The Best Books about Northern Ireland

Make the most of your travels with inspiration from this selection of fiction, history and guide books

Medieval Ireland was described as the land of saints and scholars and that writing tradition has carried on through the centuries with our proud roll call of the world’s best authors – from Oscar Wilde to Seamus Heaney, from CS Lewis to Jonathan Swift right through to popular modern authors such as Maeve Binchy and award-winning authors such as Booker Prize winner Anna Burns.

But perhaps you just came to this page for a history book, or a guide book – we have them too!

Jump to >>  Guide Books  |  Books to inspire youHistory  | Genealogy | Fiction

Guide Books

As there are few guide books focusing solely on Northern Ireland we have included two Ireland books which  include Northern Ireland and of course this takes into account that most visitors are visiting the whole island.

Belfast & the Causeway Coast - bookPocket Belfast & The Causeway Coast

Lonely Planet, 2020

You’ll find loads of information on our website about Belfast and the Causeway Coast, but sometimes it’s useful to have something that fits in your pocket. The guide offers maps, highlights and itineraries, insider tips, transit tips and advice on where to eat, sleep, and what to see but as the cover says, it does not cover the Mournes area, or the Fermanagh lakelands.

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Essential Ireland - bookFodor’s Essential Ireland: with Belfast and Northern Ireland

Recognising that a large number of Northern Ireland’s visitors are here to see the whole island of Ireland, this guide from recognised travel experts Fodor’s, helps visitors travel north, south, east and west.

The guide is packed with maps, beautiful photos to inspire your travel plans, carefully curated recommendations and everything else you need to simplify your trip-planning process and make the most of your time.

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Walking Northern Ireland - bookWalking Northern Ireland

36 unmissable hikes along the Causeway Coast, around Belfast, in the Mournes and in Fermanagh, with maps and descriptions. This book is on my bookshelf and has been an inspiration getting us out and about in Northern Ireland.

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Slow Road Ireland - bookTake the Slow Road: Ireland: Inspirational Journeys Round Ireland by Camper Van and Motorhome

Beautiful photos, handy maps, practical tips specifically for motorhome/ camper van travellers and quirky travel writing from the king of camper vans and motorhomes, Martin Dorey.

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Books to inspire your travels

These books are perfect for gifts as well as inspiring your travels.

Ireland's Beautiful NorthIreland’s Beautiful North

by Dominic Kearney (Author), Carsten Krieger (Photographer)

A beautiful book showcasing the ‘bewildering variety of riches and rewards’ of the nine counties of Ulster. Stunning photography accompanies the well-written commentary that gives readers an insight into the history, geography and culture of Ulster. Makes a great gift, momento or inspiration for your trip.

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100 Best places in Ireland - bookThe Rough Guide to the 100 Best Places in Ireland (Inspirational Rough Guides)

Just out in August 2023, this is the latest picture-packed addition to Rough Guides’ Inspiration range – shining a light on Ireland’s most spectacular places in a brand-new coffee-table book.

More than 150 fabulous images – features spell-binding vistas, gritty cityscapes and fascinating historic highlights. Text and images combine to give a strong flavour of each destination, including what makes each spot unique and – ultimately – unmissable.

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History and memoirs

Note: As ‘Northern Ireland’ is only just over 100 years old, the history of the region before 1921 is of course Irish or Ulster history.

The Plantation of UlsterThe Plantation of Ulster - Book

By Jonathan Bardon

The author punctures some generally held assumptions about the plantation of Ulster that may surprise many. Above all, natives and newcomers fused to a greater degree than is widely believed so that, according to the author, nearly all Ulster people today have the blood of both Planter and Gael flowing in their veins. 

The Plantation was also the beginning of a far greater exodus to North America. Subsequently, descendants of Ulster planters crossed the Atlantic in their tens of thousands to play a central role in shaping the United States of America.

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A Modern IrelandModern Ireland 1600-1972

By Professor R F Foster (published 1990)

“Roy Foster writes like a dream …Unusually for a general survey, his Modern Ireland is difficult to put down. It manages the rare feat of combining clear and authoritative analysis, challenging new insights with a sense of humour and a command of the literary as well as the historical sources” – Marianne Elliott, The Guardian

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Irish HistoryIrish History: A Captivating Guide to the History of Ireland

By Captivating History (published 2021)

“This book will take you across time and into the past, all the way to the mythological Tuatha Dé Danann and the first inhabitants. Find out about the first settlers, nature worshipping druids, high kings, and the many wars they fought. Learn about how Christianity came to the island and the myth of St. Patrick. Dwell into the early days of the Norman invasion, and learn about the first division of the island—a division that will never mend itself as it became normality for life in Ireland.”

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A Belfast ChildA Belfast Child

By John Chambers

A historical “memoir of rare power, John explores the dark heart of Northern Irish sectarianism in the seventies and eighties. With searing honesty and native Belfast wit, he describes the light and darkness of his unique childhood, and his teenage journey through mod culture and ultra-Loyalism… a tale of divided loyalties, dark secrets and the scars left by hatred and violence on a proud city – but also a story of hope, healing and ultimate redemption for a family caught in the rising tide of the Troubles.”

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Did ye hear mammy diedDid Ye Hear Mammy Died?: A Memoir

By Séamas O’Reilly

THE IRISH TIMES NO. 1 BESTSELLER :  “Séamas O’Reilly’s mother died when he was five, leaving him, his ten brothers and sisters and their beloved father in their sprawling bungalow in rural Derry. It was the 1990s; the Troubles were a background rumble (most of the time), and Séamas at that point was more preoccupied with dinosaurs, Star Wars and the actual location of heaven than the political climate.”

‘Tender, sad and side-splittingly funny’

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Ulster Fairytales and LegendsUlster Fairytales and legends

Whether this is a history book or not I cannot say but “Where did the Red Hand, the famous symbol of Ulster, originate? It’s the hand of Heremon, a chief so keen to be first to lay claim to the land that he cut his own hand off and threw it from a ship!

Not all legends from Ulster are so gory, of course, and in this collection we meet The Great Brown Bull, The Horsemen of Aileach, Paiste, The Great Black Pig, Maeve MacQuillan, Fintán, Febor and Fia and, of course, Colmcille and the Book of Movilla.”

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Genealogy – finding your past


Northern Ireland's Ancestors - BookTracing Your Northern Irish Ancestors

By Ian Maxwell (published 1990)

“An introduction to the wealth of material available to family historians in archives throughout Northern Ireland. Many records, like the early twentieth-century census returns and school registers, will be familiar to researchers, but others are often overlooked by all but the most experienced of genealogists. An easy-to-use, informative guide.”

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Researching your scots - irish ancestors - bookResearching Scots-Irish Ancestors: The essential genealogical guide to early modern Ulster, 1600-1800

“Whether your ancestors are of English, Scottish or Gaelic Irish background, whether their religious affiliation was Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic or other, whether they were farmers, merchants or labourers, this volume will be of enormous value to anyone wishing to find out more about their Ulster roots.”

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Tracing your irish ancestors - bookTracing Your Irish Ancestors

By John Grenham

For those looking for advice on broader ancestral reach.

“With online access to records making it easy for most people of Irish origin to trace their family background, there has never been a better time to research your Irish family history. This guide contains everything you need to know to speed up the process, making sense of the deluge of online material and guiding you towards records and methods you may not have known existed.”

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Research your past with Find my Past

Findmypast has the largest collection of  records online from across Ireland and Northern Ireland. Discover your ancestors by searching Ireland’s earliest surviving census records, the Ireland Census 1821-1851, ship passenger lists 1890 – 1960, dog licence registers, Irish Petty sessions records and so much more. Use the useful family tree tool, join the Facebook group, discover shared connections in over 4.5 million family trees. 7-day free trial.

Note that we have an affiliate relationship with Find my Past so that if you sign up for one of their paid services, we receive a small commission at no expense to yourself. These commissions help support our work on Thank you!



Milkman - BookMilkman

By Anna Burns

This Man Booker Prize winning book was a top scorer in our book club and while we all agreed the writing style took a bit of getting used to, the book was very different, humorous, unsettling and compelling.

No names are mentioned but the ‘unnamed city’ can be recognised as Belfast during ‘The Troubles’ where “an eighteen-year-old woman has attracted the unwanted and unavoidable attention of a powerful and frightening older man, ‘Milkman’….”

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Trespasses - bookTrespasses

By Louise Kennedy

Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ period lends itself to a Romeo & Juliet type story and here it is, and it is similarly calamitous. The book has won multiple awards and has been described as an unforgettable debut of people trying to live ordinary lives in extraordinary times.

‘Intense, unflinchingly honest, it broke my heart a million times’ MARIAN KEYES
‘Absolutely loved it’ MAX PORTER
‘A beautiful, devastating novel’ NICK HORNBY

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The Raptures - bookThe Raptures

By Jan Carson

This is the latest book by Jan Carson, who won theEU Prize for Literature for her 2019 book The Fire Starters.

“Darkly funny, highly inventive and deeply moving – The Raptures explores how tragedy can unite a small community – and tear it apart. At its heart is the extraordinary resilience of one young girl. As the world crumbles around her, she must find the courage to be different in a place where conforming feels like the only option available…”

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Factory Girls - bookFactory Girls

By Michelle Gallen

Winner of the Comedy Women in Print 2022-23 Published Novel Award

“A funny, fierce, and unforgettable read about a young woman working a summer job in a shirt factory in Northern Ireland, while tensions rise both inside and outside the factory walls.

“It’s the summer of 1994, and all smart-mouthed Maeve Murray wants are good final exam results so she can earn her ticket out of the wee Northern Irish town she has grown up in during the Troubles. She hopes she will soon be in London studying journalism…”

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The Ghosts of BelfastThe Twelve / The Ghosts of Belfast (US)

By Stuart Neville

The debut novel of Northern Ireland crime writer Stuart Neville – The Twelve, which went on, retitled to The Ghosts of Belfast, to win ‘The Los Angeles Times Book Prize’ in the mystery/thriller category in 2010. He has since written several more well-received crime novels set in Belfast – The Belfast Novels.

“Northern Ireland’s Troubles may be over, but peace has not erased the crimes of the past. Gerry Fegan, a former paramilitary contract killer, is haunted by the ghosts of the twelve people he slaughtered. Every night, at the point of losing his mind, he drowns their screams in drink. But it’s not enough. In order to appease the ghosts, Fegan is going to have to kill the men who gave him orders…”

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The cold cold groundThe Cold Cold Ground

By Adrian McKinty

The first in the Sean Duffy series, a series of seven police procedural novels written between 2012 and 2017 about a fictional detective sergeant in 1980s Northern Ireland. McKinty has also written several novels set outside Northern Ireland of which The Chain is set to be made into a movie starring Scarlett Johansson.

“Northern Ireland, spring 1981. Hunger strikes, riots, power cuts, a homophobic serial killer with a penchant for opera, and a young woman’s suicide that may yet turn out to be murder: on the surface, the events are unconnected, but then things―and people―aren’t always what they seem. Detective Sergeant Duffy is the man tasked with trying to get to the bottom of it all…”

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Thunder and lightning - bookThunder and Lightning: A Memoir of Life on the Tough Cul-de-Sacs of Bangor

By Colin Bateman

The latest book from established Northern Ireland writer Colin Bateman who rose to fame with his debut novel Divorcing Jack which was subsequently made into a movie. His book Murphy’s Law was also adapted for screen as the BBC series Murphy’s Law featuring Northern Ireland actor James Nesbitt.

This novel tells the story of Bateman growing up in Bangor, a pleasant seaside town just 10 miles out of Belfast where things were very different with the IRA, the UDA and the UVF were blowing the city apart. Bangor on the other hand was “a town where an occasional terrorist bomb was seen as an opportunity to profiteer and where his father became a paramilitary by accident … So close to the Troubles, yet so far away – Thunder and Lightning is the story of one boy’s journey through the rather soft side of life in a town which lacked tough streets but boasted many cul-de-sacs.”

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The Watch House - bookThe Watch House

By Bernie McGill

And finally, a novel that is not set in the times of ‘The Troubles’! Instead, this novel is set in the late 1800s on Rathlin Island off Ballycastle on the Causeway Coast where Marconi’s team have arrived to do early live tests on Marconi wireless telegraphy. That much is history. Bernie McGill has weaved a novel of love and murder into this setting where the modern world arrives on the remote Rathlin island.

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DId you know… Grace as in ‘Alias Grace’ by Margaret Atwood, now a Netflix series, started out her life in Ulster, modern day Northern Ireland, before emigrating to Canada?

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