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August 14, 2020

Irish History Books – Recommended Resources

Make sure you check out the full Beginner’s Guide to Irish Paganism Series.

I know everyone is keen to get to the sexy magic practice or life changing guided journey experiences, but in reality, we have to start with how things were. 

So that means the Irish History Books. 

Some of these cover a slightly broader scope into what’s called ‘Celtic’ History, and that’s ok. 

There are similarities between different historical languages and cultures that have led to us being grouped together for academic study and convenience; but that’s all that the term Celtic is really good for. 

As Irish Pagans, we do differentiate, because although there are surface similarities, we all developed differently. Over here on our island we escaped some of the more obvious outside influences that were a factor, say, for the Continental Celtic Tribes, or those in Britain.  

For the most part though, scholars tend to examine us collectively, so we will have to work with that. 

(Note: This will also apply for future resource recommendations in this series, so please keep it in mind. Please also note that the following links are affiliate, which means if you buy through them, we get a few cents from the evil empire at no cost to you. Book descriptions are based on the Publisher’s info.)

Recommended Irish History Books

We have to start with possibly my favourite Irish history scholar, a true gentleman – Daithí Ó hÓgáin. He was an Associate Professor of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin, and an international authority on folklore and traditional literature. RIP.

The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland, by Dáithí O hOgain (Author). Boydell Press (November 4, 2001).

The first modern study of prehistoric religion in Ireland to draw on the combined evidence of archaeology, literature and folklore to illuminate practice and belief from the earliest human habitation in the island down to the advent of Christianity in the fifth century AD.

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/2BYFOeT

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/33woUj8

The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance, by Dáithí O hOgain (Author). Boydell Press; 1st edition (May 21, 2006).

This is a standard reference among Irish History Books, combining the related subjects of folklore, myth, legend and romance. There are 350 substantial entries, in alphabetical order from Abán, a 6th-century saint, to Weather, all with full references to sources, a synopsis of relevant stories, and discussion of their origin, nature and development. These are complimented by a genre-list of material under various headings, such as Mythical Lore, Fianna Cycle, Ulster Cycle, King Cycles, Peoples and Traditions, Religious Lore, and Folk Custom and Belief. There is also a wealth of genealogical detail, indicating how historical and social circumstances have influenced the growth and spread of Irish lore. 

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/39ZZCuQ

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/2Dm2Mxj

Besides the above mentioned books, pretty much anything by this author will see you right. 

Druids: A Very Short Introduction, by Barry Cunliffe (Author). OUP Oxford; 1 edition (May 27, 2010).

Who were the Druids? What do we know about them? Do they still exist today?

The Druids first came into focus in Western Europe – Gaul, Britain, and Ireland – in the second century BC. They are a popular subject; they have been known and discussed for over 2,000 years and few figures flit so elusively through history. They are enigmatic and puzzling, partly because of the lack of knowledge about them has resulted in a wide spectrum of interpretations.

Barry Cunliffe takes the reader through the evidence relating to the Druids, trying to decide what can be said and what can’t be said about them. He examines why the nature of the druid caste changed quite dramatically over time, and how successive generations have interpreted the phenomenon in very different ways.

(This one crosses a little into later resource categories, by looking at the origins of modern Druidry… but I feel it’s an important – and easy – grounding in the older history first and foremost. It’s available in many different formats, but if you get the audiobook please be aware that the Irish language pronunciation – at least – is not reliable throughout. Don’t you wish publishers would hire Irish people to voice Irish books?! Feel free to let them know.)

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/2XvWulB

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/2DfAR2a

The Oxford Companion to Irish History (Oxford Paper Reference) 2nd Edition, by S. J. Connolly (Editor). Oxford Univ Pr; 2 edition (April 8, 2011).

This is an essential reference to have on the shelf, particularly for those times you run across some level of bullshit on the internet and just want to give it a quick and easy check over! With over 1,800 entries, this acclaimed Companion offers a comprehensive and authoritative guide to all aspects of Ireland’s past, from earliest times to the present day.

There is coverage not only of leading political figures, organizations, and events, but also of subjects such as dress, music, sport, and diet. Traditional topics such as the rebellion of 1798 and the Irish Civil War sit alongside entries on newly developing areas such as women’s history and popular culture.

In addition to the alphabetical entries, the Companion includes a selection of historical maps depicting such time periods as Ireland circa 800, Ireland circa 1350, Ireland in the late 15th century, modern Ireland, and much more. There is also a subject index, which groups headwords into thematic batches to provide an alternative way to access the entries.

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/31opOLN

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/3ieNnxp

Irish Customs And Beliefs, by Kevin Danaher (Author). Mercier Press (29 April 2000).

Most books by this author are out of print, unfortunately, but if you can pick up a copy of his “Year in Ireland”, definitely do.

“Irish customs and Beliefs” is a book of stories and beliefs of all kinds of things to do with old Ireland: highwaymen and travelling people, the Irish whiteboys, lost and hidden treasures. Beliefs associated with birds, insects, animals, plants, bushes, trees and stones, dwarfs and fabulous water monsters, ghosts, witches, castles and drowned cities.

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/31mXRUU

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/3fuEPkk

There are of course, many fantastic books that are on my shelves that don’t appear in this list, and this is no reflection on their worth or value. Choices for my Irish History Books recommendations were made factoring in availability (at time of writing), and most general usefulness.

Coming Soon in the Beginner’s Guide to Irish Paganism Series:

  • Irish Gods and Goddesses Books
  • Online Sources
  • Irish Paganism Books
  • Irish Language Resources
  • Irish Cultural Resources

BONUS – Download the PDF Slides for the Irish History Books Article Here…

(no email required, enjoy!)

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About the Author

Irish Author, Educator, and Guide to Ireland. Co-Founder of the Irish Pagan School, Eel & Otter Press, and Pagan Life Rites (Ireland).

Lora O'Brien

Join our Tuath (community, tribe) to get Course and Scholarship info, and regular (free) Irish resources on topics such as Mythology, History, Society, Spirituality, Storytelling and Travel directly from Lora O'Brien and the team at the Irish Pagan School.

  • Hello,

    Firstly I’d like to say I’ve always felt drawn to druidic spirituality and celtic myths and legend, your books are great and very informative. But I’m writing because I am from Brazil, born here and I read an article from another celtic writer and he says people should stick to spirituality and culture of their own country and not look for another abroad.
    That made me feel a bit uncomfortable because although I’ve got European heritage I’ve always felt a connection to the native spirituality of the British Isles. I’d like to know your opinion as Druid. Unfortunately in my country druidic subjects are not so spread though the interest has been increased in the last years.


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