Some books for under the Christmas Tree

Christmas gifts come in many forms, few as traditional as books. Ray O’Hanlon has a few recommendations for the century’s last teen Yuletide.


A novel with a backdrop of Coney Island cover by an author with Cork as his backdrop. Billy O’Callaghan has won awards and drew significant praise from the liked of Edna O’Brien and John Banville who opines on the cover that O’Callaghan “richly deserves a worldwide reputation.” Published by HarperCollins.

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Dublin-born novelist John Boyne has a long list of novels to his name and this one comes with words of praise from reviewers at the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe. Published by Hogarth.


Readers with an interest in Irish American history will be aware of the post- Civil War Fenian invasion of Canada. Author Christopher Klein here tells the tale in detail in a hardcover that wins praise from, among others, James McPherson, one of the preeminent writers on the Civil War. The subtitle is “The Incredible True Story Of The Civil War Veterans Who Fought For Ireland’s Freedom.” And incredible it is. This would be a good companion for another standout published just a few years back, “The Immortal Irishman,” by Timothy Egan, a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher. Klein’s work is published by Doubleday, Egan’s by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


There are books that you get at Christmas that are best left for January when you have a little more time to digest them. One such is “Burned” by Irish journalist Sam McBride. It’s a probing look at the “Cash-For-Ash” scandal that was one of the reasons why power sharing in Northern Ireland came to a shuddering halt. A lot of very strong reviews for this tome from journalists who well know the North political landscape. Published by Merrion Press,


The late “Big Tom” McBride was, as the subtitle tells us, “The King of Irish Country.” Country Music is, well, big, in Ireland and Big Tom was for sure one of its biggest stars. Out it this way: Ireland stopped after the assassination of JFK. It virtually stopped after the death, in an air crash, of Jim Reeves just eight months after Dallas. The Big Tom biography, by Tom Gilmore, is published by The O’Brien Press and is available in the U.S. through Dufour Editions of Chester Springs, PA. Also via Dufour is “Keep It Country,” a coffee table-sized and richly illustrated celebration of Irish Country Music by Eddie Rowley. Also from Dufour at


Headlines in recent days have cast dubious light on America’s war in Afghanistan, pretty much an unwinnable conflict in country that has been steeped in warfare for centuries. Maurice Naylon’s “The New Ministry of Truth” is subtitled “Combat Advisors in Afghanistan and America’s Great Betrayal.” Suffice it to say the author, whose full name is Maurice L. Naylon IV, cast a cold eye no what one reviewer describes as “a searing indictment of the self-delusion that plagued America’s war in Afghanistan. This book was published months before the recent reports in the Washington Post that portray the war in Afghanistan as an absolute shambles. Published by Hellgate Press, Ashland, Oregon,


Now here’s one to raise an eyebrow or two. “Thatcher’s Spy, My Life as An MI5 Agent Inside Sinn Féin,” is penned by Willie Carlin. Carlin’s tale goes back to the 1980s, as the title would indicate. According to the cover notes his cover was blown in 1985, “thanks to one of his old MI5 handlers being jailed as a Soviet spy.” Turns out it was another British “super spy” inside the IRA’s secretive counter-intelligence unit, the “nuttin’ squad” who saved Carlin’s life. Suffice it to say, and as the cover further states, this book is Cold War meets “Northern Ireland’s Dirty War” and is a memoir of a deep undercover British intelligence agent, a man now doomed forever to look over his shoulder.” Published by Merrion Press. Also from Merrion Press is “Frenzy And Betrayal, the Anatomy of a Political Assassination.” This is former Irish government minister Alan Shatter’s detailed riposte to his forced resignation in May, 2014. That resignation was linked to the crescendo at the time surrounding allegations of Garda corruption. Was Shatter a scapegoat? Well, the dedication page at the book’s outset carries a quote from the Dreyfus Affair. Shatter defends himself and his reputation in detail through the book’s 452 pages. If Irish politics is your cup of tea this is a veritable pot of Irish Breakfast.


Georgia-based Brian Martin has penned an immigrant tale entitled “A Village Voice,” a novel that tells the story of three generations of the Flanagan family from their involvement in the struggle for Irish independence to their struggle to survive and make a new life in America. Now there’s a theme long and well familiar. Austin MacAuley Publishers at


“The Dregs of the Day” is the first English translation of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s tale of heartache, death and loneliness, so perhaps not the cheeriest of holiday reads. Still, the reviews and reviewers are impressive with words of praise from the likes of Colm Toibin and Seamus Deane. Published by Yale University Press,


Take from this writer, every O’Hanlon, male at any rate, reckons he is very directly descended from Count Redmond O’Hanlon, the Wild Rapparee who prowled the hills and valleys of present day counties Armagh, Monaghan, Down and Louth in the late 17th century. There are multiple historical accounts of O’Hanlon and a long ago novel “North Road,” that has an opening scene of him riding into Dundalk. “An Universal Wolf,” subtitled “The Life and Times Redmond O’Hanlon,” is the work of Michal D. Kerrigan. Quite a life, and for sure some times. More at


Ireland is, of course, famous for poetry and poets. And they work away still to provide us with words to ponder and savor. Much of contemporary work from Irish and Irish American poetry pens in published in the U.S. by Wake Forest University Press which is attached to the university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. More at


Bill Hughes is familiar to Echo readers as a contributor based in Baltimore, Maryland. “Byline Baltimore” is a collection of his writings that is available online from Hughes is something of a polymath being an author, attorney, actor and photojournalist. He has also been an activist on issues of Irish American concern for many years.


“Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland,” by Patrick Radden Keefe, has been widely acclaimed as a piercing probe into the dark early years of the Troubles. Suffice it to say the story of the disappearance of mother-of-ten Jean McConville does not make for easy or light reading. But this is a book to be read. Published by Doubleday.


“The Maamtrasna Murders,” by Margaret Kelleher, is highly recommended. The book recounts the sentencing to death in 1882 of three men who spoke only Irish after a trial conducted entirely in English. The case is widely viewed as being one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in Irish history. Author Margaret Kelleher, professor and chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at University College Dublin, uses the Maamtrasna (County Mayo) case as basis for examining broader sociolinguistic issues, a live subject to say the least in today’s Northern Ireland. Published by UCD Press.