).

        1. bisted

          …hah…my dad and yours were great friends…small world…Seamies got a long way to go before the biography…

  23. Frilly Keane

    Please place Over the Bar by Breandan O hEithir as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its place by my bed for over 25 years

    Its like an old friend,
    and no matter what page I land on, and no matter how many times I’ve already read it, I still smile and recognise its comradeship.

    its me in a way

  24. Bernie

    ‘Please place ‘One Day In My Life’ by Bobby Sands, as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to it’s being written by an undauntable man of such tender years, who sacrificed his life for five very basic human demands, for Republican prisoners of war. It’s the most harrowing and raw book that I have read to date, detailing the sadistic, punishing torture and beatings of a man by prison guards. No matter how vicious and cowardly they were to him, and the other nine men also on hunger strike, they could not break them’.

    I read this book aged thirteen, his words (and the unchecked acts of the prison officers) remain ingrained on my brain and heart. He and the other nine hunger strikers paid the ultimate price in a war they should never have had to fight. Bobby Sands’ poem, ‘The Rhythm Of Time’ is a poem that everyone should read, also, the strength of his unflinching spirit is something I still draw on, in testing times.

    1. johnny

      I still read his poetry,have’nt read this in a while,his actions and the others also profoundly affected me grown-up,donwloaded your other recommendation as I hadn’t read it, hopefully the weather holds for your day out at the beach:)

      1. Bernie

        Hi Johnny, his poetry book, ‘Prison Poems’ by Bobby Sands, with the green cover, is probably the same one you have, those poems are powerful, the men were unbelievably selfless and stoic. The toughest of times in relatively recent history. Ernie O’Malley followed ‘On Another Man’s Wound’ with ‘The Singing Flame’, if you’re interested, which I must get around to reading.

        Thank you, hope you get to do something enjoyable yourself, in this glorious weather ;-)

        1. Johnny

          Thanks Bernie,it is indeed and it’s got same place as Frillys book (which I also hope read) thanks for the recommendations,I tend to be a solitary type and read quite a bit-this weekend is surfing/fishing and hopefully reading these:)

          Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy-Haskel/Westlake
          War on Peace-Farrow
          The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa-Sun

          (Apols non irish and miles off topic)

          1. Bernie

            Johnny, being a solitary type is the way forward, nothing like the sound of silence – bliss. You have a full weekend ahead of you – anything based around the water is a winner, you can’t beat it. You’ll be doing very well to get through those books, that’s a bit of a pile you have there for a couple of days, mustn’t need much sleep.

            No worries, I’ve a couple of non-Irish ones to skim through myself – ‘It Is Just You, Everything’s Not Sh*t’ which will be a charm I’m sure and a life-code one – they may end up in the bin ;-)

  25. Papi

    Please add “The Irish in the American civil war” by Damian Shiels as an example of great Irish non-fiction as it shows the human side of the men and women affected both in America and at home.

  26. Lobster

    Please place Maamtrasna, the murders and the mystery by Jarlath Waldron as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its gripping story of the murders and the trials that followed

        1. Nigel

          Brilliant suggestions but only four books by Irish women?

          The Burning Of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke. A bit like Maamtrasna, this is another notorious and horrifying story from Irish history. Exceptionally thoughtful and well-written, this paints the event as a flash-point in the slow change from superstition to modernity.

          1. Lobster

            No worries, recommendation is appreciated! I mostly read either fiction or science books ( not Irish so I won’t be so crass as to name names here) but happy to get tips based on a book I loved:)

  27. Kolmo

    Please place Namaland by Frank Connoly as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its detailed research into the shadowy operations of NAMA and who actually is benefiting from the current property and related housing crises…

  28. Slightly Bemused

    There is a great book, I think called The History of the Irish People (not the recent 2012 book by Neil Hegarty, but covering the same subject. I have purchased but not yet read that one) which is a really good account of, well, the Irish people. It was written in the 60s I think, but for the life of me I cannot recall the author. I am not at home and so cannot get at my copy to check this.

  29. Brian

    Please place “Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way” and “Cycling in Ireland” by David Flanagan as examples of great Irish non-fiction owing to their completeness and usefulness to locals and tourists alike.

  30. Cian

    Please place”Round Ireland With A Fridge” by Tony Hawks as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its low-brow appeal and the remarkable, inspirational and, at times, downright silly adventure he has. With a Fridge. Hitchhiking around Ireland. To win a bet.

    1. Otis Blue

      In a similar vein but a better read I think is McCarthy’s Bar by the late Pete McCarthy

  31. Ask Arsene

    Please place INFRA by Richard Mosse as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to it’s wordless flight into the non visible spectrum .

  32. Barry

    Please place Dublin Tenement Life by Kevin C. Kearns as an example of great Irish non-fiction owing to its truly horrific stories of a city once plagued by deadly and squalor conditions.

  33. jusayinlike

    “Disappeared off the face of the earth” by Jim Cairns..

    Missing people cold cases in Ireland..

  34. Cornelius O L

    please place The Green Flag by Robert Kee. A very rare thing in being a fair and balanced approach to Irish nationalism, by an esteemed English historian. I hope it being written by an Englishman, doesn’t rule it out.

  35. Hans Zeuthof

    Please place The Four Green Fields by George O’Brien.
    Published in 1936, it is a brilliant oversight of the young State, the North and relations with our nearest neighbour.
    Beautifully written, O’Brien lamented the national question going to the fore when the social question needed more urgent tackling.
    For this line, among many, he deserves to be on the shelf:
    “The anti-treaty party has certainly made the Free State safe for the bourgeoisie.”

  36. Parp

    Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan
    A Drink With Shane MacGowan by Victoria Clarke and Shane MacGowan

  37. Otis Blue

    Words We Don’t Use by Diarmuid O’Muirithe is a great lexicon of little used, local vernacular or obselete Irish words.

  38. Lilly

    Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind: The Life and Letters of an Irish Zen Saint by Maura Soshin O’Halloran.

    I also enjoyed a biography recommended by Brother Barnabas a few weeks ago: Samuel Beckett, the Last Modernist by Anthony Cronin. Good call BB, thanks.

  39. Pixie Hat

    Crimes worse than death by Kate Shanahan
    Masterminds of the Right by Emily O’Reilly
    Everything by Nell McCafferty
    Are you somebody by Nuala O’Faolain


    Please place ‘A Fan for All Seasons’ by Graham Howard as an example of great Irish non-fiction, owing to its informative and entertaining ability to bring to light many stories from the 90+ year history of the League of Ireland, which otherwise would have disappeared along with the characters who created them.

  41. Stan

    Dublin: 1660 -1860 by Maurice Craig – rigorous and entertaining architectural and -inter alia – social history of the metrolops

  42. Damien o CALLAGHAN

    Only A Game? – Eamon Dunphy
    A Season with Millwall 1973 – 1974
    It has been voted the best football book ever written
    Numerous Times

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