30 Cork-related books: Fiction, sport, history, kids, crime - the best of a bumper crop from 2020

It's been a bumper year for Leeside-related books. Whether you're looking for a present or something to read yourself, here are some suggestions across the genres
30 Cork-related books: Fiction, sport, history, kids, crime - the best of a bumper crop from 2020

Clockwise: the cover of 'Cork Words', Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Graham Norton


Home Stretch, Graham Norton 

All that fresh Ahakista air seems to be doing Norton’s creative powers the world of good, as the chat show host displays his writing chops to their best effect

yet in this, his third novel. Set in a small Irish town and New York in the 1980s, a catastrophic accident on the eve of a wedding reverberates through the lives of those left behind.

A Quiet Tide, Marianne Lee 

In this blend of fact and fiction, Lee excavates the personal story of Ellen Hutchins, Ireland’s first female botanist who made a significant contribution to scientific discovery in the 19th century. Hutchins was born at Ballylickey House near Bantry and died at the tragically early age of 29 in 1815. This fascinating book goes some way in giving a new appreciation of her legacy.

The Last Day at Bowen's Court, Eibhear Walshe 

Walshe, director of creative writing at UCC, focuses on the wartime adventures of author Elizabeth Bowen and her affair with Canadian diplomat Charles Ritchie, which inspired her novel, The Heat of the Day. The action takes place in London, Dublin and the family home of the title, near Kildorrery in Co Cork.

Scenes of a Graphic Nature, Caroline O’Donoghue

 Cork-born, London-based O’Donoghue, who displayed a distinctive voice in her debut Promising Young Women, follows up with this darkly comic tale of a disillusioned young woman whose attempt to find to the truth of her dying father’s past brings her to a remote Irish island.

A Ghost in the Throat, Doireann Ní Ghríofa 

From her car on the roof of a multi-storey car park in the city, where much of this book was written after dropping her children off at school, Cork-based Ní Ghríofa travels back through time to reflect on the connection between her and Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, author of the famous 18th century lament Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire. A raw and haunting blend of memoir, essay, history and poetry, it has deservedly been lavished with superlatives since its release.


After The Silence, Louise O’Neill 

The Clonakilty-based author of the acclaimed YA novels Only Ever Yours and Asking For It successfully takes on the crime genre in this award-winning novel, the gripping story of a team of documentary makers who stir things up when they arrive on a West Cork island to investigate the murder of a woman ten years earlier.

Whatever it Takes, Tadhg Coakley 

The former librarian stakes his claim as Cork’s Ian Rankin in this, the first in a planned series featuring Tim Collins, detective and former inter-county hurler (an entry you won’t find on John Rebus’s CV). Collins faces a battle of wills with criminal kingpin, Molloy, when a young woman’s body is found in the river.

The Nothing Man, Catherine Ryan Howard

 Cork native Ryan Howard has wowed readers with her tautly-plotted twisty thrillers and her latest is no exception. A compelling and clever subversion of the true crime genre, it follows Eve Black in her search for the serial killer who murdered her family. The point of view alternates between Eve and the killer, allowing Ryan Howard to ramp up the suspense in masterful fashion.

While Nobody is Watching, Michelle Dunne 

The Cobh author draws on her own stint as a UN peacekeeper in the Irish Army in this psychological thriller featuring a former Irish soldier battling with PTSD and other unseen threats while working with troubled youths in Cork.

Cork Words - An Anthology of Contemporary Cork Writing, compiled by Patricia Looney

Corkonians are not known to be ever short of words, and there are plenty to be cherished and enjoyed in this selection of work by contemporary writers, published by Cork City Library. It is the first of a planned series of anthologies showcasing Cork’s wealth of writing talent, from established to emerging.


L-R: Roy Keane, Denis Coughlan
L-R: Roy Keane, Denis Coughlan

Keane: Origins, Eoin O’Callaghan

There has been no shortage of takes on one of Cork’s most famous sporting sons, although it’s noteworthy that both of his autobiographies were written with Dubs (Eamon Dunphy and Roddy Doyle). O’Callaghan takes a different tack, bringing a Corkonian’s perspective and focusing on the period between 1988 and 1993, and Keane's journey from an economically-ravaged Cork to his sensational stint under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest via a FÁS training scheme and a brief spell in the League of Ireland.

Everything by Denis Coughlan with Tadhg Coakley 

Another entry for the versatile Coakley, who here helps tell the story of one of Cork’s greatest dual stars. Coughlan is an engaging presence and this account of a dazzling career abounds in anecdotes and insight. Stories from his friendship with clubmates Jack Lynch and Christy Ring will particularly resonate with Leeside readers.

The Double, Adrian Russell 

Published late last year, this retelling of Cork’s double All-Ireland victory is particularly suitable reading for 2020, the 30th anniversary of that achievement. Russell stitches together the memories of those involved in that unforgettable summer, as the tension builds towards two September showdowns. Cork GAA fans will doubtless luxuriate in the nostalgia and ponder what’s required to recapture that winning feeling.

Believe, by Larry Tompkins with Denis Hurley 

The man who captained Cork to the second leg of that historic double tells his story in typical forthright fashion in this engrossing read. Candid accounts of the legendary battles with Meath in the late 80s and early 90s are a highlight.

Gods by The Lee, Neptune Basketball Club: My Basketball Memories, Jim O’Donoghue 

 Who better to record the notable history of the city’s legendary Neptune Basketball Club than its longest-serving member, who was born in 1938, just 200 yards from Neptune Stadium. O’Donoghue, who was a basketball referee until the age of 79, highlights the club’s significant sporting achievements while also exploring the social and cultural importance of the club in the community.


 Girls Play Too, Jacqui Hurley

 The RTÉ sports presenter is no stranger to basketball, having played for the Irish team in her youth. In this engaging book, nicely illustrated by Rachel Corcoran, she brings younger readers the inspirational stories of Ireland’s female sporting heroes and role models, from first female Olympian Maeve Kyle to rally driver Rosemary Smith, the all-conquering Katie Taylor and of course, Cork’s own world-beaters, Sonia O’Sullivan, Derval O’Rourke and Olive Loughnane.

Michael Collins: Hero and Rebel, by Eithne Massey 

The adventures of the Cork hero are brought to vivid life in this lively tale for younger readers. From listening to tales of old Ireland on a West Cork farm and fighting his corner in the school playground, the little boy with a fierce sense of injustice and an equally fierce temper grows up to lead the fight for Irish independence.

But Really….Adventures with a Difference by David King, illustrated by Jesse de la Cour

 Inspired by his son Adam, the space-loving boy from Killeagh who stole the hearts of the nation during his recent Toy Show appearance, David King wrote this book from the perspective of the families of children with additional needs, showing how being different may be a challenge but it is also an adventure.

Queen of Coin and Whispers, Helen Corcoran 

Cork native Corcoran’s young adult fantasy novel is a bewitching tale of corruption, intrigue and romance set in the kingdom of Edar. It follows teenage queen Lia and spymaster Xania, who is out to avenge her murdered father.


Cork Burning, Michael Lenihan 

The story of one of the most infamous and devastating chapters in the city’s history, when members of the British forces avenged ambushes at Kilmichael and Dillon’s Cross by setting fire to the commercial and civic heart of the city. The night of 11-12 December, 1920, is compellingly conveyed through eyewitness accounts and contemporary accounts, and illustrated with exceptional images from the period.

Forgotten Lord Mayor: Donal Óg O'Callaghan, 1920-1924, Aodh Quinlivan 

The story of the man who was mayor during the Burning of Cork is told by UCC lecturer Quinlivan in this remarkable book. Donal Óg O’Callaghan became Cork’s third mayor in 1920 but his period in office, largely spent on the run, was understandably overshadowed by the tragic and untimely deaths of his predecessors Terence MacSwiney and Tomás MacCurtain.

Witness to Murder, Kieran McCarthy and John O’Mahony

 A real treat for amateur historians, this publication from The Irish Examiner features the transcript of the inquest into the death of Tomás MacCurtain. The last time it was published in full was in the Cork Examiner between March 23 and April 18, 1920. Available to buy at irishexaminer.ie

 People of the Sea: A Maritime History of Beara, Marc O’Sullivan Vallig 

The history of the beautiful and bleak Beara peninsula is inextricably entwined with its strong maritime culture, which is celebrated in this fascinating book. It features maritime folklore and historical recollections — including the tragic story of the five Sullivan brothers who perished on the USS Juneau and whose grandparents came from Adrigole — as well as interviews with those who love the sea and those who labour on it.

Working in Cork: Everyday life in Irish Steel, Sunbeam Wolsey and the Ford Marina Plant, 1917-2001, Liam Cullinane

This book will be of interest to the many Cork people with links to the manufacturing triumvirate of Irish Steel, Sunbeam-Wolsey and Ford. It tells the stories of those who were employed there, using extensive oral testimony, and also includes new archival research on their business practices.


L-R: John Creedon, Alice Taylor
L-R: John Creedon, Alice Taylor

That Place We Call Home, John Creedon

In his first book, a companion of sorts to his most recent excursion on RTÉ, Creedon's Atlas of Ireland, the popular broadcaster delves into Ireland's most unusual, iconic and famous place names. With his customary warmth and passion, he mines the annals of history and his own childhood memories while guiding the reader on a memorable trip around the country he loves.

Books from the Attic: Treasures from an Irish Childhood, Alice Taylor

The beloved Inishannon-based author also takes a trip down memory lane in this charming chronicle of life in rural Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s, as seen through the schoolbooks she has kept from that time. The poetry, legends, stories and history of her childhood bring back memories of a different way of life.


The Humours of Nothingness, Gerry Murphy 

Murphy’s eighth collection of poetry is steeped in his native Cork. He ponders love, death, childhood, politics and religion, all underscored by his provocative wit and humour.

Shadow of the Owl, Matthew Sweeney

Described as one of the most life-enhancing and distinctive poets of his generation, Sweeney, who lived in Cork, has been greatly missed since his death from motor neurone disease in 2018. His final collection showcases the dark, literally fabulous, nature of his work, which explored the loneliness of the human condition.

Washing Up, Derek Mahon 

Another final collection from a cherished poet who we sadly lost this year, Mahon’s years in Kinsale proved to be particularly fruitful. His legacy is guaranteed, as can be seen from his poem Everything is Going to be Alright which has been a source of solace to many during the pandemic.

Mercy, Róisín Kelly

This powerful debut collection from the 2017 winner of the Fish Poetry Prize has been rapturously received, cementing the Cork-based poet’s status as one to watch.

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