The Irish Paradox: How and Why We Are Such a Contradictory People

By Sean Moncrieff

Broadcaster and writer Sean Moncrieff has been up and he has been down, from his high flying career as an RTE talk show host to the far less glamorous hatch two of the local social welfare office.

He’s had time, the background and the disposition to see Ireland and the Irish from just about every angle, and in his new book The Irish Paradox he lays out truths about himself and his compatriots that would be universally acknowledged (if the Irish would ever agree there are universal truths, which they have not and will never).

But he’s not the type to give up at the first hurdle, and so The Irish Paradox offers some of the most lucid insights into the modern Irish character that you are likely to encounter.

In one marvelous chapter Moncrieff breaks down that particularly rustic Irish putdown known to every cocky teen who ever walked: “Ah, he thinks he’s great.”

“The sting of a phrase like that can vary depending on the tone used, the situation, and the person saying it,” Moncrieff writes. “But you think you’re great is predicated on the idea of the unacceptability not of greatness, but of difference. In small communities, in small countries, difference is viewed with suspicion. Social cohesion seems to be tied up with the notion that everyone should be more or less the same. Thinking you’re great may come with an implied judgment, that everyone else isn’t great.”

Moncrieff clearly knows how it works. The worst sin that can befall you, in the Irish context, is having notions about yourself he reminds us.

Moncrieff writes about these and other Irish hang-ups so well because his book is a testament to not just what he endured as a public figure, but what he discovered in himself. The Irish are famously friendly and chatty. Just don’t mistake their volubility for communication.

Dufour, $27.

Bridie Gallagher, the Girl From Donegal

By Jim Livingston

You'll miss her when she’s gone, sang Bridie Gallagher in her signature song “A Mother’s Love Is a Blessing.” Ireland’s first truly international pop star, she was an irresistible mix of the homespun and the heroic.

Winning the hearts of her fans and attracting enormous crowds from her earliest days in the mid-1950s, the Creeslough, Co. Donegal-born star had a 50-year career that saw her rise from parish halls in her home county to sold out nights at the London Palladium, the Royal Albert Hall and even Lincoln Center in New York.

The songs she sang and her singing style were as restrained as a ‘50s girdle, but her audience found the emotion in her emigrants’ tales of loss and heartbreak.

Written by Gallagher’s son, author Livingston remembers that behind the success her life was often marked by tragedy and loss. Being a trailblazer in her field came with its own costs, and being a woman in the man’s world of show business in the ‘50s and ‘60s had its battles (some of them epic).

It was her fate that she became a herald of what emigration had cost the country, the people who left and the people who were left behind. Her songs were gentle reminders of a paradise that was lost, and their quiet and strangely dignified lamentations can still be heard six and a half decades later.

Dufour, $32.

In the Name of Jaysus: Stuff That Drives Irish People Round the Feckin’ Bend

By Colin Murphy and Brendan O’Reilly

Yes, you would probably have left a title like this to the tourists when you lived in Ireland, but guess what? You don’t now. That clears your flight path for a bit of reflection on what drives the Irish to drink.

Want to annoy a Mick, the book asks? Ask if Ireland is part of Britain.

“The Irish don’t mind a bit of slagging, and you can pretty much call us anything without offending us. Just don’t call us Brits,” authors Murphy and O’Reilly say.

There are so many other things to take issue with too. The civil service, the Angelus, road signs that make no sense, the way the whole country comes to a standstill when the sun shines or some snow falls.

If you’re missing all the surreal nonsense or if you want to remind yourself why you actually left. this is the book for you.

Dufour, $14.