A Tramp’s Abroad: What books to bring? The Literature of Ireland and Wales



“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

– Mark Twain




I’m not bringing my Kindle to Ireland/Wales. Instead, I have the convenient Kindle app on my iPhone. Not that I don’t love paper books – please – but there’s nothing more comforting than knowing I’ll never be without reading material. As long as my battery lasts, that is. There’s your indisputable reason for the codex, aside from the aesthetic pleasure found in the feel of paper, the sound of pages turning. Nothing can replicate that.

I associate the sound of pages turning with restfulness. When I hear it I feel as close to a hint of joy as ever I do. If I could buy a sound machine with the setting “pages turning” I would. Instant relaxation, plus a stimulation of pleasure receptors in my brain. Not sexual but lulling. Is it from childhood, being read to? Partially but also the hours and hours I’ve spent reading real books. Generations forward who don’t know this have my pity. Will they feel the same for keys clacking?

The idea breaks my heart.

What actual paper books should I bring? God, I could go crazy but I know I must not or I’ll end up either tossing them out or, more likely, pitching worn clothing to lighten the load. Would be a shame to run out of clothes and no, I’m not being sarcastic meaning I want to buy replacements abroad. A hand-knitted woolen sweater, yes. Jeans and everyday shirts? Not so much. Waste of time I could spend hunting out pubs or taking candid photos of Celtic crosses and brightly-colored buildings. Everyday clothing is boring boring boring but a necessity. Books are essential but I don’t mind hunting out bookshops to build inventory. A key difference.

I have a book of Irish short stories I bought at Half Price Books, for the sole purpose of reading either before I leave or while traveling. I may bring it and – cover your eyes – rip out stories as I finish to lighten the load, making room for souvenirs and/or mementos I happen upon. May even remove the hard cover before I go; every little bit helps. Sorry if it horrifies you but this is a cheaply published book and it’s the content that matters over the book itself. Unless it’s an exceptional book, mind. Wouldn’t catch me ripping pages out of the Gutenberg Bible, say, or halving the Declaration of Independence so it folds better (not a book, of course, yadda yadda).

For novels, I have Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry. Haven’t read any of his and he of course won the Booker for Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha. Then there’s Nuala O’Faolain‘s Are You Somebody? , an autobiography of growing up in Dublin. Christ, I didn’t realize she’d died. I was just thinking, what if I pulled strings and contacted her, then saw on Wikipedia she died in 2008. She was a journalist, an autobiographer, a novelist… And she died at 68 of cancer. Far too young.


“I don’t want more time. As soon as I heard I was going to die, the goodness went from life”.

– Nuala O’Faolain


I’m interested in de Valera but don’t want to buy anything new here, I have so much. I have a bio of Michael Collins (my brother’s name, by the way, though he’s more likely named for the astronaut) but it’s huge and heavy. I’ve heard there are bookshops in Ireland, though. What a shame it would be to have to resort to buying a book there. A last resort, naturally. Because it would be so painful and all. And I’ve gone to the trouble to map out the bookshops. Shockingly unlike me.

I’ll write a lot, of course, and that passes time as well as reading. Embarrassingly for my daughter, I like taking notes during tours. When I hear about or see something I’d like to research further there is no way I’ll trust to remembering it. A Moleskine’s my favorite notebook, a nice sharp point pen – scratch! scratch! – my favorite writing implement. I’ve always had a thing for those disposable fountain pens (purple, in honor of Virginia Woolf) but have had unfortunate incidents in which they’ve exploded all over me, or in my purse. Or on my fingers. Air travel, with its variances in air pressure, may not be the best environment for them. Fine-tipped pens it is.

Do I want to bring something by Joyce, though, considering? Maybe Dubliners, the short story collection. Not Ulysses, good god, though if I find a beautiful copy of that or any Joyce while in Ireland I may have to pounce. I have at least two different editions of Ulysses but it’s Ireland, for god’s sake. Maybe I’ll download one to my Kindle? If it will fit.


“One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

–  James Joyce,Dubliners


Perhaps a new Irish writer will catch my eye, a shiny new book in a bookstore window. Or an incredibly old, yellowed volume in a used bookshop. We hear about only a small percentage of world authors here in the States, only the big names make it over. I sometimes stumble upon authors serendipitously, writers I feel should be better known. I love introducing them here in the Colonies, reviewing them here, on Goodreads and Amazon can be powerful word of mouth advertising in the bibliosphere. Readers are forever on the hunt for novelty. Pun not intended.


“She even learnt the language of a strange country which Senior Cosetti had been told some people believed still existed, although no-one in the world could say where it was. The name of this country was Wales.” 

-Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell


There’s no lack of Irish writing, a blessing and a curse for a reader. Books about Ireland, the same. Nonfiction about Irish immigration to America would be great, since that’s part of my own ancestry. I own some of that, as well, but it could be dry reading, unless I pick a good one. Though not about immigration, How the Irish Saved Civilization is one I’ve meant to get to for ages. It may get me a free drink in a pub, too, with that laudatory title. And I know it to be true – the saving, not the free drinks.

I feel as if I’m giving Wales short shrift. Hard not to in comparison to towering literary Ireland. There’s Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl, Richard Llewellyn (I’ve read How Green Was My Valley at least twice and loved it – if you haven’t read it, it’s set amongst poverty-stricken Welsh coal miners and is a brilliant portrait) and it’s here I start running out of gas and have to consult a source besides my own brain:

Rhys Davies (Heard of him, vaguely.)

Jack Jones

Gwyn Thomas

Idris Davies (Of working class origin, he wrote in Welsh.)

Geraint Goodwin

R.S. Thomas

Emyr Humphreys

Raymond Williams

Bernice Rubens (Aha! I’ve heard of her! And thought she was Canadian…)

Ruth Bidgood

Gillian Clarke

Several more poets but I’m not heavily into poetry.

But what of current Welsh writers, from Bernice Rubens on? As with most of the names above, I know none of these writers:

Niall Griffiths

Malcolm Pryce

Both of these were born in England, with Welsh roots.

Nikita Lalwani (From India, raised in Wales.)

Trezza Azzopardi (Thought she was Italian?)

Jan Morris

Ack, frustrating. Was it the poverty of the Welsh, the day to day necessity of survival that has kept them from producing writers or are they so obscure even Wikipedia isn’t picking them up? I can’t believe there aren’t more Welsh writers. Something’s amiss.

Ah, here we go: the Wales Book of the Year award.

They’re alive and breathing, just not well promoted. Or, drowned out by their neighbors to the East and West, two literary powerhouses. This gives me something to work with, perhaps I’m only a Kindle download away from great Welsh writing.



“I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.” 

– Dylan Thomas


I can see now my backpack will be bulging. I’ll be stumbling over it in the cramped coach section. My poor seat mate! The airline should warn people, maybe with color-coded name tags: “Caution: READER!” Now seating THE READERS, stand clear.

Magazines… Literary journals… I have those cluttering up the place. I could bring a few, finish and hand them off. It would feel good getting through a dozen or so.

Now look what I’ve done, creating an impossible list of reads for what’s to be a very visual travel experience. I won’t be reading on buses and trains! I’ll have my nose pressed to the glass, camera ready. Still, I feel I need to familiarize myself with the culture and of course the writing is my go to favorite. I love museums and am wild for archaeology in the wide open but I need to know the literature to know the people. To understand their soul.

Perhaps I’ll bring Roddy Doyle and the short stories to represent Ireland and whatever I can lay hands on from modern Welsh literary fiction or non. Plus the Kindle, natch. And along the way, who knows? I’m sure something will pop up. Books, literary journals, newspapers… I should be okay.

Recommendations? Shoot.







One thought on “A Tramp’s Abroad: What books to bring? The Literature of Ireland and Wales

  1. Definitely bring Dubliners! I love that book, but am ashamed to say I haven’t managed to make it through Ulysses yet. If you are interested in Nuala O’Faolain you should check out the interview she did with Marian Finuacane when she knew she only had a few months left. It was heartbreaking.
    I happen to be home for the weekend and am looking forward to checking out some of the writers festival. Enjoy!


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