Dennis Lehane's novel "Mystic River" was made into a movie starring Sean Penn

Top 10 Irish-American writers


Dennis Lehane's novel "Mystic River" was made into a movie starring Sean Penn

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1. Dennis Lehane

Growing up an immigrant in the poorest part of South Boston wouldn't seem to be the best recipe for success, but Dennis Lehane says that the story-telling traditions of his Irish background inspired him.

“In immigrant cultures,” he recently told January magazine, “particularly Irish which is a very storytelling culture, a very musical culture . . . there's a certain rhythm to the language."

Lehane has written mystery novels, short stories, and film adaptations … Not bad for someone who dropped out of two colleges before the age of 20. 

2. Joseph O’Neill

Joseph O’Neill may have a Turkish mother, have grown up in Holland, studied at Cambridge and practiced as a lawyer in London, but he is most certainly Irish. His father Kevin was a construction worker and O’Neill was born in Cork. He has lived in New York for the past ten years, and in 2008 he published “Netherland,” which won the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction and earned glowing reviews.

Ireland doesn’t feature in the novel, which is about a wealthy Dutch financial advisor with marital troubles who likes to play cricket; but we’ll let O’Neill away with that.

3. Dennis Donoghue

Professor Donoghue began his working life in Dublin, dallying for a while at University College Dublin (he was professor of English and American literature for 13 years), before moving to Cambridge, England, and most recently, NYU.

Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and UCLA also feature on his resumé, as does the Abbey Theatre, Dublin – he is a member of the board – and the BBC. Along the way, Donoghue has written and edited 34 books, including “We Irish”(1986) and “Reading America” (1987).

4. Colm Tóibín

Tóibín lives in Dublin, but his next novel is called “Brooklyn” and he had a short story in last week’s New Yorker; this, I’ll argue, makes him an honorary Irish American.

Tóibín has spent time at New York’s New School, and he is currently a visiting lecturer in Princeton’s creative writing program. His next novel deals with the bleak subject of a woman who emigrates from Ireland in the 1950s; she does, thankfully, find love in the States.

5. Paul Muldoon

Best known for the irony and dry wit of his work, Muldoon is one of Ireland’s greatest living poets – and he lives in the States. Muldoon grew up in Armagh, and as a youngster he rubbed shoulders with Ireland’s Nobel prize-winning poet, Seamus Heaney. Muldoon is now head of the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton. 

6. Colm McCann

It was a cycle trip across America, followed by a stint teaching delinquent kids in Texas, that first brought this Dublin native to the States; he then moved briefly to Japan, before settling in New York. His new novel, “Let the Great World Spin,” has a tightrope-walker balancing his way between the two World Trade Center Towers; it also features mourning mothers, and an Irish monk living amongst prostitutes … Traditional Irish themes, then. 

7. Samantha Power

She may better known as a political advisor than a writer, but Professor Power has certainly written on some weighty matters – “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”(it won a Pulitzer) is just one example. Power was born in Dublin, and we’re proud that she’s Irish, even if she made that unfortunate remark about Ms. Clinton.

8. Frank McCourt

“Angela’s Ashes” is his most famous book, and it came out a while ago, but McCourt remains an important literary figure. Some may disagree with his portrait of “stab city” (that’s Limerick, to most of you), but hey, it was critically acclaimed, won a Pulizter Prize and a National Book Critics’ Circle Award, remained on best-seller lists for two years, and was made into a film. The man also taught for 30 years in the New York public school system; there’s something to admire in itself. 

9. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

As her name suggests, Ní Dhomhnaill writes in Irish, and she does live in Ireland (Dublin) but she is included on the list because she spent two years in Boston as a Burns Library visiting scholar, and because, well, she’s an extraordinarily talented poet. 

Her most recent work is in Irish, but it includes beautiful translations by Paul Muldoon for those not fluent in Gaelic tongue; it’s called “The Fifty-Minute Mermaid.”

10. Belinda McKeown

McKeown is her early thirties, and perhaps is not yet well known in New York because she just arrived here recently. She writes regularly for the Irish Times Arts section, has appeared on Irish TV and radio, and is currently studying journalism at Columbia. Her first play, “Two Houses” was commissioned by the Abbey Theatre, and it tackles the apparently “thorny theme of love in modern Ireland.” McKeown is young – but she is one to watch.