Famous Irish American Books

As hundreds of thousands of Irishmen flooded American cities in the mid-to-late 19th century, the Irish American experience rapidly penetrated wider pop culture.  With America becoming increasingly fascinated with the Irish, Irish Americans gradually assumed protagonist roles in popular fiction and spawned a whole new genre of historical writing.

The following is a list of famous Irish American books, including Irish American fiction, Irish American biographies, and Irish American history.  Each book features a prominent Irish American protagonist, examines the Irish American experience, or details some key aspect of Irish American history.  Included are a few books that are more Irish than American, but are an important part of the Irish American experience nonetheless.

Also See:
1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish-American History by Edward T. O'Donnell.  This compendium contains 1001 fascinating facts and trivia about Irish and  American politics, arts, science, medicine, and sports.

A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill.  Hamill's autobiography explores the complicated relationship between the Irish and alcohol.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.  Recounting scenes from his childhood in New York City and Limerick, Ireland, McCourt paints a brutal yet poignant picture of his early days when there was rarely enough food on the table, and boots and coats were a luxury.

Banished Children of Eve by Peter Quinn.  Set in New York City during the Civil War years, this first novel focuses on the experience of Irish Catholic immigrants.

Charming Billy by Alice McDermott.  A tale of the everyday struggles of assimilated Irish Americans in Queens, New York.

Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs by Mike Danahey and Allison Hantschel.  The history of the Irish community in Chicago is told through stories of its gathering places.

Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America by Kerby Miller.  A transatlantic history of the Irish offering a detailed account of the diverse waves of Irish immigration to North America.

Greatest Irish Americans of the 20th Century by Patricia Harty and Edward Kennedy.  A celebration of the Irish Americans of the 20th century, as chosen by the editors of Irish America Magazine, profiling the personalities that have shaped and influenced American life and culture and touched the lives of millions of Americans.

How the Irish Invented Slang by Dan Cassidy.  An examination of how American slang has its strongest wellsprings in nineteenth-century Irish America and how Ireland fashioned America, not just linguistically, but through the Irish gambling underworld, urban street gangs, and the powerful political machines that grew out of them.

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill.  An account of the pivotal role played by Irish monks in transcribing and preserving Classical civilization during the Dark Ages.

Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past by Michael P. Quinlin.  Little-known stories and larger-than-life characters spanning the 300-plus years of Boston Irish history, complete with detailed information on places to go, drink, and shop.

Irish Chicago by John McLaughlin.  A celebratory family album of Chicago's proud Irish population.

Irish New York by Bob Swacker and Leslie Jenkins.  Explores the streets, neighborhoods, and legends of the Irish in New York City.

Ironweed by William Kennedy.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of a drifter in Albany, N.Y., who talks to ghosts.

Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States by J.J. Lee and Marion Casey.  A massive volume covering the Americanization of the Irish and the history of Ireland up to the present.

May the Road Rise to Meet You: Everything You Need to Know About Irish American History by Michael Padden.  A portrait of the entire Irish-American experience, covering history, politics, the arts, sports, and religion.

Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster by T.J. English.  The shocking true saga of the Irish American mob over nearly two centuries of Irish American gangsterism.

Paddy's Lament, Ireland 1846-47: Prelude to Hatred by Thomas Gallagher.  The stories of those who lived through and died in the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.

See You at the Hall: Boston's Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance by Susan Gedutis Lindsay.  A study of the Irish dance hall scene in Boston before and after World War II.

The Boston Irish: A Political History by Thomas H. O'Connor.  An examination of key Irish American political figures throughout Boston’s history.

The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America edited by Michael Glazier.  A reference work that tries to document every meaningful person, place, or thing Irish in America.

The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Opening with the 1863 baptism of John F. Fitzgerald, and closing with his grandson's presidential inaugural a century later, this is a rich history yet of two much-chronicled families.

The Greatest Brigade: How the Irish Brigade Cleared the Way to Victory in the American Civil War by Thomas J. Craughwell.  A journey through the major battles of the civil war alongside the members of the famed Irish Brigade.

The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan.  Explores the four dominant themes in Irish-American history:  politics, religion, labor and nationalism.

The Irish Voice in America by Charles Fanning.  Surveys the fiction written by the Irish in America over the past two hundred and fifty years.

The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor.  Inspired by the career of longtime Boston Mayor James M. Curley, this account of big-city politics portrays its Irish-American political boss as a demagogue and rogue who nonetheless deeply understands his constituents.

The New York Irish by Ronald H. Bayor and Timothy Meagher.  A series of essays recounting the Irish struggle for respectability in America’s largest city.

The Remarkable Life of Kitty McInerney:  How a Poor Irish Immigrant Raised 17 Children in Great Depression New York by Christopher Prince.  The biography of an Irish immigrant from County Monaghan whose life is driven by waves of social transformation:  The exodus from Ireland due to poverty and political strife, the struggle for survival in New York City during the Great Depression, and the migration out West as urban renewal wipes away the old neighborhoods.

The Studs Lonigan trilogy: Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, Judgment Day by James T. Farrell.  Classic story of a tough and archetypal adolescent born to Irish-American parents on Chicago’s South Side as he makes his way through the turbulent years of World War I, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression.

'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream: The Image of Ireland and the Irish in American Popular Song Lyrics, 1800-1920 by William H. A. Williams.  Traces the change in the Irish American image through more than 700 pieces of sheet music – popular songs from the stage and for the parlour – to show how Americans' opinions of Ireland and the Irish went practically from one extreme to the other.