You might not be able to travel to the Emerald Isle at the moment, but you can delight in its landscapes and culture through the power of its literature. If you’re looking for a good book to pass the time while we are confined to home, it’s got to be the works of some of Ireland’s, and the world’s, greatest writers – W B Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney and James Joyce will get you started. And the likes of Samuel Beckett, C S Lewis, Anne Enright and Joseph O’ Connor, among a great many others, will keep you going.
The majestic words of these masters evoke the soul of the island, its magnificent landscapes and the spirit of its people, transporting you into the heart of Ireland.
Take W B Yeats, one of four Irish Nobel laureates. In his Collected Works you’ll find wonderful evocations of Ireland’s landscape, “There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,” (The Lake Isle of Innisfree) and its legends, “Come away, O human child, To the waters and the wild, With a fairy hand in hand,” (The Stolen Child).
Beautiful County Sligo is known as Yeats’ Country because of its strong connection to the writer. He is buried there in the churchyard at Drumcliffe in the shadow of the majestic mountain, Ben Bulben.
Marvel at the linguistic brilliance of another Nobel prize winner, Seamus Heaney, who once wrote: “If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.” Heaney took inspiration from growing up on a farm in County Londonderry.
His poems speak of digging turf, blackberry picking and the bucolic setting of his youth, while his genius is celebrated in the Heaney HomePlace, a place to bookmark for a future visit.
Or delve into the Dublin of 1904, the setting for James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses, and follow Leopold Bloom over the course of one day as he moves through the city. From Martello Tower in Sandy Cove (now a James Joyce Museum) to Glasnevin Cemetery, Grafton Street and numerous other stops, the novel brilliantly evokes the character of the city and its people.
For a more modern read, bestselling author Cecilia Ahern’s books are highly entertaining and reflect present-day Ireland and its people. Man Booker prize-winner Milkman by Belfast-born Anna Burns is set in Northern Ireland and has its own energy and voice, while Maeve Binchy’s much-loved novels sympathetically capture the warmth of small-town life in Ireland.
Other classic books, while not set in Ireland, were inspired by its brooding landscape. The stunning Mourne Mountains in County Down inspired C S Lewis to create the world of Narnia.
He is quoted as saying of the Mournes “I have seen landscapes which, under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge”.
And another giant was inspired by Cave Hill in Belfast. The landmark, locally known as Napoleon’s Nose, is said to have put Jonathan Swift in mind of a sleeping giant, later becoming the famous hero of Gulliver’s Travels.