The Best Irish Authors of All Time

atkins-bookshelf-literature“Ireland is a small island, with a small population. Yet over the centuries she has exerted an influence in the wider world out of all proportion both to her size and her resources,” writes historian Peter Costello. This is especially true when you consider the contributions to literature by two giants; Costello continues: “Along with W. B. Yeats, James Joyce has exerted an immense influence on the development of modern literature both in Europe and America.” Costello notes Joyce’s literary inventiveness, particularly his use of language and the stream of consciousness technique: “[Joyce’s novels] broke new ground by dealing with human actions in words, [breaking] down the proper amenities of literature. In Ireland he was the inspiration of two generations of writers who found their material in the life of the city. For writers of the early part of the century, Joyce’s linguistic and technical experiments were of profound consequence.”

Yeats won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 for his brilliant poetry. Yeats embodied Ireland in his very being and his work. In his definitive biography of the poet, Irish historian Robert Foster describes how Yeat’s responded to notes of congratulations; Yeats wrote “I consider that this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe’s welcome to the Free State.” Costello recognizes Yeats’s genius: “By the time of his death [the late 1930s], Yeats had become, for many, one of the greatest poets of all time… [His] later poems, in all their allusive and symbolic complexity, have come to be of central importance to Irish readers of today. [His poems] are passionate, yet cold, combining the elements of ice and fire in a mysterious and powerful manner… Yeats was an Olympian, a man out of time, a genius.”

The readers of have ranked the best Irish authors of all time. Not surprisingly, Joyce and Yeats are ranked at the top of the list, followed by some of the most influential writers in literary history — four of whom have won the Nobel Prize for literature: Yeats (1923), Shaw (1925), Beckett (1969) and Heaney (1995). Most of the writers are from the mid- to late-19th century with the exception of Swift who predates them by more than two centuries:
1. James Joyce (1882, Rathgar, Ireland)
2. William Butler Yeats (1865, Sandymount, Ireland)
3. Samuel Beckett (1906, Foxrock, Ireland)
4. Seamus Heaney (1939, Castledawson, United Kingdom)
5. Oscar Wilde (1854, Dublin, Ireland)
6. C. S. Lewis (1898, Belfast, Ireland)
7. George Bernard Shaw (1856, Dublin, Ireland)
8. Bram Stoker (1847, Clontarf, Dublin)
9. Jonathan Swift (1667, Dublin, Ireland)
10. George Moore (1852, County Mayo, Ireland)

Read related posts: Most Influential Authors
Best-Selling Books of All Time
50 Books that Will Change Your Life
Why Did James Joyce Burn His Manuscript?

For further reading: The Irish 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Irish Men and Women of All Time by Peter Costello, Citadel Press (2001)
W. B. Yeats: A Life (Volume 1 and 2) by Robert Foster, Oxford University Press (1997)


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