While St. Patrick’s Day may be a grand time of the year for merry-makers, wearers of green, and celebrants of all things Irish, for filmophiles near and far, there’s a veritable pot of gold’s worth of movies about Ireland to enjoy.
Whether you watch them before, on, or after St. Patrick’s Day, the following movies are a handful of cinematic offerings available to rent, stream or purchase, and which have a decidedly Irish sensibility:
Circle of Friends (1995)
Directed by Irish filmmaker Pat O’Connor, and based on the novel of the same name by Irish author Maeve Binchy, “Circle Of Friends” is a drama set in 1950s Ireland.
The movie focuses on Benny Hogan (played by Minnie Driver) and her best friend, Eve Malone (Geraldine O'Rawe). The story centers around Benny and Eve as they enter student life at University College, Dublin. Here, Benny and Eve reunite with their childhood friend, Nan Mahon (Saffron Burrows), the 'college belle'. They also encounter the handsome and charming Jack Foley (Chris O’Donnell), for whom Benny quickly falls.
Irish Factor: Three shamrocks (out of five)
Set in Dublin, “Once” is a sweet film about the budding romance between two unnamed musicians. The man (Glen Ransard) is an inspiring singer-songwriter who plays on the Dublin streets at night for money and works at his father’s vacuum repair shop by day. The woman (Marketa Irgloa) is a pianist who does odd jobs with her family, but longs for something more in her life.
The two eventually meet and bond over their musical interests over a spontaneous jam session. They decide to collaborate on writing material and are inspired to create a demo. During this time, they begin to form an emotional connection which they express through to one another through their vsongs.
This romance between the leads is refreshing and honest, filled with excellent performances and songs, so much so that the film even won the 2008 Oscar for best Original Song with. “Falling Slowly.”
“Once” perfectly captures the street life of Dublin and comes highly recommended this St. Patrick’s Day.
Irish Factor: Four and a Half Shamrocks
Far and Away (1992)
Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, “Far and Away” is a classic example of an old-fashioned melodrama, complete with charming performances and astonishing visuals.
Cruise and Kidman play Irish immigrants Joseph and Shannon, who come to America in 1893 in search of a better life. They begin to save money in hopes of one day owning their own property. Joseph becomes a bare-knuckle boxer and despite some success, loses most of the pair’s money in a fight.
Cold and starving, the two face poverty and various challenges as they fight through it and begin to fall in love with one another.
This Ron Howard-directed picture is far (and away) from perfect, but it works as a whole, largely thank to Cruise and Kidman’s charms. “Far and Away” may not be the most accurate portrayal of immigrant life, but it makes up it with lush visuals and sincere appeal.
Irish Factor: Two and a Half Shamrocks
The Boondock Saints (1999)
“It’s Saint Paddy’s Day, everyone’s Irish,” says a pre-The Walking Dead Norman Reedus in this twisted film rooted in faith and brutal violence.
Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery play the MacManus brothers, two poor Irish immigrants living in the crime-infested city of Boston.
After killing some mafia thugs in self-defense, the brothers get a taste for eliminating the dregs and scum of their city. They recruit their buddy Rocco to their cause, and the three start killing big name gangsters one by one.
Right on their heels is a detective played by the Willem Dafoe, and with each step, he gets closer to catching them, even though he also starts to understand their motivations.
This black comedy, which blends the stylings of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, didn’t even get a theatrical run initially, but picked up a tremendous cult following when it came out on DVD (and probably helped by Reedus’s growing popularity). Some argue that the film is gratuitous, overly-violent and derivative (spoiler alert: it is), but that’s part of the appeal. Bottom line, “The Boondock Saints” is an action-comedy that follows in the steps of earlier films like “Death Wish” and “Pulp Fiction,” with a little Irish twist thrown in for good measure.
Irish Factor: Two Shamrocks
The Quiet Man (1952)
John Ford won a Best Director Oscar for this classic that features romance, drama, comedy, and a little action for good measure.
John Wayne plays American boxer Sean Thornton, who decides to retire to the village in Ireland he was born in. He becomes smitten with a lovely but poor maiden, Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara), and the two quickly fall in love.
Problems arise when Mary Kate’s brother Will forbids the two from marrying each other. Will challenges Sean to a fight, which Sean initially declines because of a dark chapter of his own past, but the pair eventually duke it out in the middle of the village.
“The Quiet Man” feels like a Western set in Ireland (hardly surprising, given Ford and Wayne’s involvement). Instead of the old west of course, the movie takes place in rural Ireland, which leads to some beautiful visuals of the highland countryside.
The whole cast — especially Wayne and O’Hara — is fantastic, earning “The Quiet Man” its rightful place in a movie about Ireland which all should see.
Irish Factor: Four Shamrocks
Not for all tastes — or even most tastes for that matter — “Leprechaun” is an early 90s horror-comedy starting a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston falls.
When a man returns to the U.S. after stealing a pot of gold from a Leprechaun in Ireland, trouble ensues. The Leprechaun (played by Warwick Davis) follows the man to the States, and after being locked up in the basement for 10 years, the Irish creature, who is more sadistic monster than jolly sprite, is set free by the house’s new owners. More than a little annoyed about being locked in a basement for a decade, the Leprechaun starts to wreak murderous havoc (speaking in rhyme, all the while) in search of his missing gold.
As a horror film, “Leprechaun” doesn’t exactly work. Nor as a comedy. Davis is a commendable actor, and the makeup to make him look like a ghoulish creature from Ireland is decent, but it’s not at all scary.
Nevertheless, the film gained a notable cult following, large enough to spawn multiple low-budget sequels, one in which the Leprechaun goes to Las Vegas, into space and two where the creature ventures into the urban neighborhoods. Go figure.
Irish-ness Factor: Two Shamrocks