Top 10 Irish-American writers (VIDEO)

Irish writer Colum McCann is on our list of top Irish-American writers.

Ireland hold claim to many internationally renowned writers whether through birth or ancestry and many of these writers have used their experience as an immigrant to the US or their Irish ancestry to inspire their work. We look at the writers who best combine their Irish and American experience and knowledge to inspire their writing. 

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, particularly Irish which is a very storytelling culture, a very musical culture ... there's a certain rhythm to the language," he once told January magazine. 

Lehane has written mystery novels, short stories, and film adaptations. Three of his ten published books, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island, have been made into award-winning films.

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 himself was born in Cork. He has lived in New York since 1998, 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 adviser with marital troubles who likes to play cricket; but we’ll let O’Neill away with that.

His latest novel "The Dog" was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2014.

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 resume, as does the Abbey Theater, 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

Currently residing as Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, with a novel entitled “Brooklyn”, and with short stories published in the New Yorker, we're happy to make Colm Tóibín an honorary Irish American.

Author of ten published works of fiction including "The Blackwater Lightship," "The Master" and latest novel "Nora Webster", Tóibín was hailed as a champion of minorities on collecting the 2011 Irish PEN Award.

His 2009 novel "Brooklyn"has been adapted into a film featuring Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson to be released later this year. 

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. 

With over 30 published collections, he is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the T.S. Eliot prize. 

6. Colum 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 where he now works as Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing in the Master of Fine Arts program at Hunter College.

His 2009 novel, “Let the Great World Spin,” for which he won the National Book Award, 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

Currently serving as United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power may better known as a political adviser than a writer, but she has certainly written on some weighty matters and started her career as a journalist. “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”, which won a Pulitzer, is just one example.

Born in Dublin, Power moved to Pennsylvania when she was nine and has published four books to date. 

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. 

Regarded as one of Ireland's most well-known Irish language writers, much of Ní Dhomhnaill's work has been translated. Her work “The Fifty-Minute Mermaid” included beautiful translations by Paul Muldoon for those not yet fluent in Irish.  

10. Belinda McKeon

Although perhaps not yet as well known as some of the other entries, McKeon's first novel "Solace" won the 2011 Faber Prize and was voted Irish Book of the Year. McKeown is young but she is one to watch. Her second novel "Tender" will be published in the US in February 2016. 

She currently works as an Assistant Teaching Professor of Creative Writing at Rutgers University and lives in Brooklyn.

*Originally published April 2009

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