The Irish Times books of the year: Fintan O’Toole’s favourite titles of 2021

Seeking inspiration for a book to read or give as a gift? This selection could help you

I was really struck by three books that come, from different angles, at the same phenomenon: the collapse of the old monoliths of Irish identity.

Susan McKay's Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground is a thoughtful, compassionate and vivid exploration of a sense of belonging that has been unsettled by both slow changes and rapid shocks. It's as relevant to the future of the Republic as it is to the North.

Derek Scally's The Best Catholics in the World is an equally compelling account of the seismic shifts in the religious culture south of the Border. It moves deftly between intimate and immediate detail and the epic import of the unravelling of allegiances that shaped Irish society so profoundly for so long.

And Ann Marie Hourihane's Sorry for Your Trouble: The Irish Way of Death opens a window into what remains: a rapidly secularising society that still needs to find meaning in the big questions of life and death. It is beautifully written, sharply observed and ultimately very moving.

Fintan O'Toole's latest book is We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958 (Head of Zeus). He is an Irish Times columnist