Historical Fiction

8 Historical Fiction Books Set in Ireland to Transport You Back in Time

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Katie Moench


Katie Moench is a librarian, runner, and lover of baked goods. A school librarian in the Upper Midwest, Katie lives with her husband and dog and spends her free time drinking coffee, trying new recipes, and adding to her TBR.

For a smaller, island nation, the history of Ireland is vast and encompasses centuries of religious changes, revolutionary struggles, and a strong history of poetry and prose. Beginning with Celtic polytheism and early interactions with Vikings from Scandinavia, the history of Ireland became a fertile ground for myths and legends that still appear in literature to this day. From there, the Norman Invasion of the 1100s marked the first incursion of what would one day be the British Empire onto the island. This would lead to further English conquest over the next several centuries and eventually English rule — a rule that would give rise to famine, struggle, and, eventually, independence.

It would be impossible to fully capture the history of Ireland (or any country) through a short list of books, but the historical fiction books set in Ireland here will help transport you to major events and back in time to different ages of Irish history. From the earliest exchanges between scattered towns and trading posts up through the late 20th century, these novels capture the sights, sounds, and people of Ireland’s past. Many of these novels have been out for a while, but new and more diverse fiction is appearing constantly in Ireland, a country with a long tradition of acclaimed authors, through initiatives such as Breaking Ground Ireland.

8 Historical Fiction Books Set in Ireland

princes of ireland_The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherfurd book cover

The Princes of Ireland (The Dublin Saga #1) by Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd’s Dublin Saga series takes readers from the time of early Ireland through the rebellions and revolts that shaped the country in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the first book, readers are taken on a journey from the early days of Celtic polytheism through the arrival of St. Patrick and the Vikings, and Henry II.

Seek the fair land book cover

Seek the Fair Land by Walter Macken

This expansive novel (that leads into a series) begins in 1641 when merchant Dominick McMahon, despite his peaceful nature, finds himself called to take up arms against Cromwell’s army during the Cromwellian invasions. Spanning several generations, Macken’s works chronicle the beginnings of the struggle for Irish independence.

The Pawnbroker's Reward by Declan O’Rourke book cover

The Pawnbroker’s Reward by Declan O’Rourke

This hyper-local, documentary-like novel is the story of the Great Famine through the eyes of one family. The family of Pádraig ua Buachalla in Macroom, Co. Cork is suffering, as is everyone around them. Entwined with their story is that of pawnbroker Cornelius Creed, a compassionate man who straddles the divide between rich and poor in Co. Cork. Through the stories of these two men, O’Rourke weaves a highly realized portrait of this time in Irish history.

The Pull of the Stars Book Cover

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

In 1918, Ireland is ravaged by both the wounds of World War I and the influenza pandemic. In a city hospital, Nurse Julia Power watches over pregnant women under quarantine. There, she finds herself constantly battered by the dichotomy of ushering new life into the world while coping with the death that is all around her.

1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion by Morgan Llywelyn book cover

1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion by Morgan Llywelyn 

Titanic survivor Ned Halloran has returned to his homeland to attend school in Dublin after losing both of his parents in the ship’s sinking. There, he meets the famed Patrick Pearse, a revolutionary leader and the headmaster of his new school. Through Ned’s eyes, readers get a glimpse into the Irish revolution against the British Empire and the history of the revolution in World War I-era Ireland.

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon book cover

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon

What the Wind Knows combines historical fiction with a dash of time travel. Anne Gallagher has traveled back to the Irish home of her beloved grandfather to spread his ashes. As she mourns and reflects on his life, she finds herself transported back to Ireland in 1921, where tensions are rising in the struggle for Irish independence and Anne finds herself the guardian of a young boy whose mother has gone missing.

Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O'Connor book cover

Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor

Most lists of must-read Irish authors will include James Joyce as one of their first names. But what of Nora, Joyce’s wife, muse, and mother of his children? Though Nora believes in the genius of Joyce’s writing, she’s also faced with managing his gambling, his drinking, and the hardship of supporting a family on meager earnings. A fascinating novelization of the lesser-known woman behind one of Irish literature’s most well-known names.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan book cover

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

The shortest book on this list, Keegan’s story also takes place fairly recently in Irish history. It’s 1985 in an Irish town and Bill Furlong is a coal and timber merchant making his rounds in the busy weeks before Christmas. One day, he glimpses a scene that is a window into one of the most secret and shameful legacies of the cultural and religious control of Ireland, leaving him to reckon with the silence of those around him.

If you’re looking for more Irish literature, check out our lists of essential classics or must-read Irish authors. And of course, we have plenty of historical fiction book lists for you to explore!