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The Books That Define Ireland


Bryan Fanning & Tom Garvin

This engaging and provocative work discusses over fifty crucial books that have been instrumental in the development of Irish social and political thought since the early seventeenth century. Fanning and Garvin conduct a compelling debate on writers including Jonathan Swift, Wolfe Tone, John Mitchel, James Connolly, Frank O’Connor, Edna O’Brien, John McGahern, Noel Browne, Nell McCafferty, Fintan O’Toole, Mary Raftery, amongst many others.


This engaging and provocative work consists of twenty-nine chapters and discusses over fifty books that have been instrumental in the development of Irish social and political thought since the early seventeenth century. Steering clear of traditionally canonical Irish literature, Bryan Fanning and Tom Garvin debate the significance of their chosen texts and explore the impact, reception, controversy, debates and arguments that followed publication.

Fanning and Garvin present these seminal books in a compelling dialogue with one another, highlighting the manner in which individual writers informed each other’s opinions at the same time as they were being amassed within the public consciousness.

From Jonathan Swift’s savage indignation to Flann O’Brien’s disintegrative satire, this book provides a fascinating discussion of how key Irish writers affected the life of their country by upholding or tearing down those matters held close to the heart, identity and habits of the Irish nation.


Table of Contents

1. Irish Arguments
2. Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Eirinn/The History of Ireland (1634).
3. William Molyneux, The case of Ireland being bound by Acts of Parliament in England (1698).
4. Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal (1729).
5. Andrew Dunleavy, The Catechism on Christian Doctrine (1742).
6. William Theobald Wolfe Tone (ed.), The Autobiography of Wolfe Tone (1826)
7. John Mitchel, The Jail Journal (1861).
8. Horace Plunkett, Ireland in the New Century(1904); Michael O’Riordan, Catholicity and Progress in Ireland (1905).
9. James Connolly, Labour in Irlsh History (1910).
10. Patrick A. Sheehan, The Graves at Kilmorna (1913).
11. Desmond Ryan, Collected Works of Padraic A. Pearse (1917).
12. Daniel Corkery, The Hidden Ireland (1924).
13. P. S. O’Hegarty, The Victory of Sinn Fein: How it Won It and How It Used It (1924).
14. Tomás O Criomhthain, An tOileánach/The Islandman (1929).
15. Frank O’Connor, Guests of the Nation (1931)
16. Sean O’Faolain, King of the Beggars (1938)
17. Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939).
18. James Kavanagh, Manual of Social Ethics (1954).
19. Paul Blanshard, The Irish and Catholic Power (1954).
20. Michael Sheehy, Divided We Stand (1955).
21. Edna O’Brien, The Country Girls (1960); John McGahern, The Dark (1965).
22. Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger (1962)
23. Conor Cruise O’Brien, States of Ireland (1972).
24. A.T.Q. Stewart, The Narrow Ground (1977).
25. C.S. Andrews, Dublin Made Me (1979).
26. Nell McCafferty, A Woman to Blame; The Kerry Babies Case (1985).
27. Noel Browne, Against the Tide (1985).
28. Fintan O’Toole, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: The Politics of Irish Beef (1995).
29. Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan, Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools (1999).
30. Elaine A. Byrne, Political Corruption in Ireland: A Crooked Harp? (2012)

About the Authors

Bryan Fanning is professor and head of the school of Applied Social Studies at UCD. He is a  leading academic in the field of migration research and the author of Racism and Social Change in the Republic of Ireland (2002/2012) and New Guests of the Irish Nation (2009). He is also the author of The Quest for Modern Ireland: The Battle of Ideas 1912-1986 (2008) and editor of An Irish Century: Studies 1912-2012 (2012).

Tom Garvin is emeritus professor of politics at University College Dublin the author of several hugely influential and best-selling books on Irish history including Preventing the Future: Why was Ireland so Poor for so Long? (2004), Judging Lemass (2009) and News from a New Republic: Ireland in the 1950s (2010).

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