Otherworldly geological formations, spectacular surf coast, magical glens and mystical standing stones make the northeastern corner of the Emerald Isle a fascinating place to explore, as does its complex history. Northern Ireland has been a separate country since the partition of Ireland in 1921 and these six Ulster counties opted out of the Irish Free State to remain within the United Kingdom. The arising conflicts infamously peaked during the Troubles, but in recent decades Northern Ireland has forged an inspiring path to peace.
Here are seven books to help you get into the spirit of Northern Ireland before you visit, or to enjoy as an armchair traveller.
It's Belfast, 1975. The city lies under the dark cloud of the Troubles, and hatred fills the air like smoke. But Tony Macaulay has just turned twelve and he's got a new job. He's going to be a paperboy. And come rain or shine - or bombs and mortar - he will deliver...
Paperboy lives in Upper Shankill, Belfast, in the heart of the conflict between Loyalists and Republicans. Bombings are on the evening news, rubble lies where buildings once stood, and rumours spread like wildfire about the IRA and the UDA.
But Paperboy lives in a world of Doctor Who, Top of the Pops and fish suppers. His battles are fought with all the passion of Ireland's opposing sides - but against acne, the dentist and the `wee hoods' who rob his paper money. On his rounds he hums songs by the Bay City Rollers, dreams about outer space and dreams even more about the beautiful Sharon Burgess.
In this touching, funny and nostalgic memoir, Tony Macaulay recounts his days growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, the harrowing years which saw neighbour fighting neighbour and brother fighting brother. But in the midst of all this turmoil, Paperboy, a scrappy upstart with a wicked sense of humour and sky-high dreams, dutifully goes about his paper round. He is a good paperboy, so he is.
Paperboy proves that happiness can be found even in the darkest of times; it is a story that will charm your socks off, make you laugh out loud and brings to life the culture, stories and colourful characters of a very different - but very familiar - time.
Set in the Northern Ireland of the 1980s, Cal tells the story of a young Catholic man living in a Protestant area. For Cal, some choices are devastatingly simple: he can work in an abattoir that nauseates him or join the dole queue; he can brood on his past or plan a future with Marcella.
Springing out of the fear and violence of Ulster, Cal is a haunting love story that unfolds in a land where tenderness and innocence can only flicker briefly in the dark.
One by One in the Darkness follows a week in the lives of three sisters shortly before the start of the IRA ceasefire in 1994, undercut with the story of their childhood in Northern Ireland of the 1960s and 1970s. The history of both a family and a society, One by One in the Darkness confirms Deirdre Madden's reputation as one of Irish fiction's most outstanding talents.
This is the story of a haunted Irish childhood. The setting is Derry in the Northern Ireland of the 40s and 50s, fraught with political hatred, family secrets and lethal intrigue. As a young boy tries to make sense of life, poverty and violence shift and obscure the facts; meanwhile his night-time reading of Irish legends weaves enchantment through reality. Claustrophobic but lyrically charged, breathtakingly sad but vibrant and unforgettable, this is one of the finest books about growing up – in Ireland or anywhere – that has ever been written.
A hilarious and moving story of Belfast, in the six months just before and after the lastest ceasefires, where violence and desire go hand in hand. Chuckie Lurgan, fat, Protestant and poor suddenly becomes wealthly by various legal but immoral means. His mother, Peggy, indulges in a act which causes more damage in working class Protestant Belfast then the Anglo Irish agreement. Jake, reformed tough guy, recently abandoned by his English girlfriend is looking for love. Meanwhile the strange letters 'OTG' appear on the wall, paving stones, phonebox. No one knows what it means. The IRA and the UVF issue death threats, the police lay traps, all are concerned, all are ignorant. Finally, Jake discovers the meaning. It makes some sense to him. He buys a ladder. He climbs a wall. 'OTG', he writes, 'OTG'.
As the twentieth century dawns on the island of Rathlin, a place ravaged by storms and haunted by past tragedies, Nuala Byrne is faced with a difficult decision. Abandoned by her family for the new world, she receives a proposal from the island's aging tailor. For the price of a roof over her head, she accepts.
Meanwhile the island is alive with gossip about the strangers who have arrived from the mainland, armed with mysterious equipment which can reportedly steal a person's words and transmit them through thin air. When Nuala is sent to cook for these men - engineers, who have been sent to Rathlin by Marconi to conduct experiments in the use of wireless telegraphy - she encounters an Italian named Gabriel, who offers her the chance to equip herself with new skills and knowledge. As her friendship with Gabriel opens up horizons beyond the rocky and treacherous cliffs of her island home, Nuala begins to realise that her deal with the tailor was a bargain she should never have struck.
Sooner or later, everybody pays - and the dead will set the price... Gerry Fegan, a former paramilitary contract killer, is haunted by the ghosts of the 12 people he has slaughtered. Every night he drowns their screams in drink, on the point of losing his mind. Then one of the ghosts offers Fegan a solution: kill those who engineered their deaths. From the greedy politicians to the corrupt security forces, the street thugs to the complacent bystanders who let it happen, all must pay the price. But when Fegan's vendetta threatens to derail Northern Ireland's peace process and destabilise its fledgling government, old comrades and enemies alike want him gone. The secrets of a dirty war should stay buried: even if its ghosts do not.
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