With St. Patrick's Day approaching, a widely varied batch of Irish-themed offerings are appearing on the bookshelves. For all those who are a wee-bit Irish, and for those who long to be Irish, the following books represent the best of the bunch.

Take seven of Ireland's most famous storytellers, give them a great subject such as an infamous Dublin hotel, then stand back and see what magic they're able to spin. The result in this case is the delightful novel, Finbar's Hotel. This cooperative project, devised and edited by best-selling Irish author Dermot Bolger, includes the literary efforts of Roddy Doyle, Colm Toibin, Jennifer Johnston, Hugo Hamilton, Anne Enright, and Joseph O'Connor. Each lends a distinctive, imaginative flair to individual chapters as the overall book explores the varied guests on the final night in the life of a dingy urban hostelry. A bestseller in the United Kingdom, Finbar's Hotel gives Americans a chance to experience a side of Ireland not often seen.

St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, stands out as the most familiar and beloved of all the saints, and the most recognized symbol of all that is Irish. In his book, The Wisdom of St. Patrick: Inspirations from the Patron Saint of Ireland, Greg Tobin presents a treasury of St. Patrick's inspirational observations. Topics include St. Patrick's own views on grace, faith, prayer, and honesty; a commentary on his life and times; contemplations on how St. Patrick's words apply to modern, everyday life; and finally, a meaningful prayer relevant to each passage. Tobin seeks to prove how the powerful, charismatic words of the remarkable saint are just as relevant today as they were more than a millennium ago.

More than 44 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, but how many really understand that heritage, and the many contributions Irish Americans have made to this country? The amusing and informative May the Road Rise up to Meet You: Everything You Need to Know About Irish American History by Michael Padden and Robert Sullivan is written in a lively question-and-answer format and covers every aspect of Irish history from the first Irishmen back on the Emerald Isle to contemporary Irish Americans who are making their mark in the world today. (Who would have guessed that General Colin Powell is of Irish descent?) With a foreword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (a heavy-duty endorsement in itself), this one is an absolute must-have for every son and daughter of the auld sod, or anyone interested in Irish history.

For a more humorous look at Irish traditions, authors Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers offer How to Be Irish: Even If You Already Are. This whimsical guide includes tongue-in-cheek advice on How to Talk, Look and Act Irish, How to Eat and Drink Irish, and How to Vote Irish. Cute illustrations, including cartoons, photos, charts and graphs, along with hilarious quizzes and lists make How to Be Irish the perfect book to take to St. Patrick's Day parties.

Ireland, that glorious isle of emerald green, has inspired writers for centuries. They write of its beauty, its mystery, and its wonder. In The Reader's Companion to Ireland, edited by Alan Ryan, 19 authors, both present and past, share observations on travels through this incredible land.

From Michael Crichton's Dublin experiences while filming The Great Train Robbery in the 1970s, to Chinese author Chiang Yee's reflections on walking down O'Connell Street in the 1940s, this collection of delightful vignettes will enhance any traveler's journey (whether armchair or actual) to Ireland.

Sharon Galligar Chance is a book reviewer for the Times Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas.

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