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23 Of The Most Famous Irish Authors Of All time

23 Of The Most Famous Irish Authors Of All time

Discussions about the best Irish authors tend to get fiery at times, and there’s no mystery as to why!

Ireland has produced countless literary heavyweights over the years, with many famous Irish writers amassing legions of fans worldwide.

In fact, if you browse the list of Irish authors below you’ll see that many were much, much more popular after their passing than they were during their time on earth.

The most famous Irish authors

great irish novelists

Now, a quick disclaimer – this isn’t an organised list of the best Irish writers of all time. What’s ‘best’ is subjective, after all, and Ireland is known for giving birth to many masters of the pen!

The guide below presents the most famous Irish authors to ever pick up a pen. So, let’s dive on in!

1. Peig Sayers (1873 – 1958)

Peig Sayers

The first of our famous Irish authors is Peig Sayers who was described by the Irish Folklore Commission as “one of the greatest woman storytellers of recent times”.

Born in Dún Chaoin on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, she was named Máiréad Sayers but called “Peig” after her mother.

She moved to Great Blasket Island after marrying and was visited by Robin Flower of the British Museum who recorded her stories.

Over the years, Peig dictated 350 ancient legends, folk tales, ghost stories and religious stories for the Irish Folklore Commission along with her autobiography Peig

Famous quote: “I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. Had I known in advance half… of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous as it was in the beginning of my days”.

2. Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)

Born in Foxrock in Dublin Irish novelist Samuel Beckett is known for his characteristically bleak outlook and black humour.

His writing evolved over his long career as one of the last Modernist Irish writers. He spent most of his later life in Paris and joined the French Resistance movement during WW2.

He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature. Following his first novel Murphy (1938), he penned novels, and plays including Waiting for Godot, Molloy and Happy Days. 

Famous quote: “Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order”.

3. W. B. Yeats (1865–1939)

W. B. Yeats

The next of our famous Irish authors is Irish poet and writer W.B.Yeats – one of Ireland’s foremost figures in modern literature. Born in Sandymount, in Dublin he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

He was a driving force behind the turn-of-the-century Irish Literary Revival and he was one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, now the National Theatre of Ireland.

Famous poems include Leda and the Swan and The Second Coming.

Famous quote: “I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

4. Brendan Behan (1923–1964)

Brendan Behan was an Irish novelist, poet and playwright as well as an activist. He wrote in both Irish and English and was named one of the best Irish writers of all time.

Born in Dublin he later joined the IRA. During spell in prison he studied the Irish language. His first play The Quare Fellow was well received followed by his autobiographical novel Borstal Boy.

From the early 1960s he spent his time in New York City but alcoholism and diabetes eventually took their toll on his writing.

Famous quote: “To America, my new found land: The man that hates you hates the human race.”

5. Edna O’Brien

Edna O'Brien

Another of the more famous Irish authors is Edna O’Brien – a renowned Irish novelist, playwright, and short story writer, celebrated as one of the greatest female voices in contemporary literature.

Her debut novel, “The Country Girls”, broke social taboos and was even banned in Ireland for its frank depiction of female sexuality.

Despite controversies, her powerful exploration of women’s inner lives has earned her numerous awards.

O’Brien’s works often deal with themes of love, loss, and exile, reflecting her own experiences of leaving Ireland. Her literary influence extends far beyond her Irish roots.

6. Molly Keane (1904-1996)

Novelist and playwright Molly Keane was an Irish novelist and playwright who also used the pen-name M.J.Farrell.

Born in Skrine in Kildare to a wealthy family, Keane enjoyed a comfortable “Big House” lifestyle.

She often poked fun at society through her characters in Devoted Ladies and Time After Time.

One of her last novels, Good Behaviour, was written when she was 77 and she won the Booker Prize.

Famous quote: “Once I was looking through the kitchen window at dusk and I saw an old woman looking in, Suddenly the light changed and I realized that the old woman was myself. You see, it all happens on the outside; inside one doesn’t change.”

7. Oscar Wilde (1845–1900)

Oscar Wilde

Another of the most famous Irish writers is Oscar Wilde who was born in Dublin. He studied at Trinity College Dublin and Oxford, where he excelled.

Best known works include The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Ernest.

He was imprisoned for gross indecency when he wrote De Profundis and after his release he wrote about his experience in The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Famous quote from The Critic as an Artist: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”.

8. Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973)

Novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin. Her father was a barrister and her mother was descended from the Viscount Powerscourt in the Irish Peerage.

Bowen was famous for her novels about Irish landed Protestants and life in war-torn London including The Heat of the Day.

Moving to London she was part of the “Bloomsbury set” of Cambridge educated philosophers and writers including Virginia Woolf and E.M.Forster.

Famous works include The Last September and The Death of the Heart, which were adapted for film and TV.

Famous quote: “Writers do not find subjects; subjects find them.”

9. Maeve Binchy (1939 – 2012)

Maeve Binchy

One of the most famous Irish writers that excelled in more modern times, Maeve Binchy was born in Dalkey in Dublin.

Her writing began almost by accident when writing letters home while working on a kibbutz in Israel. She returned home and became Women’s Page Editor for the Irish Times.

Her novels such as Light a Penny Candle portray small-town life in Ireland and she became one of Ireland’s best-loved award-winning national writers.

She sold over 40 million copies of her novels which were translated into 37 languages. 

Famous quote: “I don’t have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks.”

10. William Congreve (1670 – 1729)

William Congreve was a poet and playwright during the Restoration period.

He was born in Yorkshire but the family moved to Youghal, Co. Cork when his father was made lieutenant in the army in Ireland.

Educated at Kilkenny College where he met Jonathan Swift, Congreve’s satirical dialogue and sense of comedy led to early fame although his plays were not always well received. 

Famous quote from The Mourning Bride: “Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d, Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned”. It is often famously paraphrased as “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.

11. Bram Stoker (1847 – 1912)

Bram Stoker

Few characters are more spine-chilling than Dracula, brought to life by one of the more famous Irish authors Bram Stoker in his Gothic horror novel.

Born in Clontarf in Dublin Stoker became the friend and PA of actor Sir Henry Irving who owned the Lyceum Theatre, London which Stoker also managed for 27 years.

Bram’s early writing was as a theatre critic for an Irish newspaper but a stay in Whitby inspired his famous novel Dracula which is one of the most famous works of English literature.  

Famous quote from Dracula: “We learn from failure, not from success!”

12. C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)

Author of the children’s fantasy Chronicles of Narnia series, Clive Staples Lewis (aka C.S.Lewis) was born in Belfast.

He wrote many popular novels including sci-fi Space Trilogy and discussed Christian apologetics and Universal Morality in Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain.

Listed by The Times as one of the Top 50 Greatest Writers he was buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. 

Famous quote: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

13. James Joyce (1882 – 1941)

James Joyce

The next of our famous Irish writers is arguably one of the most famous Irish people

Acclaimed Dublin novelist, poet and literary critic James Joyce was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century with his modernist avant-garde outlook.

He graduated from University College Dublin and then moved around Europe working as a correspondent and English teacher while writing his landmark classic Ulysses.

This was followed by the novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the short story collection Dubliners. He remained actively involved in Irish politics throughout his life. 

Famous quote: “Life is too short to read a bad book”.

14. Maeve Brennan (1917-1993)

Irish short story writer and journalist Maeve Brennan is known for her Irish diaspora writing which has international acclaim.

Born in Dublin, the family were involved in the 1916 Rising and her father was sentenced to penal servitude. Some of her earliest expediences are included in her story The Day We Got Our Own Back.

Moving to New York, Brennan wrote for several society magazines including Harper’s Bazaar. Her first published works were short stories published by New Yorker.

Like many famous Irish authors, her talents were not recognised until after her death when the stories were re-published. 

Famous quote from The Visitor: “Home is a place in the mind. When it is empty, it frets”.

15. Ella Young (1867 – 1956)

Ella Young

Ella Young was an Irish poet and Celtic mythologist who was born in Fenagh, Co Antrim. She was part of the Gaelic and Celtic Revival Literary movement.

As well as writing, she lectured on Irish Mythology and Lore at the University of California, Berkeley, often wearing the purple robes of a Celtic Druid.

She expounded on fairies, elves, unicorns and talking to trees. Her first novel was The Comings of Lugh: A Celtic Wonder-Tale. 

Famous quote: “Never was there any one so beautiful as [he]… The wolves did not ravage, the frost winds did not bite…”.

16. J.M. Synge (1871 – 1909)

Teach Synge

Photo left: Shutterstock. Top right: Google Maps. Bottom right: Public Domain

Another of the famous Irish authors is Edmund John Millington Synge. J. M. Synge was an Irish playwright, poet and collector of stories and folklore.

His first play When the Moon has Set was rejected and his most famous play The Playboy of the Western World met with a hostile audience when it opened at the Abbey Theatre Dublin.

It led to riots due to its bleak ending and depiction of Irish peasants. Despite this, Yeats said that Synge was “the greatest dramatic genius of Ireland”.

Famous quote: “A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drownded, for he will be going out on a day he shouldn’t”.

17. Mary Anne Sadlier (1820 – 1903)

Born in Cootehill in Cavan, Mary Anne Sadlier was the Irish author of 23 novels and numerous stories published in The Tablet magazine.

These include Confessions on an Apostate and The Blakes and the Flanaghans. She emigrated to Quebec and married publisher James Sadlier who promoted her writing.

She wrote particularly for Irish immigrants in the USA and Canada, encouraging them to keep their faith.

She addressed many social and nationalistic problems including the Irish Famine, anti-Catholicism and emigration and received a special blessing from Pope Leo XIII for her service to the Catholic Church. 

Famous quote in Bessy Conway: “Every woman has a mission”.

18. Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

Seamus Heaney love poem

Another of the more famous Irish writers Seamus Heaney. Born near Castledawson in Northern Ireland, he stressed that he was Irish, not British.

He turned down the position of Poet Laureate for political reasons. Acclaimed as one of the major Irish poets of the 20th century, his first major work was Death of a Naturalist containing 34 poems.

He received the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature “for his works of lyrical beauty” among many other prestigious awards.

Famous quote: “Walk on air against your better judgement.”

19. Kate O’Brien (1897-1974)

Novelist Kathleen “Kate” O’Brien was born into a prosperous middle-class family in Limerick. She began to write fiction while working as a governess in Spain before becoming a full time writer.

Here award-winning debut novel Without My Cloak won the James Tait Black Prize and the Hawthornden Prize.

Her radical themes in Mary Lavelle and Land of Spices led to some books being banned in Ireland.

She died in poverty with most works out of print but has since been recognised as a major 20th century writer.

Famous quote: “Wherever you go, the most of life will have to happen in your mind.”

20. G. Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)

George Bernard Shaw

Photos in the Public Domain

George Bernard Shaw went by his preferred name of Bernard Shaw. He was born in Portobello in Dublin and as a self-educated playwright, critic and activist he had a huge influence on theatre and culture.

He is one of the most famous Irish writers and penned the likes of Love Among the Artists, The Irrational Knot and Immaturity.

Later successes include the play Caesar and Cleopatra. 

Famous quote: “Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.”

21. Dorothy Macardle (1889-1958)

Born in Dundalk in Ireland to a wealthy brewing family, Dorothy Macardle was a member of the Gaelic League and was known to be against the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Her first play, Asthara was performed at the Little Theatre Dublin in 1910.

Her book Earthbound Nine Stories of Ireland shows her diverse talent, blending ghosts and legends with political messages.

These were expounded in her later work The Irish Republic.

Famous quote from The Uninvited: “In the city so much of your life is lived for you by others; you are required to fill so small a space”.

22. Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745)

Jonathan Swift

Photos in the Public Domain

Best known for his epic tale Gulliver’s Travels”, Jonathan Swift was a prolific Anglo-Irish satirist, author, political poet and Anglican cleric.

Born in Dublin to a family with many literary and royalist connections, he attended Trinity College. Swift became Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin where he was later buried.

He is best known as a satirist with A Tale of a Tub as a prime example of ironism. 

Famous quote from his self-written epitaph: “Go forth, Voyager, and copy, if you can, this vigorous (to the best of his ability) Champion of Liberty”.

23. Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849)

The last of our famous Irish authors is Anglo-Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth. She one of the first realist writers for children.

Born in Oxford, she moved to Edgeworthstown in Logford at the age of five.

She used her fictional writing to tackle controversial social problems of religion, race, sex and gender in her novels Castle Rackrent and Harrington, among others.

From 1800 onwards she became the most successful novelist of her time. 

Famous quote: “Surely it is much more generous to forgive and remember, than to forgive and forget.”

FAQs about famous Irish writers

best Irish authors

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are some great Irish writers from the last decade?’ to ‘What famous Irish authors are overlooked?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Who is the most famous author in Ireland?

Although there are many famous Irish writers, you could argue that the best known is Dublin’s James Joyce, who is considered to be one of the 20th century’s most pivotal and significant authors.

Who are the best Irish writers of all time?

This is a hard question to answer as ‘best’ is very subjective, especially when it comes to writing. However, the likes of Peig Sayers (1873 – 1958), Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) and W. B. Yeats (1865–1939) are some of the most celebrated.

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