St. Patrick鈥檚 Day is coming, and whether you think it鈥檚 a fun celebration of all things Irish or a 鈥渉oliday鈥 that exploits questionable stereotypes, it means a host of new books by Irish and Irish-American writers about this fascinating, complicated country. This week鈥檚 book club features three books about returning to Ireland and reflecting on the sentimental connections we have to the country that never go away.

1. Nine Irish Lives: The Thinkers, Fighters & Artists Who Helped Build America, edited by Mark Bailey ($17): The nine essays in this book feature stories of Irish immigrants, some well-known and some not, who helped shape American history. Each of the diverse range of subjects was chosen by the individual writer, celebrated Americans of Irish descent who share some connection with their profiled hero. Writers include Michael Moore, Rosie O鈥橠onnell, Mark K. Shriver, Jill McDonough, and Pierce Brosnan.

The nine people profiled in the book range from organizer Mary 鈥淢other鈥 Jones to film director Rex Ingram, from 鈥渕uckraker鈥 Samuel S. McClure to 鈥渃aretaker鈥 Margaret Haughery. Their lives span from that of 鈥渞evolutionary鈥 Thomas Addis Emmet, born in 1764, to current 鈥減eacemaker鈥 Niall O鈥橠owd. 鈥淭his truth we can probably all agree on,鈥 writes editor Bailey: 鈥渁 large number of men, women and children left Ireland, the country of their birth, and went out into the world to do great things. Whether it was political violence that drove them, whether it was hunger, oppression, or just the dream of a better life, off they went 鈥 first in ships, later in planes 鈥 into the unknown. This was the Irish Diaspora.鈥

鈥淐ertainly, no country in modern history has benefited from this [immigrant] drive more than the United States,鈥 Bailey concludes. Even if you鈥檙e not one of the more than 10 percent of Americans who claim Irish heritage, the stories of immigrants working to get the job done 鈥 following the dreams, heartbreak, successes, and their inextricable link to American history 鈥 are timely ones.

2. The Liar鈥檚 Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard ($25): Cork-born writer Howard鈥檚 debut novel, Distress Signals, was praised by the Irish Times as 鈥渉ighly confident and accomplished, impeccably sustained, with not a false note.鈥 The only false notes in her follow-up thriller are the lies surrounding Dublin鈥檚 infamous Canal Killer. Young Alison Smith excitedly left her small town of Cork for St. Johns College in Dublin; she loved her fun new life, filled with parties, studies, and friends (including best friend Liz). It also included what she thought was love with boyfriend Will Hurley.

But then Will was accused of murdering five women, each one bludgeoned and drowned in the Grand Canal while alone. Alison is sure he鈥檚 innocent, but when she tells what she believes to be the truth, Will confesses to being the Canal Killer. He鈥檚 sentenced to a psychiatric hospital, and Alison, unable to deal with the situation, drops out of college and flees to the Netherlands. Ten years later, Alison has a decent, happy, and resolutely single life, which is summarily interrupted when two Irish police show up with a proposition: Come back to Ireland and talk to Will for the first time in a decade, as he says he has information for her ears only.

Why does this matter? Because two more bodies have been found in the canal with a suspiciously familiar MO, and Will鈥檚 still locked away. Some think it鈥檚 the work of a copycat, but one of the detectives happens to agree with Alison that Will might not be a murderer. Howard fills the book with details about student life and the streets of Dublin of the recent past and present (鈥淎s any student looking for an affordable place to rent in Dublin quickly discovers, fridges free-standing in the middle of living rooms adjacent to tiny kitchens are, apparently, all the rage鈥), while maintaining a furious pace of twisting intrigue.

3. Straying by Molly McCloskey ($24): 鈥淢y mother is dead now, she died eight weeks ago, and I cannot decide how I feel about the fact that some part of her has remained in that house without me.鈥 Another woman returns to the Ireland of her youth in Irish writer McCloskey鈥檚 novel. Growing up in Oregon, Alice鈥檚 main connection in life was her mother, who raised her alone. When Alice turns 24 in the late 1980s, she decided to move to Western Ireland, leaving her mother behind. She meets Eddie, a local furniture importer and marries him, seemingly content to stay as a traditional wife in a country where she鈥檚 a marked foreigner to local custom. However, her uninspiring work as a journalist and lack of a life of her own chafe at her sensibilities. Chafing often results in changing, and when Alice spends a summer having an affair, her marriage is over. So is her tie to Ireland, and she leaves the country soon after the divorce.

Alice spends years working for NGOs in war-torn countries. She鈥檚 in Kenya with an Irish NGO when she receives word that her mother has died. Reflecting on the direction she鈥檚 taken in life, Alice comes back to Ireland to write a report on the work she鈥檚 done. The report takes a back seat to an accounting of her relationships and past. She finds Eddie remarried and a father, and thinks about what could have been.

鈥淚 found our old house, Eddie鈥檚 and mine, on the Internet not long ago. It鈥檚 for sale. I track him, on occasion, through the vast electronic undergrowth, imagining who we鈥檇 be now if things had gone another way. The first time, I鈥檇 meant only to look around the neighborhood, to get a glimpse of the fa莽ade. I wanted to see the mountain and the view of the Atlantic, the fuchsia that grew at the corner of the drive. But what came up when I searched were the property websites, and there was the house, listed by its name. I鈥檇 forgotten it even had a name.鈥 Combining Alice鈥檚 memories of her free-spirited youth in the Irish countryside with her present reflections on a life shaped by her own choices, Straying is a story about the roots we鈥檙e born with and the roots we choose to grow.

What books bring you back to Eire? Tag us in your next Irish read @BritandCo.

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