Armchair Travel: Six Essential Coffee Table Books About Ireland

The best illustrated histories and coffee table books about Ireland and the Irish.

It’s no secret that Ireland is a photogenic country, so there are many glossy coffee table books published every year showcasing our gilded country houses, unbelievably tall cliffs, crumbling castles, and scenic vistas. Here are a few of the ones you’ll find on my coffee table, and that visitors are always drawn towards.

Vanishing IrelandVanishing Ireland: Friendship and Community by James Fennell & Turtle Bunbury

The Vanishing Ireland series focuses on interviewing the oldest and most-experienced members of the Irish community. The reminiscences they unlock are a fascinating chronicle of how the country has changed multiple times over the last century, and the wonderful photography reminds us that a vital generation with first-hand memories of rebellion, independence, emigration, the arrival of automobiles, phones, televisions, and computers are still alive and well, and are a vibrant part of their communities. 

The Vanishing Ireland series is a must-have for your collection.


Newgrange and the Bend of the Boynenewgrange bend of the boyne by Geraldine Stout

Eminent archaeologist Geraldine Stout has spent her career investigating the sites of Co. Meath, and along the River Boyne in particular. This lavishly illustrated book details the changing Boyne landscape throughout history, from it’s geological bedrock, to its earliest inhabitants, through the construction of massive megalithic monuments, across the largest battlefield in Irish history (The Battle of the Boyne), and on to the rediscovery of the spectacular necropolis of Brú na Bóinne and the modern landscape. It’s both a complex and deeply considered work of history and a collection of stunning images and informative maps and illustrations.

After reading it, you’ll want to spend days in the area on your next trip to Ireland.


book of kelsThe Book of Kells Edited by Bernard Meehan

Regarded as the most beautiful of Ireland’s ancient illustrated books (at least, the most beautiful still in existence), the Book of Kells resides in a special, temperature and humidity controlled room in the bowels of Trinity College library. A new page is turned each day, so it use to be that you’d have to visit every day for a year to appreciate the full beauty of the book. But, not anymore. This new facsimile edition of The Book of Kells captures the rich detail, the vivid colors and the complex calligraphy as never before. And in your living room, there are no crowds to jostle and hurry you along, so you can appreciate this great work in the monastic silence preferred by its creators.


timetables of irish historyTimelines of Irish History By Patrick C. Power & Sean Duffy
When visitors ask about Ireland, the discussion quickly turns historical and I often turn to this fabulous illustrated history for backup. Combining pictures of historical places and artifacts and detailed illustrated timelines, this book is a wealth of information and helps to put historical events in context for both new initiates planning their first journey and those of us who have been in love with Ireland for a long time. Sadly, this book is now out of print, so good luck in tracking down a second hand copy.


Atlas of Irish FamineAtlas of the Great Irish Famine Edited by John Crowley, William J. Smyth, & Mike Murphy

For anyone researching their family tree or wanting to learn more about where their Irish forebears came from and why they left Ireland, this is an essential reference. Telling the story of the great famine, 1845-1852, the book chronicles the causes, affects, and notorious characters and incidents involved. Illustrated with period drawings, paintings, and featuring detailed maps that show the depth of the disaster and the huge displacement of population that it caused, Atlas of the Great Irish Famine will help you to understand this pivotal event in Irish history like no other.


Atlas of Irish Rural LandscapeAtlas of the Irish Rural Landscape (Second Edition) Edited by F.H.A. Aalen, Kevin Whelan & Matthew Stout

A pioneering work the examines the Irish Rural Landscape on every level: geological archaeological, historical, sociological, and more. With case studies looking at particularly significant places (such as Tory Island, Inistioge, Newgrange, and others) and now updated to include data from the Celtic Tiger years, this is a unique and comprehensive resource for anyone trying to understand why Ireland developed as it did, and how the landscape has affected historical events. Newgrange and the Bend of the Boyne (featured above) was expanded from a section of the first edition of Atlas of Rural Irish Landscape.


When you’re beginning to plan your next trip to Ireland, I encourage you to check out some of these wonderful books to help inspire and direct your travels.


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  1. meticulousmick’s avatar

    Vanishing Ireland is very good, MM

  2. Lois Farley Shuford’s avatar

    Great list – the entire “Vanshing Ireland” (and his book on the Irish Pub) series is terrific, and the last two on your list are must haves for anyone seriously interested in Ireland.

    1. Rich Rennicks’s avatar

      Must check out that Irish Pub book. Thanks for the rec.

    2. Red Hen’s avatar

      I love your list. I have the Newgrange book-terrific reference book for those inclined to visit any of our neolithic monuments and/or the Boyne Valley. Wouldn’t mind getting my hands on “Timetables of Irish History” though.

      1. Rich Rennicks’s avatar

        Yes, it’s good. Lots of pages that fold out and graphs and charts. Sometimes I like that kind of visual learning more than straight text. It helps we remember things better.

      2. Lorna’s avatar

        All beautiful books – love the Vanishing Ireland and Irish Famine ones especially

        1. Rich Rennicks’s avatar

          Yes, never thought I’d “like” a book about the famine, but fascinating info well presented makes all the difference.

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