Definitely Dubliners by James Joyce. I read it on the plane ride over, and the city is still very similar (at least in terms of landmarks) to what it is in the stories. Yeats is a must also. I'll think about it some more...I also have the Lonely Planet Ireland book if you want to borrow it.
Before I went, I read Erin Hart's HAUNTED GROUND
and LAKE OF SORROWS. They are mysteries, but have a lot of info about Irish history and culture.
i'll ask my dad. but yeah we're supposed to be goingnext year too, but apparently my inlaws are thinking spring break - we would prefer summer! Less rushed & more time to recover from jet lag, i'm going to bring that up (especially for the KIDS hello!)
K- How about music? If you can find it I'd recommend Green Linnet's 20th anniversary collection. (If you can't find that exact one, Green Linnet has a *lot* of good Irish music.)
Morgan Llewellyn has a bunch of novels about Irish history, both the old mythological stuff and the more recent 20th century history. (Wikipedia has a bibliography. You might try Edward Rutherfurd's two books on the history of Dublin (I haven't read them but I did enjoy his _London_). And I would definitely recommend Thomas Cahill's _How the Irish Saved Civilization_ so you understnd what you're seeing in all those monasteries with the round towers. It was a bestseller, and written at a popular level but has astonishing insights and excellent writing about Ireland during the not-so-Dark Ages.
PS Aisling, be careful about the timing. We went during Easter week and a lot of hotels and attractions were just opening for the tourist season. Before that you might not be able to see all you want to.
Don't forget the fairy tales. I'm not sure a good one to advise...
my sister's former professor wrote a wonderful book, THE IRISH ART OF CONTROVERSY -- you can get it in a clean used copy on amazon.com -- author is L. McDiarmid -- it's modern irish history and culture but it reads like human interest -- it's smart and hilarious, a must-read.
i also recommend the michelen green guide to ireland, the newest edition.
for music, any cd by ALTAN or BLASTA [but Altan is better]