Classic Irish History Books Available Free on the Web

Throughout the 19th century classic books of Irish history were published in Dublin, Cork, London, and even New York. Many of these titles have been scanned in recent years. And the books can be read online or downloaded to your computer or tablet.

Below are links to recommended titles, which include accounts of ancient Irish history, nearly contemporaneous accounts of 19th century events, and even some classic works of Irish folklore.

Frontispiece of 1841 edition of Keating's General History of Ireland. J. Duffy Publishers/public domain

Geoffrey Keating was a Catholic priest and historian whose classic history of Ireland, which had been written in the Irish language in the early 1600s, was rediscovered and published in various editions in the 1800s. The manuscript Keating created essentially tells the story of Ireland from ancient times until the Norman invasion.

Keating's book was criticized as it portrayed mythological events as well as events which are known to be historical. But for that very reason it has also been widely praised, with Keating being lauded as the "Irish Herodotus."

The manuscript has been translated from the Irish language several times. This particular edition was translated and published in Dublin in 1841. More »

The Irish scholar Patrick Weston Joyce published many books related to Irish history, geography, folklore, and even language in the late 1800s. He distilled copious historical research into A Concise History of Ireland, which was published in the early 1890s.

This particular edition of Joyce's book was published in 1903. The book covers the history of Ireland from ancient times into the first third of the 19th century, essentially concluding during the time of the great Irish political leader, Daniel O'Connell. More »

Limerick in Cusack's Illustrated History of Ireland. Longmans, Green Publishers/public domain

The author of this book, which was published in London in 1868, said in her preface that she intended it to educate an English audience so that they might understand "the Irish question" better. She wrote: "I believe there are honest and honorable men in England who would stand aghast in horror if they thoroughly understood the injustices to which Ireland has been and still is subject."

Cusack's book covered a huge span of time from ancient Ireland to the political movement of Daniel O'Connell in the 1820s. Highlights included some fascinating material drawn from the Annals of the Four Masters, a history of Ireland compiled in the early 1600s. More »

This two-volume history of Ireland was published in London in 1827. The author, John O'Driscol, endeavored to create a history of Ireland that was impartial while chronicling the centuries old struggles between the Irish and the English.

The first volume of the book dealt with some early history, but mostly detailed the times of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and perhaps the greatest villain of Irish history, Oliver Cromwell. More »

The second volume of O'Driscol's history dealt with events of the 1600s, including the Battle of the Boyne and the Siege of Limerick. He injected his own opinions freely, but much of the material, especially passages focused on the peculiarities of warfare during that period, was fascinating. More »

Robert Emmet was the leader of an Irish rebellion in 1803. The plan was to seize strategic positions in the city of Dublin and have the uprising spread throughout the country. While ambitious, the planning was haphazard and the plan quickly unraveled after some small skirmishes in the streets of Dublin.

Emmet escaped Dublin but was soon captured, tried, and hanged on a platform set up in a Dublin street. The uprising is best remembered for Emmet's often quoted speech following his conviction for treason.

This biography, published in Dublin only 44 years after Emmet's execution, is quite sympathetic to the fallen rebel. It contained vivid descriptions of the events of Emmet's life, the 1803 uprising, and Emmet's execution. More »

The dominant political figure in Ireland in the early 1800s was Daniel O'Connell, a native of rural Kerry who became a lawyer in Dublin and eventually headed a political movement that unified many thousands of Irish tenant farmers. This two-volume biography, which was published in the city of Cork, Ireland, in 1847, not long after O'Connell's death, provided a good view of how O'Connell's great prominence was perceived.

The first volume followed O'Connell's life from his childhood in rural Kerry up until the late 1820s, when he had won a seat in the British Parliament following a noteworthy election in County Clare. More »

This second volume of O'Connell's biography began with O'Connell's agitation to repeal the Act of Union, a law which bound Ireland to England. The book concluded in 1837, when O'Connell was at a political peak, though he still had ten years to live. More »

This book, which was published in Dublin in 1844, was compiled, as the title suggests, to assist travelers. But it makes fascinating reading today for lovers of Irish history, as it provided descriptions of what one would find by the Irish roadsides. The author often interjected historical facts, pointing out the sites of ancient battles and other major events. More »

The British novelist Thackeray, author of Vanity Fair, The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, and other notable books, took a trip around Ireland in 1842. His excursion resulted in this travel book, which was first published under the pseudonym T.A. Titmarsh.

Thackeray was at times horrified by the poverty he witnessed in Ireland, yet he was not terribly sympathetic to the Irish. If you can get past the author's snide attitude, the book is interesting for the descriptions of the towns, the detail about transportation in Ireland during that period, and some gracefully written passages about geographical features. More »

Cloyne, County Cork, from Croker's Researches In the South of Ireland. John Murry Publisher/public domain

Thomas Crofton Croker grew up in Cork, the son of a British officer, and took a great interest in the folklore of rural Ireland. He traveled about the countryside conducting research, and this book, Croker's first, is subtititled, "The Scenery, Architectural Remains, and the Manners and Superstitions of the Peasantry." This edition was published in London in 1824.

It is an unusual and fascinating book which alternates between being a travel guide and a seminal work of Irish folklore. The chapter on "Keens and Death Ceremonies" is particularly interesting, as Croker provided striking detail on rural Irish wakes of two centuries ago. More »

Continuing his research in the folklore of the rural Irish, Thomas Crofton Croker published this book, which is often considered his masterwork, in 1825. It contains a great wealth of stories and folk tales, often involving supernatural events and creatures. The book was so popular that the brothers Grimm published a translation of it.

This particular edition was published in London in 1859. It contained a brief biography of Croker written by his son. More »