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Saint Patrick’s day: our pick of the best films by Irish directors and movies set in Ireland

Collin Ferrell in The Banshees of Inisherin (The Banshees of Inisherin)
Collin Ferrell in The Banshees of Inisherin (The Banshees of Inisherin)

March 17 marks the much-loved Saint Patrick’s Day: a day when Irish people honour Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and a fifth century Christian missionary, by raising a glass or two.

To immerse yourself in the spirit of the day (without attending the parades or fighting for a corner in the pub for a pint), why not watch a film by an Irish director or a film set in Ireland?

It’s the ultimate way for cinephiles to celebrate: cosy at home paying witness to the brilliant work that has come out of Ireland.

So ahead of St Patrick’s Day, we’ve curated a list of some of the best Irish films of all time.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Martin McDonagh’s 2022 film picked up a whopping eight Oscar nominations, but failed to win any trophies on Sunday night. It tells the incredible tale of longtime friends Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) whose relationship takes a turn when Colm decides he doesn’t want to be friends with Pádraic anymore. Colm says that everytime Pádraic talks to him, he’ll chop off one of his own fingers, putting Pádraic in a real quandary. The Standard gave it five stars, saying, “McDonagh is a modern-day Mozart and here he’s composed an awe-inspiring tale of obsession.”

An Cailin Ciuin (2022)

Also known as The Quiet Girl, An Cailin Ciuin also received an Oscars nod this year as it was nominated for Best International Feature Film. The Irish language movie, which was directed by Colm Bairéad, tells the story of a nine-year-old girl from a dysfunctional family who goes to spend a summer on a farm. It’s an adaptation of Claire Keegan’s exquisite novella Foster, which packs an absolute punch, as does the film.

Calvary (2014)

This film written by Martin McDonagh’s brother, John Michael McDonagh, stars Brendan Gleeson as Father James, who faces a tricky predicament. During a confessional, a man tells Father James that he was sexually abused by a priest as a child, and has therefore decided to kill James (who wasn’t the culprit). The Father is given a week to arrange his affairs. James has to decide what to do, whether to notify the authorities, and whether he should accept his fate. The film, which is set in rural Ireland, also stars Chris O’Dowd and Kelly Reilly. “Calvary is a film with a thesis and it is certainly worth seeing,” said The Standard.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)

This film by Ken Loach, tells the story of two County Cork brothers (played by Cillian Murphy and Pádraic Delaney) who sign up to the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish Independence. Covering the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, this was the most popular independent Irish film when it was released in 2006, and pulled in near-universally positive reviews, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes to boot. The Telegraph called it, “Powerful - but never preachy,” and said, “Some commentators have claimed that the film is anti-patriotic, even pro-IRA. Actually, Loach is part of a noble and very English tradition of dissent that reaches back past Cobbett and Defoe right through to William Langland.”

In the Name of the Father (1993)

This biographical drama from Jim Sheridan tells the story of the campaign to free the Guildford Four. Paul Michael Hill, Gerard Conlon, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson, who were aged between 17 and 25 years old, were wrongly charged with life imprisonment for bombing two pubs in Guildford in 1974 in which five people died. In 1989 the sentences were lifted, but not before the accused had served 15 years in prison. In Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father, Daniel Day-Lewis plays Conlon, Pete Postlethwaite plays his father, Patrick, and Emma Thompson plays human rights activist Gareth Peirce.

The Crying Game (1992)

This 1992 thriller from Irish director Neil Jordan was nominated for six Oscars, winning one for Best Screenplay. The film also picked up a BAFTA Award for Best British Film. Stephen Rea plays IRA member Fergus who forms a bond with Jody (Forest Whitaker), a British soldier in custody. He agrees to visit Jody’s girlfriend Dil (Jaye Davidson) in London for his friend, but things start to become (even more) complicated when he starts building a relationship with Dil too. Miranda Richardson, Adrian Dunbar and Jim Broadbent also star.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

This period drama classic by Stanley Kubrick is based on William Thackeray’s 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon. The story is about a rogue Irish man, Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), whose sole ambition in life is to climb up the social ladder. His life takes several startling turns which include a duel, a Prussian highwayman and a spy. His luck changes and he marries a rich widow which helps him get closer to achieving his goals, but things still don’t play out exactly as he expected.

The film won four Oscars, including for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design, which makes absolute sense given its magnificent aesthetics. When the film was re-released in 2016, The Guardian gave it five stars, saying, “Barry Lyndon is an intimate epic of utter lucidity and command.”