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Travel Writing on Ireland

Jaywalking, Donkey Carts and a Fridge ... plus McCarthy's Bar

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Travel Writing on Ireland - are there any special recommendations? You bet there are. And you are invited to share your opinion on travel writing on Ireland too!

So you are planning to go to Ireland, you have thought about the right guidebook for the trip and now you want to read up on the auld country. Or simply need a good read for the flight. or you are an "armchair traveler" looking for a new destination. Travel literature on the Emerald Isle abounds, as do books about Ireland. And some books are really outstanding. May I present my favorites (sorted in alphabetical order by author)?

  • No News at Throat Lake by Laurence Donegan

    This book is not about travel, it details the slightly scurrilous adventures of a former rock star (of sorts) and journalist trying to survive in Donegal. From being drafted into the local Gaelic football team under an assumed name to discovering new-born kittens in his bed. And from covering the "Mary from Dunloe" pageant to bringing a frown to Daniel O'Donnell's otherwise permanently smiling face.

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  • Freewheeling through Ireland by Edward Enfield

    If you ever discover a desire to enjoy the Emerald Isle at a different pace (and donkeys are not your thing, see below), read Enfield's recollections of cycling through Ireland. He hopped on his bike at the sprightly age of 64 for his first bicycle tour in Ireland and loved it. The book is low on actual, practical "guidebook content" but high on witty observations. And told in a heart-warming, sometimes old-fashioned manner.

  • Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks

    Starting with a drunken bet (Hawks insists he is neither a betting nor a drinking man), the author puts a (albeit small) fridge on a luggage carrier and travels all over Ireland with this unusual luggage. One month, hitch-hiking, with a fridge, for a wager of £ 100. It sounds like a stupid idea (and probably is), but the resulting, very funny book is a bestseller. And tells you a lot about Ireland and the Irish.

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  • A Ghost Upon Your Path by John McCarthy

    McCarthy was held hostage by a Lebanese militia for more than five years in the late 1980s. This is a man used to be alone. At the height of the "Celtic Tiger" he holed himself up in a small village in Kerry, looking for links to his family's Irish background. Not a guide, but a very moving description of life in today's Ireland. And of the need to face some ghosts of the past now and then.

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  • McCarthy's Bar by Pete McCarthy

    "The harp player had just fallen of the stage and cracked his head on an Italian tourist's pint. There was a big cheer, and Con the barman rang a bell on the counter." And that was just the start of the prologue! McCarthy follows the 8th Rule of Travel religiously: Never Pass a Bar That Has Your Name On It! With a few pubs and bars named McCarthy's in Ireland, McCarthy's travels sure were fun. And they are a joy to read.

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  • Jaywalking with the Irish by David Monagan

    Written by an Irish-American ex-pat, that is a US citizen with Irish roots spending a sabbatical in Cork, this book starts with a close encounter with an Iraqi barber. Which is only one of the minor incidents. Monagan experiences the highs and lows of Irish life, including crime and Guinness (often closely related). A good portrayal of modern Ireland through the eyes of a very gifted writer. Also a very honest portrayal of the downside of the "Celtic Tiger" - the story ends with Monagan going back to the USA fairly disillusioned, but still loving Cork.

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  • Around Ireland with a Pan by Éamonn Ó Catháin

    Though most people would not think of touring Ireland for the local food, this is exactly what Ó Catháin did. The radio and television presenter is best known for his series Bia's Bóthar on Irish-language station TG4. In his book he travels all over the island, comments on food, shares recipes, portrays chefs. Which make the book a guide, a souvenir, an eye-opener (there actually is gourmet food on the island) and a good read (if you are at all interested in food, beyond calorie intake that is).

  • Last of the Donkey Pilgrims by Kevin O'Hara

    Vietnam veteran O'Hara is at loose ends in 1979 ... when he gets the remarkably strange idea to travel around Ireland with a donkey cart. Laughed at at first, the American actually travelled 1,800 miles, starting in Roscommon and then following the coastline counter-clockwise from Oranmore. "Why in hell's bells would you want to do that?" smirks not only a horseman. Read the book and find out. Not quite up-to-date after an interval of a quarter of a century, but a genuinely readable book of observations.

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Read any of these? Or found better ones? Or really bad ones other travellers shoudl avoid? Share your opinion on travel writing on Ireland on my feedback page!

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