10 Irish Movies to watch on St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

To be sure, to be sure, you won’t need Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle persuading you to “go on, go on” to get a few Guinness’ down your neck on this the most sacred of all Irish festivals (For “most sacred” read “most hedonistic and sure to result in a three day hangover”).

For those looking to celebrate Paddy’s Day in a non-alcohol-related fashion, we have searched long and hard to compile the definitive list of lesser-known Irish classics.

Prepare to be whisked away to the land of legends, leprechauns and a fair few luscious lads and lassies with lilts like lullabies. Guinness’ all round!


If, like me, you had an over-active imagination as a child, this is the kind of film that probably gave you nightmares. Not just because of the green and turquoise neon banshee, wailing away like Celine Dion on a full moon. Oh no, it features one of the painful scenes imaginable, certain to make your ears bleed.




To redress the balance, Disney have included a cameo appearance from everyone’s favourite alcoholic priest, Father Jack.

feck. drrriink. feck.

feck. drrriink. feck.

Oh no, sorry, that’s Darby O’Gill.

It’s easy to mistake the film for Aladdin, what with the magical creature who grants the protagonist three wishes. No need to keep chasing the end of rainbows when you have beardy leprechaun King Brian of Knocknasheegna at your mercy to grant you a crock of gold. But remember – three wishes he’ll grant you, great wishes or small, but wish your fourth wish and you’ll lose them all (cue maniacal laughter).

Yes, I’ll admit it, it’s cheesier than a frenchman’s brie breath, but it’s worth investing time in for the laughs per minute that you’ll get in return. Alternatively you can use Darby O’Gill as the backdrop to a drinking game– every time Darby gurns like a man possessed, you take a drink.

Guaranteeing collapse after about twenty minutes I reckon.


I think that even some catwalk models are jealous of Cillian Murphy. How could you not envy those powder blue eyes, his duck billed platy-pout and cheekbones like razorblades. It’s no wonder he makes a gorgeous woman.

Yes, that's a dude.

Yes, that's a dude.

In the early 1960’s, Patrick “Kitten” Braden, was abandoned by his mother as a child and has grown up idolising her memory, fascinated by make-up and women’s clothing and shunned by his foster family and real father, the local priest (Liam Neeson).

Making a break for freedom, Kitten’s life takes many a hairpin turn as she skips in stiletto’s from one dramatic adventure to the next, embracing life in a band, as a sex worker, a magician’s assistant to rival even Debbie Magee and a Womble (yes, really). Armed with a playfully feisty femme fatale act and a bottle of Chanel No. 5, Kitten’s story pays tribute to the struggle of many gay irish men, who grew up in a time of political strife. The victims of religious guilt and a need to exorcise themselves from their backwards lives at home a generation of gay men sought solace in the bright lights of the big smoke.

Whilst the movie is defined by its surreal randomness from start to finish, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Kitten, whether you are male or female. It’s a break from traditional Irish values but it impresses on every level.


There is something spellbinding about Jim Sheridan’s storytelling ability. In this, the most personal of his films (a semi-autobiography with Sheridan’s wife and daughters sharing joint writing credits), In America tells the story of an Irish immigrant family moving to a place where you look to your friendly neighbourhood heroin addict over Spiderman, and childproofing is virtually unheard of. It even has a nice homely ring to it: Hell’s Kitchen, New York.

Johnny and Sarah Sullivan (played by Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton respectively) and their two daughters, Christy and Ariel are recent victims of a tragic loss.

Third child Frankie dies unexpectedly of a brain tumour after an accidental fall and the family are looking to forge new memories and a better life. Whilst Johnny struggles with the loss of his son, the girls befriend unique neighbour Mateo (Djimon Hounsou). Tackling taboo’s such as HIV, grief and racial prejudice, this film is as ambitious as it is inspirational.

When daughter, Christy (Sarah Bolger), sings “Desperado” she makes all the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. In fact both young actresses are superb, their exciting chemistry coming from the fact that they are sisters in real life.

With two Oscar nominations (for Morton and Hounsou) the proof of this film’s greatness is clearly in the pudding; and you know that Irish eyes will be smiling as the film peaks at its climactic finish.


Brendan Gleeson is the kind of wrinkly, ginger, no-necked barbarian that you pray is on your side in a fight. He just so happens to be a pretty decent actor too, and like the handsome Colin Farrell, gets his fair share of gruff violent types to portray. His mother must be so proud.

In The General Gleeson plays real-life modern day Robin Hood, Martin Cahill. Except, rather than giving his riches to the poor, he kept them for himself. In addition, Cahill and his band of not-so-merry men, being lowlife crimelords, did tend to attract the odd bit of bad press. Ashley Cole thinks he’s in a pickle, he’s only got titchy Cheryl on his back; Cahill had the IRA, the police and the UVF to contend with. But like every Irishman, it helps to have more than a few screws loose if you’re going to take on the world, chomping wildly at the bit like a rabid dog.

Cahill is billed as “the working class hero who never worked a day in his life”; something for us all to aspire to.


This film is responsible for my childhood obsession with horses. For a while I actually thought it was possibly for me to become a horse when I grew up, yet, twenty-three years on, a biped I remain.

If you want a film that captures the rough, roguish charm of Ireland, this is perfect. A modern fairytale about two young boys, Tito and Ossie, whose traveller grandfather stumbles upon a mysterious white stallion named Tír na nÓg (“Land of Eternal Youth” in Gaelic). Their father, played by Gabriel Byrne, was once the “King of The Travellers” (second only to Brad Pitt in Snatch, obviously) and is now a struggling alcoholic plagued by the death of his wife.

Possessed with a magical spirit, Tír na nÓg seems compelled to follow the boys, and lead them on an adventure that heals their fathers spiritual wounds and binds the family together for eternity. It sounds like Disney-sweet mush but Into The West is truly a work of brilliance. I defy anyone not to watch in and shed a tear.

It’s hard to believe that Jim Sheridan wrote this, directed In America and then went on to do 50 Cent’s movie Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Surely he couldn’t have been that desperate?

At least Sheridan’s experiences working with the two groups at the top of a director’s blacklist, animals and children, must have made working with a grunting Neanderthal like Mr Cent somewhat easier to manage.


A quirky little arthouse flick, Garage is reminiscent of one of my favourite films of all time, The Station Agent but with a darker, more earth-shattering depiction of the perpetual loner. Sometimes the plight of the ordinary bloke is more likely to strike a chord with an audience than a CGI enhanced explosion-fest, and garage gets it just right.

Die Hard, it ain't.

Die Hard, it ain't.

Josie (Pat Shortt) leads a nondescript life; he is defined by his job at a garage, and is a figure of fun amongst the lads in the pub, until he discovers a kindred spirit in the form of a newly employed assistant at the garage, 15 year-old David (Conor Ryan). David’s friendship is a much needed break from tradition and bolsters Josie’s confidence, until he is knocked back by local shopkeeper Carmel (Anne Marie Duff) and embroiled in a bitter misunderstanding with David’s mother.

Josie’s bittersweet swansong comes as a result of his confinement within the boundaries of his own life. An outcast in the truest sense of the word, Josie is determined to finally live life on his own terms, with boundless Irish pride.


From Ballykissangel to Belgium via rehab, sex and stalker scandals, helping the homeless and Britney (more or less the same thing), it’s fair to say Colin’s Farrell’s thirty-two years on Earth have been eventful.

Although I was sceptical about this movie, as it sees Farrell portray another “hard man” action role, I was selling the character of Ray far too short with this dismissive summation. You think an onion has layers, until you meet Ray.

It’s no wonder Farrell won a Golden Globe for his performance, perhaps drawing on his own tempestuous back story for inspiration. He and fellow hit-man, Ken (Brendan Gleeson), arrive in Bruges to lay low after a job goes horribly wrong and decide to work on Irish/Belgian diplomatic relations. Ray takes an interest in foreign affairs, as he woos a daring drug dealer, whilst Ken opts for the role of cultural ambassador, at least until they hear from their boss, Harry (a slimy slap-headed Ralph Fiennes).

The script is comedy genius and Martin McDonagh carves complex yet charming characters, each enhanced by spectacular casting and a flair for comedy timing. It’s gripping, honest and gives the word “alcoves” a whole new meaning. If you want to experience the real Irish craic, this is the film to watch.


WARNING – This film does feature scenes of a Ginger child, with freckles, who is ultimately the victim of abuse. Some of the images can be particularly distressing if you or anyone around you happens to be Ginger (but never fear, he does get one up on the bullies that interminably pursue him).

Not that we want to get down and depressed on St Patrick’s Day but let’s face it, any film paying tribute to Ireland’s recent history is more than likely to reference “the troubles” but rather than the standard grizzly tale of woe, Mickybo and Me focuses on the happy memories of two young boys, in an otherwise terrifying time.

Mickeybo and Jonjo live in a divided Ireland, in a town where “the other side of the bridge was like the other side of the world” but form a friendship over a mutual love of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is tale of adventure that will have you wishing you were a fearless kid again, unaffected by the harsh realities of politics and the adult world. For anyone’s who has ever worn rose tinted spectacles and thought their childhood friendships would never end.


I’m not going to beat about the bush, singing features heavily in this movie, but what are the Irish famous for if not for encouraging a bit of a song and dance. In a country that raised the likes of Van Morrison, U2 and umm, Westlife…a predisposition to creating heady melodies must be in the blood, or the spuds, one of the two.

The anonymous central couple meet on the streets of Dublin, Guy is a busker and the Girl is from Eastern Europe, selling flowers to scrape a measly living for herself and her child whilst her husband is MIA.

Not this one.

Not this one.

After harassing Guy with questions about his music, Guy discovers that the Girl is a spectacular pianist with the voice of an angel (Yeah, Charlotte Church, you heard me). Together the pair lay down some tracks on a demo, so that Guy can move to London, win back the heart of his ex-girlfriend and pursue his musical dream. But when love becomes the elephant in the room, can Guy and the Girl ever truly be together?

Utilising the talents of musicians rather than actors, Once is an emerald gem of a love story that pays tribute to the realities of romance and the fleeting nature of love. The title track “Falling Slowly” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, it’s impossible not to listen to it and want to close your eyes and melt into the arms of a big burly Irishman (or woman).


When you think of Irish music, what first comes to mind? Fiddles and Folk? Or sultry soul? If your answer was the former, you’ve never seen The Commitments.

Jimmy Rabbitte wants to change the Irish music stereotype. So it’s out with Sinead O’Connor and in with Stevie Wonder. It doesn’t matter that the band are “maybe…a little white”, soul is a state of mind, and if old Winehouse can pull it off, so can a bunch of kids from Dublin.

With the help of Joey “The Lips” Fagan, a long-haired lothario with a GNVQ in Gospel Grooves and a Masters in Motown, the team set about storming the underground music scene with dreams of a record deal just out of reach.

If you’ve never heard Mustang Sally sung by a Dubliner with lungs to rival Luther Vandross, you have to check it out.

Sally McIlhone

We hope you were drinking a pint for every one you read. If you are, the toilet’s THAT way. Now, for those of you able to focus, head on over to our Top 6 Unintentionally Hilarious On-Screen Deaths for a brutally frank and hilarious look at some of moviedom’s funniest ‘serious’ death scenes. Or if those olde Disney-type movies have left you with fond memories of childhood, make sure to read our Top 8 Generation Defining Teen Shows. Reckon your favourite’s included?

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  1. eoinmonkey says:

    “Brendan Gleeson is the kind of wrinkly, ginger, no-necked barbarian that you pray is on your side in a fight. He just so happens to be a pretty decent actor too, and like the handsome Colin Farrell, gets his fair share of gruff violent types to portray. His mother must be so proud.”

    True, true, but appearances can be deceptive- he went into acting because he got bored of his twenty-odd years being a schoolteacher. First role was as Father Bubbles in “The Butcher Boy”, which you appear to have missed out of the above list.

    “from Ballykissangel to Belgium via rehab, sex and stalker scandals, helping the homeless and Britney (more or less the same thing), it’s fair to say Colin’s Farrell’s thirty-two years on Earth have been eventful.”

    He also made it to the final ten when they were selecting Boyzone, and when that didnt pan out, decided to try acting instead. Thank god.

    You should check out Martin McDonaghs first short film, with Brendan Gleeson, which is stupendously Irish and very very funny. “What a f*ckin’ day!”

  2. eoinmonkey says:

    Also, Joe Queenan, the American film critic, wrote a wonderful article on the worst use of Oirish stereotypes in a feature film. I think you might like it.

  3. jules says:

    That other film is called Six Shooter, not “what a f….”, for anyone interested. Cheers.

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