Preparing for a great day.
Before I get to the recommended books, I’d like to think a bit about the actual day. It’s unfortunate when a Christian feast or holy day becomes disconnected from its meaning. St Valentine, Easter, Christmas, Whitsun, have been broken on the rocks of secularisation. I hold no great desire to make anyone adhere to any religious belief, and while March 17th is still known as St Patrick’s Day, it has been buried under a tsunami of drinking, dressing in silly hats and costumes, leprechauns, and colouring everything from faces to drinks and food in vivid shades of green.
Saint Patrick and Ireland, in terms of celebration, are practically synonymous. Patrick was born in the 4th century and captured by slavers when he was a young man. He went on to become a great missionary. His conversion of the Irish people was swift, and most importantly, peaceful.
So whether you celebrate the day in the time-honoured manner, or spend it in a more chilled and relaxed way, how better to do the one or recover from the other, than with some great Irish romances, and some food and drink from our Book Bites page to help you read and/or recover.
First book is from the wonderful writer Maeve Binchy, and I’ve chosen a favourite of mine, Circle of Friends.
It began with Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, growing up, inseparable, in the village of Knockglen. Benny—the only child, yearning to break free from her adoring parents…Eve—the orphaned offspring of a convent handyman and a rebellious blue-blood, abandoned by her mother’s wealthy family to be raised by nuns. Eve and Benny—they knew the sins and secrets behind every villager’s lace curtains…except their own. It widened at Dublin, at the university where Benny and Eve met beautiful Nan Mahlon and Jack Foley, a doctor’s handsome son. But heartbreak and betrayal would bring the worlds of Knockglen and Dublin into explosive collision. Long-hidden lies would emerge to test the meaning of love and the strength of ties held within the fragile gold bands of circle of friends.
Next is an equally brilliant author, Edna O’Brien, and her classic, Country Girls. Published in 1960, it broke through some of the silence on sex and social issues. After the Second World War, Ireland was particularly repressive in these areas, and the Irish Censor banned the book. Indeed, her family were shamed and it is alleged that their parish priest publicly burned copies of the book.
It is the early 1960s in a country village in Ireland. Caithleen Brady and her attractive friend Baba are on the verge of womanhood and dreaming of spreading their wings in a wider world; of discovering love and luxury and liquor and above all, fun. With bawdy innocence, shrewd for all their inexperience, the girls romp their way through convent school to the bright lights of Dublin – where Caithleen finds that suave, idealised lovers rarely survive the real world.
For a more modern taste I have chosen the fabulous Cecelia Ahern’s, Love, Rosie.
What happens when two people who are meant to be together just can’t seem to get it right? Rosie and Alex are destined for one another, and everyone seems to know it but them. Best friends since childhood, their relationship gets closer by the day, until Alex gets the news that his family is leaving Dublin and moving to Boston. At 17, Rosie and Alex have just started to see each other in a more romantic light. Devastated, the two make plans for Rosie to apply to colleges in the U.S. She gets into Boston University, Alex gets into Harvard, and everything is falling into place, when on the eve of her departure, Rosie gets news that will change their lives forever: She’s pregnant by a boy she’d gone out with while on the rebound from Alex. Her dreams for college, Alex, and a glamorous career dashed, Rosie stays in Dublin to become a single mother, while Alex pursues a medical career and a new love in Boston. But destiny is a funny thing, and in this novel, structured as a series of clever e-mails, letters, notes, and a trail of missed opportunities, Alex and Rosie find out that fate isn’t done with them yet.
Nora Roberts is a prolific and bestselling author who has many novels set in or about people from Ireland. In this case, I have chosen a trilogy about the Concannon sisters. Born In Fire is the first.
Maggie and Brianna Concannon are two very different sisters. The calm and gentle Bri seems able to weather any storm, even the constant criticism that rains down on them both from their mother, but Maggie is a passionate and fiery artist whose temper is as bold as her art. Their mother’s bitterness is a mystery to Bri and Maggie, until secrets from the past challenge everything they’ve come to believe. It’s Maggie’s skill as a glass blower that brings Rogan Sweeney, the international gallery owner, to her small cottage in County Clare. His interest in her is purely professional, until their personalities clash and sparks begin to fly . . . As her career takes off, how will Maggie cope with the heat of the spotlight and feelings for Rogan that she would rather ignore?
Born in Ice is the second book, and Born in Shame is the third.
Susan Lanigan’s White Feathers is on my to read pile as it was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value, so I have no hesitation in passing on the recommendation.
Two lives in danger – her lover’s and her sister’s. But she must choose only one. In 1913, young Irish emigrant Eva Downey is trapped in London with a remote father and hostile stepmother. When she is awarded a legacy from an old suffragette to attend a finishing school in Kent, she jumps at the chance. At the school, she finds kinship and later falls in love with her teacher Christopher Shandlin, her intellectual equal. But when war does break out, her fanatical and disapproving stepsister Grace forces a choice on Eva. She must present Shandlin, who refuses to fight, with a white feather of cowardice, or no money will be given for her sister Imelda’s life-saving treatment in Switzerland. Caught in a dilemma, she chooses her sister over her lover, a decision which will have irrevocable consequences for both her and Christopher and haunt her for the rest of her life.
This Is Now by Ciara Geraghty is perhaps a little different from the run of the mill romance. Another one recommended to me which I am passing on to you.
An ordinary day. An ordinary bank. An ordinary street in an ordinary town. Nothing ever happens, until, one day, a shocking robbery turns life upside down for five people:
- Cillian, a police detective
- Martha, the woman he thought was the life of his life
- Tobias, who came to Ireland after WWII and now lies in a coma, shot in the bank robbery
- Roman, the young Polish teenager who is suspected of pulling the trigger
- his mother Rosa, the cleaner, who dreamed of a better life for herself and her son
Things will never be ordinary again. Ciara Geraghty’s writing has that rare ability to make you laugh out loud as well as cry. She combines tangled human relationships with humour, romance and warmth to create something truly special.
A romance with a difference in The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor
Inspired by true events, the New York Times bestselling novel The Girl Who Came Home is the poignant story of a group of Irish emigrants aboard RMS Titanic—a seamless blend of fact and fiction that explores the tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants. Ireland, 1912. Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the lucky few passengers in steerage who survives. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that terrible night ever again. Chicago, 1982. Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her Great Nana Maggie shares the painful secret she harboured for almost a lifetime about the Titanic, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.
I’m a great lover of Teen/YA/NA fiction, and it would be remiss of me to leave these great books out of the list. I have to say that some of the best and greatest writing is for this age group and younger. Sadly I’ve seen and heard people mock adults for reading these books. It happens less frequently these days, but I am of the firmly held belief that anyone who denigrates or mocks adults for reading these books is an idiotic book-snob. 🙂
The first is by Joan Lingard, an award-winning writer of both adult and children’s fiction. I read the Kevin and Sadie books many years ago, and as someone from Northern Ireland, with an Anglo-Irish background who was brought up to hate no-one, they resonated with me most deeply. I’m recommending the first two, The Twelfth of July and Across the Barricades. I actually recommend the entire series.
- The Twelfth of July (1970)
- Across the Barricades (1972)
- Into Exile (1973)
- A Proper Place (1975)
- Hostages to Fortune (1976)
The Twelfth of July was published in 1970 by Penguin and received mixed reviews. There was certainly disapproval of the subject of the book, dealing as it did with a romance between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant.
- Sadie is Protestant, Kevin is Catholic – and on the tense streets of Belfast their lives collide. It starts with a dare – kids fooling around – but soon becomes something dangerous. Getting to know Sadie Jackson will change Kevin’s life forever. But will the world around them change too?
- Kevin and Sadie just want to be together, but it’s not that simple. Things are bad in Belfast. Soldiers walk the streets and the city is divided. No Catholic boy and Protestant girl can go out together – not without dangerous consequences.
Still with Teen/YA, I recommend Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley.
It’s 1993, and Generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. Surviving on care packages of Spin magazine and Twizzlers from her rocker uncle Kevin, she wonders if she’ll ever find her place in this new world. When first love and sudden death simultaneously strike, a naive but determined Maggie embarks on a forbidden pilgrimage that will take her to a seedy part of Dublin and on to a life- altering night in Rome to fulfill a dying wish. Through it all, Maggie discovers an untapped inner strength to do the most difficult but rewarding thing of all, live.
Irresistible romance collides with dark prophecies in Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon. This is an interesting book in that the author found a website for those who wanted to write teen fiction, and within weeks her story was in the top five. The site was called Inkpop, and her book was seen by an editor at HarperCollins. The rest as they say, is history.
When Megan Rosenberg moves to Ireland, everything in her life seems to fall into place. She makes close friends with the girls in her class, her relationship with her dad is better than ever, and she finds herself inexplicably drawn to gorgeous, mysterious Adam DeRis.
Adam is cold and aloof at first, but when Megan finally breaks down the icy barrier between them, she is amazed by the intensity of their connection. Then Adam reveals a secret about the magical destiny that will shape both of their lives but also threatens to tear them apart.