Books you'll open again and again
Darragh McManus on the best Irish coffee-table books that will make a perfect gift this Christmas
Someone once, rather cleverly, described a book as "a gift you can open again and again". And for a good coffee-table book, doubly so: the whole point of these tomes, after all, is the pleasure to be got from returning to them, lifting the cover and leisurely scanning those sumptuously laid-out pages, usually finding some new gratification or delight.
We've rounded up some of the best Irish coffee-table books - and thus, by prior definition, best gifts - this Christmas:
Dublin Since 1922 by Tim Carey (Hachette Ireland, €22.99). Beginning on an auspicious date in modern Irish history - January 16, 1922, when Michael Collins took possession of Dublin Castle - this book tells the tale of our capital city from independence right up to the Celtic Tiger years. Built around the structure of specific dates from the past 100 years, Carey's work is hugely informative and beautifully designed, with some remarkable old photographs complementing the historical information.
What If? by Annie West, editor and illustrator (New Island, €15.95). What do you get when you cross West's witty, colourful cartoons with a varied selection of top writers and a clever unifying theme? You get What If? - "a chronicle of what might have been" - where said writers ponder some of the ways in which history could have been different. What if Michael Collins had been short and the assassin's bullet missed? What if the US had never become independent? What if men had babies? David McCullagh, Tara Flynn, Barry Devlin and our own Mary Kenny and Dearbhail McDonald are among the alt-historians.
Great Moments in Gaelic Football by Sportsfile (O'Brien Press, €24.99). Something about sport automatically lends itself to making a great picture book.
The inherent sense of drama and conflict, the colour and crowds, even the sort of "body art" that is a player in motion: it all makes for the perfect shot. In Great Moments in Gaelic Football, the legendary snapper Ray McManus and his Sportsfile team trawl the archives for the best of football photos from the last half-century. Visual Mecca for sports fans. (And check out those 1960s hairstyles - hipsters 50 years before their time.)
Gilroy was Good for Guinness by David Hughes (Liberties Press, €24.99). Guinness is almost as much part of our visual culture, through its advertising, as its liquid products are part of our social culture. In Gilroy was Good for Guinness, former brewer Hughes unearths a vast portfolio of previously unseen work by John Gilroy, the pioneering creative force behind many of their most iconic campaigns. Now you too can get reacquainted with that famous toucan.
Creating History: Stories of Ireland in Art by Brendan Rooney, editor (Irish Academic Press, €24.99). A magnificent collection that's a real feast for the eyes - and perfect for any art-lover. Edited by Rooney, and produced in association with the National Gallery of Ireland's forthcoming exhibition of the same name, the book examines 54 paintings from the 1600s to 1930s which depict or were inspired by key moments in Irish history, from St Patrick to independence. Lavery, William Orpen and Yeats are among the major artists included.
Rooms: Create the Home You Want For Your Life by Declan O'Donnell (Hachette Ireland, €24.99). The likeable star of RTÉ's Home of the Year - and an award-winning architect to boot - brings us his first book, which helps us to "release our inner designer to create a home that works for the way we live". Declan covers everything, from kitchen design to attic conversion and furnishings to fittings, in a light, clear style ideally suited to the enthusiastic amateur. And the fabulous photographs will provide all the inspiration you need for a New Year, New Home.
Looking Back: The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke (O'Brien Press, €24.99). Over 40 years, press photographer Eric Luke has captured Irish life during a period of frequently tumultuous change. This rich collection of pictures ranges across Dublin, provincial Ireland, the North, sport, music and much more, capturing moments in time in that way only an old photograph can. Accompanying notes explain the context and often the subject of each picture.
Ireland from the Air by Michael Hinch (Collins Press, €29.99). From the archives of Independent Newspapers, former newsman Hinch has assembled a collection of stunning aerial photos, taken between 1951 and 1958, and now published for the first time. The book offers a unique perspective on Ireland of that time, before mass industrialisation, with some 300 shots of towns, villages, countryside and burgeoning housing estates. The photographer was the superbly named Captain Alexander 'Monkey' Campbell Morgan, an RAF wartime pilot who tragically died soon after completing this job.
The MacGillycuddy's Reeks by Valerie O'Sullivan (Collins Press, €24.99). Award-winning Killarney photographer O'Sullivan captures the raw, rugged natural beauty of Ireland's highest mountain range, and the people who make their lives along this magnificent stretch of 19km, in The MacGillycuddy's Reeks. A stirring celebration of sublime nature and the colourful diversity of human society.
The Mountains of Ireland by Gareth McCormack (Collins Press, €29.99). Shot over a period of almost 20 years by the Sligo-based photographer, the breathtaking photos range from barefooted pilgrims on Croagh Patrick to climbers, wildlife rangers and hill farmers. McCormack developed psoriatic arthritis in his knees, which seriously curtailed his ability to get into the mountains for a number of years - making this superb collection all the more remarkable.
CLASSIC BOOK GETS MAKEOVER
For anyone who enjoyed Tarquin Blake's Abandoned Mansions of Ireland series, Irish Stone Bridges by Peter O'Keeffe, Tom Simington, Rob Goodbody (Irish Academic Press, €39.99) ploughs a similar enough furrow. This new edition of the classic book, first published 30 years ago and revised by Rob Goodbody, is replete with absolutely gorgeous photos of the titular structure - a real pleasure to browse. And Peter O'Keeffe and Tom Simington's expert guide will open your eyes afresh to the wonders of this part of our built heritage.
Darragh McManus's novels include Shiver the Whole Night Through and The Polka Dot Girl