Divided in two by political and religious differences, the isle of Ireland comprises two fabulously green entities: Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (a sovereign country). Lucky for us, delicious food, compelling stories, raucous pubs, and toe-tapping music know no boundaries.
It’s known as the Emerald Isle for good reason! Thanks to warm ocean currents and so much rain, Ireland is lush shades of kelly, emerald, and pine green as far as the eye can see. There are also dramatic, craggy coastlines with crashing surf and salt in the air. Why not head out for a leisurely ramble before heading to the pub for a bit of conversation and grub?
For centuries, the pub has been the center of Irish social life. It’s a music venue, gossip central, an employment center, and the meeting place for poets and revolutionaries. Once you’ve settled in, you can sip a lovely Irish whisky (or sink your teeth into a chocolatey Guinness), tuck into a bowl of Irish stew or comforting colcannon, tap your feet to a lively fiddle, and listen to old men harmonize on traditional ballads that might break your heart.
In this episode, we dig into the fraught history of The Troubles, introduce you to remarkable Irish women writers, and get real about leprechauns. Then we recommend five books that will transport you to Ireland, including a larger-than-life biography, a history of The Troubles, an atmospheric short story collection, a contemporary thriller, and a poignant historical novel set in Dublin.
Read the full transcript of Episode 24: Ireland.
Irish women authors: Mel talked about three authors you might want to try. Their books are listed above, and here’s more background info to get you started. The Guardian recommends Maria Edgeworth (who influenced Jane Austen), and here’s a review of her novel Patronage. Library Ireland offers a brief bio of Lady Sydney Morgan, and here’s an analysis of her novel The Wild Irish Girl. Literary Ladies Guide shares a bio of Elizabeth Bowen.
Irish food: The BBC recommends top 10 foods to try in Ireland.
Tetrapod Trackway: The petrified footprints of the first vertebrates to walk on land are preserved on Valentia Island. They’re 385 million years old. Read about it at Atlas Obscura.
The National Leprechaun Hunt: Every spring, the hunt for leprechauns is on the countryside of Ireland, and all proceeds from the hunting licenses are donated to child-related charities. Here’s the official website.
Interview with Emma Donoghue: The author of The Pull of the Stars talks about the timeliness of her novel and women’s roles in Ireland in the early 20th century.
Dr. Kathleen Lynn: This real-life woman is a character in The Pull of the Stars. Here’s a short video about her life and legacy, a transcription of her diary, and a story about her from The Irish Times.
Interview with Timothy Egan: The author of The Immortal Irishman talks about the larger-than-life-inspiration for his book at the Tuscon Festival of Books.
Interview with Kevin Barry: The author of That Old Country Music talks about the inspiration for his stories. And here’s the review from The New York Times that Mel mentioned in the show: ‘If you’re fond of sentences like “The sun was setting,” you’re free to leave now. Barry won’t watch evening fall with so little effort. “The late October day was peeled and cool,’ he’s more likely to write. “The light was miserly by 6, the last remnants clawed in weak scratches across the sky.” Or: “All across the silver hills in the east the cold spring night lovelessly descends.”
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Top image courtesy of K. Mitch Hodge.
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