The Irish: A Photohistory
By Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy

Sometimes a photograph can be a door you can walk through into the past. In The Irish: A Photohistory, Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy have assembled one of the most evocative and moving collections of the life of the Irish over the past two centuries that I have ever seen.

The first Irish photographs date from 1840, six years before the unforeseen catastrophe that would come to define the tragedy of British colonialism in Ireland.

Many of the images contained in this collection are heart-stoppingly beautiful. You can actually see and feel the progress of Irish history contained in these moving portraits of smiling young men and women, all unmistakably Irish, whose grandchildren were long dead before this collection even commenced.

Sexton and Kinealy (the noted historian of the Irish Famine) have taken it upon themselves to conjure 200 years of Irish history in all of its grandeur and tragedy. Many of the faces in this collection are lined with sorrows, others are carefree, their whole lives still ahead of them.

In 1839, when the first photographs were taken in Ireland, it was one of the most densely populated countries in Europe with over eight million inhabitants. One hundred years later its population had fallen to five million, a decline that was unique in Europe.

The consequences of all that struggle and change are contained within this remarkable book. If you only buy one study of Irish history this year, make it this one.

Thames & Hudson, $21.95.

Rory Gallagher: His Life and Times
By Marcus Connaughton

It's not a bad old life, being a guitar hero. Ireland has produced master musicians in every generation, but you can still count on one hand how many have made it out of Ireland onto the world’s stage.

Rory Gallagher was one of the few. In 1963 at the age of 15 he bought his trademark Fender Stratocaster and his rise, as they say, was meteoric.

Talent finds its own level. Gallagher discovered the blues in Ireland at a time when it was difficult to buy a pop magazine or hear a blues tune on the radio. The music was somehow already in him and he went on to inspire players like The Edge, Johnny Marr, Slash and Gary Moore.

In this handsomely illustrated biography Gallagher’s contemporaries and fellow musicians tell stories about the legendary rocker who won the Melody Maker Guitarist of the Year award in 1972 (when there was plenty of competition).

Shy and retiring in the Irish way, it was when he was on stage that his talent took over, leaving audiences and critics astounded by his dexterity, the Irish blues man who even startled the genres trailblazers with his gift.

Dufour, $34.95.

By Eoin Colfer

Colfer made his reputation as a best-selling author for young readers with his Artemis Fowl series, but his equally best-selling crime novels have attracted a whole new audience for the gifted Irish storyteller.

Screwed is an mordantly funny second outing for Dan McEvoy, the down on his luck owner of a New Jersey dive bar, whose uneasy truce with the local criminal kingpin Irish Mike Madden is being tested by an unexpectedly sudden death.

Colfer has an ear for dialogue, and the back and forths between characters are a highlight of this immensely entertaining Irish American noir. This is a tale that’s crying out for the big screen, but in the meantime revel in its inventive mastery.

Overlook, $29.95.

The Gamal
By Ciaran Collins

Things rarely end well for the weird kid in an Irish town. It’s usually because they can’t find a chapter in the story of their home place that will willingly include them.

From Roddy Doyle to John McGahern to Patrick McCabe, the outcome of all this exclusion and casual cruelty is rarely ever in doubt -- violence, separation or even death.

In The Gamal by Ciaran Collins we meet poor young Charlie -- the gamal, short for the Irish word “gamalog” meaning, roughly, simpleton. Always in trouble, always being run out of places, he’s the perfect foil to expose the prejudices of the little town he lives in.

It’s as old as the Bible, this dance. Just fall in love with the wrong person and watch the sparks fly.
The darkness that lurks in the hearts of others gets a workout in this poignant and bitingly funny book, which marks Collins’ debut.

Bloomsbury, $17.