From the pubs of hipster Dublin to the windswept Cliffs of Moher on the west coast, Ireland continues to captivate. Its lush, green countryside, rich cultural traditions, and too often tragic history of famine and fighting provides a cinematic pot of gold, if you will, that has captured filmmakers for decades.
Sadly, for the second year in a row many celebrations and parades for the very Irish holiday of St. Patrick’s Day will not be happening. So instead, don your emerald green sweater, settle in with a pint of Guinness and have a cozy marathon of St. Patrick’s Day movies. These 45 funny, dramatic and sweepingly beautiful Irish movies are all set in the land of the leprechauns.
1. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
This powerful 2006 film explores the events of Ireland’s 1920s War of Independence and the following Irish Civil War from the point of view of two fictional brothers (Cillian Murphy and Pádraic Delaney) who find themselves fighting for freedom from the English. But even more striking is how the Civil War literally pits brother against brother on opposite sides of ideas of what their new country should be.
This 2007 indie film captured audiences’ hearts, and later became a Broadway musical, with the romantic tale of Guy and Girl—their actual names are never given—a street performer on Dublin’s Grafton Street and his flower-selling love interest. The actors, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, are a real folk-rock duo who also performed the songs in the film, one of which, “Falling Slowly,” won the Oscar for Best Original Song.
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3. In the Name of the Father
At the height of “the Troubles,” a conflict over whether Northern Ireland should separate from the United Kingdom, Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his father are wrongly implicated in the Guildford Pub bombings in London and sent to prison in 1974. This stirring 1993 film of Conlon’s fight to prove his and his father’s innocence was based on a true story and nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
4. Wild Mountain Thyme
The gorgeous Irish countryside is on full display in this 2020 romantic film starring Northern Irish actor Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Grey’s Christian Grey) and Emily Blunt as will-they-or-won’t-they childhood friends from neighboring farms. The English actress tries her hand at an Irish accent, as does American actor Christopher Walken, while Jon Hamm actually plays an interloping American. The movie is light, fun and easy on the eyes. Dornan will next appear in Kenneth Branagh’s film Belfast, about growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, with Irish Outlander actress Caitriona Balfe and Judi Dench, later this year.
5. The Commitments
The first of Irish author Roddy Doyle’s hilarious Barrytown trilogy has working-class Dubliners, led by their manager Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), forming a soul band. Surprisingly, they’re really good, and the highlight of the 1991 film adaptation of the novel is the band’s performances. Their music could be the group’s ticket out of their poor neighborhood if their in-fighting doesn’t totally ruin their chances of success.
6. The Snapper
Make it a double feature with this 1993 adaption of Doyle’s second novel in his trilogy, a heartwarming take on an unplanned pregnancy—a theme that figures frequently in movies that take place in the very Catholic Ireland. Sharon (Tina Kellegher) won’t say who the father is, and her own dad (Colm Meaney) is angry at first, but the family learns to come together and support her on her journey to motherhood. Brendan Gleeson costars in this film from acclaimed English director Stephen Frears.
7. The Van
How about a triple feature to complete the adaptations of Doyle’s Barrytown books? Meaney again stars in this 1996 movie, this time as one of two friends who open a food truck selling fish and chips. But as the business takes off, their friendship goes downhill. Although some would argue the other two films are better, it’s still worth a viewing to round out the trilogy.
8. The Crying Game
This 1992 thriller is unique among Irish movies for its diverse cast and its tackling of race and gender issues. Although it broke boundaries at the time of its release, today the film has sparked more nuanced conversations about the portrayals of its characters and transgender representation on screen. In the film, IRA terrorist Fergus (Irish actor Stephen Rea) forms a bond with Black British prisoner Jody (Forest Whitaker). Later, Fergus tracks down Jody’s girlfriend (Jaye Davidson), who gets entangled in further IRA missions.
9. Waking Ned Devine
Sort of like an Irish Weekend at Bernie’s, this 1998 comedy has the residents of a small Irish village pretending one of them is a lottery winner—the real winner, Ned Devine, having died of shock before he could claim his prize. With no family to inherit the cash, the townspeople believe he would have wanted them to share the winnings, and conspire to fool the lottery inspector. Filmed on the UK territory Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, the movie presents an entertaining look at village life.
10. My Left Foot
Day-Lewis, whose father was Irish and who holds dual UK-Irish citizenship, stars as another real-life Irishman in this 1989 film. It follows the life of Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy and can only move his left foot. He grew up poor and his family struggled to even afford a wheelchair, but Brown eventually became an artist and writer. Although today we might have preferred an actor who actually has cerebral palsy to take the role, Day-Lewis won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the film.
11. Far and Away
Bad Irish accents aside, this sweeping 1992 film directed by Ron Howard is a feast for the eyes as it follows headstrong upper-class Shannon (Nicole Kidman) and working-class Joseph (Tom Cruise) from the green hills of Ireland as they emigrate to United States and make their way to the American west. Along the journey, they get entangled with an Irish ward boss (Colm Meaney) in Boston, and deal with Shannon’s spurned fiancé (Thomas Gibson).
12. Michael Collins
Whereas The Wind That Shakes the Barley approaches the fight for Irish independence through the eyes of a fictional family, this biopic focuses on one of the real-life revolutionaries who led the war, Michael Collins (Northern Irish actor Liam Neeson). From the 1916 Easter Uprising to Collins’ eventual assassination, this film looks at the making of a country as it tries to emerge from under English rule.
13. Circle of Friends
Based on the novel by bestselling Irish author Maeve Binchy, this 1995 romantic drama has three Irish friends discovering love and sex in 1950s Ireland. When one of them becomes pregnant, she lures the boyfriend of another into sleeping with her to fool him into thinking he’s the father so he’ll marry her. But, the deception threatens to tear the three friends apart. Filmed in County Kilkenny and Trinity College Dublin, the movie stars Minnie Driver, Saffron Burrows and Chris O’Donnell.
14. The Guard
This 2011 buddy-cop movie has unconventional small-town Irish policeman Brendan Gleeson teaming up with by-the-book American FBI agent Don Cheadle to uncover a drug trafficking ring. Mixing the beauty of the Connemara countryside with often violent crimes and irreverent humor, this smart black comedy is not your typical Irish cinematic experience.
It’s ironic that a movie called Brooklyn lands on a list of movies that are set in Ireland, but this 2015 film crosses the pond several times. Irish actress Saoirse Ronan stars as Ellis, a young woman sent from her small village in Ireland to Brooklyn, New York, to find work. Later, she must return to Ireland, where she meets a potential love interest (Domhnall Gleeson). The problem? She’s already in a relationship with an Italian-American guy back in Brooklyn and now must decide between her new life and her old.
16. Black 47
Although the Great Famine was a huge part of Irish history—and Irish American history, as it was the reason many Irish people emigrated to the United States—it hasn’t appeared very often on screen. This 2018 film aims to remedy that, taking its title from the nickname of the deadliest year of the famine, 1847. In the film, an Irishman (James Frecheville, who is actually Australian) takes revenge on those he feels are responsible for devastating his family during the famine, while a former fellow army officer (Hugo Weaving) hunts him.
A different type of hunger is depicted in this gripping and gritty 2008 drama directed by Steve McQueen and starring Irish-German actor Michael Fassbender (who, incidentally, believes he is related to Irish revolutionary Michael Collins). Fassbender plays real-life Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner Bobby Sands, who protested through inhumane prison conditions with a “no wash” protest and later a hunger strike, from which he died in 1981. It’s a powerful film, but difficult to watch. The hunger strike was also the topic of the 1996 movie Some Mother’s Son with Helen Mirren.
18. P.S. I Love You
If you’re in the mood for a good cry, look no further than this 2007 romantic drama based on the book by Irish author Cecelia Ahern. Hilary Swank plays a young Irish American widow whose Irish husband (Scottish actor Gerard Butler) left notes for her to read after his untimely death from a brain tumor. The movie flashes back to Ireland, where she met him, and later has her taking a girls’ trip to the Emerald Isle to try to get her life back on track. Will another Irishman (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) catch her eye? Expect to finish the movie with the song “Galway Girl” stuck in your head.
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19. Angela’s Ashes
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir by Irish author Frank McCourt, this 1999 film follows his experiences growing up in poverty in 1930s Limerick with an alcoholic father. Although the book became somewhat controversial as critics claimed McCourt exaggerated his struggles, the story is still emotionally gripping. Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle and Ciaran Owens star.
20. The Quiet Man
John Wayne and director John Ford took a break from making Westerns for this now-classic 1952 film, which wasn’t shot on a studio backlot but actually in Ireland itself. Wayne plays an Irish American boxer who returns to his homeland and old family farm, where he meets his love interest, played by Irish actress Maureen O’Hara. Although the film is considered required viewing for any lover of Ireland’s movie history, today’s audiences will likely find stereotypical portrayals of the Irish as drunk and backward; misogyny is also on full display as the male figures exert control over O’Hara’s character.
21. The Secret of Roan Inish
Based on the 1957 novel about “selkies,” a Celtic folklore legend of people who transform into seals, this 1994 family-friendly film follows a young Irish girl who visits Roan Inish, or “Island of Seals,” where her young brother was said to have been carried off to see in his cradle. Learning that her family may be descended from selkies, she convinces her grandparents who raise her to move back to the island, in hopes that the seals will return her brother to his human family.
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Selkies once again make an appearance in this haunting 2009 romantic drama, but it’s a decidedly more grown-up tale that resembles an Irish Splash. Irish actor Colin Farrell plays a fisherman named Circus who catches a woman in his net, calling herself Ondine (Alicja Bachleda)—but she just may be one of the magical creatures. As Circus shelters the woman, he bonds with his daughter over tales of the selkies. But is Ondine who she says she is?
23. Leap Year
This charming 2010 rom-com features an always-appealing Amy Adams as an American fish out of water making her way across Ireland to propose to her boyfriend—but she must enlist the help of an Irish tavern owner, played by the always-handsome English actor Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey, A Discovery of Witches). Yes, it’s predictable, but the gorgeous Irish landscape makes the movie a lovely cinematic getaway.
24. Sing Street
This entertaining coming-of-age, music-filled 2016 movie is sure to get your family moving for a fun St. Patty’s at-home celebration. The new kid in his Dublin Catholic school, Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) decides to start a band with his motley crew of friends and a love interest. Conor then begins writing his own tunes with the help of his older brother, and dreams of leaving his current life behind as the band finds success. The feel-good flick is sure to please kids and adults alike.
25. The Magdalene Sisters
Many films set in Ireland deal with the often repressive presence of the Catholic Church. Based on a true story, this movie focuses on four “fallen” women in the 1960s who are sent to a Magdalene asylum, real-life institutions run by the church where women were forced to work as launderers and live under often brutal, abusive conditions. Although the powerful film ends on an uplifting note for some of the women, it does tackle some difficult subject matter.
26. Dancing at Lughnasa
Based on Irish playwright Brian Friel’s stage play, this 1998 film has Meryl Streep as one of five unmarried sisters in an Irish village in 1936, as seen by the young son of one of them. This character study, like many Irish stories, focuses on themes of tradition, economic hardship and finding identity in a time of strict social guidelines, all during one lovely summer in the countryside.
27. The Secret of Kells
This 2009 fantasy film may be animated, but it still transports viewers to Ireland, where a medieval boy must battle human and mythical forces alike with the help of a fairy in order to save the Book of Kells. This “illuminated manuscript,” or richly decorated book, is a real object, handwritten by monks and now housed in Trinity College Dublin’s library. The movie is the first in Irish director/animator Tomm Moore’s Irish Folklore Trilogy, along with 2014’s Song of the Sea, which is once again about selkies, and 2020’s Wolfwalkers.
28. Bloody Sunday
Americans may have heard of the Bloody Sunday massacre because of the Irish band U2’s song of the same name, which plays over the end credits of this 2002 film directed by Paul Greengrass. The documentary-style movie follows the lead-up to and events of the January 30, 1972 protest in Northern Ireland, during which British soldiers fired on the crowd, killing 14 people.
29. High Spirits
If you’d prefer farcical comedy to serious drama, try this so-silly-it’s-good 1988 flick. Business has been bad for an Irish castle-hotel, so to drum up guests, the proprietor (Peter O’Toole) has the staff pretend the place is haunted—but the joke’s on them because it turns out, it really is. Exteriors were filmed at Ireland’s Dromore Castle, now in ruins. Fun (and weird) fact: The Irish writer/director of The Crying Game, Neil Jordan, also directed High Spirits—although he claims the latter movie was edited to be much different than he originally intended.
This 2013 film tells the true story of the title character, forced to work in a Magdalene laundry after having a child out of wedlock, who the nuns eventually place for adoption without her consent. Fifty years later, Philomena (Judi Dench) enlists the help of a journalist (Steve Coogan) to find her son, journeying across Ireland and to America. A heart-wrenching story of loss and forgiveness, the movie earned Dench an Oscar nomination.
31. Tara Road
With shades of The Holiday, this 2005 movie based on another Maeve Binchy novel, has two women going through life crises swapping houses in America and Dublin, Ireland. It’s a bit conventional, but still provides that cozy feeling of a sweet Hallmark-like melodrama. Olivia Williams and Andie MacDowell are the house swappers; Stephen Rea and Scottish actor Iain Glen (Game of Thrones’ Ser Jorah) costar.
32. The Hole in the Ground
If you like a little horror with your corned beef and cabbage, settle in for an evening with this terrifying 2019 thriller. A single mom (Seána Kerslake) moves with her son to the idyllic Irish countryside, but of course, their new home happens to be next to creepy woods that contain a massive sinkhole. Is it the gateway to another realm? When her son starts acting strangely, she begins to suspect he might be a changeling, a creature in folklore that replaces a human stolen by fairies.
33. Ryan’s Daughter
This gorgeously shot 1970 film won an Oscar for best cinematography. It takes place in 1917, just after Ireland’s 1916 Easter Uprising against the British and in the middle of World War I. A young Irish schoolteacher (Sarah Miles) begins an affair with a shell-shocked British soldier (Christopher Jones). Shot on the Dingle peninsula on the west coast of Ireland, this tragic love story costarring Robert Mitchum is based on the classic French novel Madame Bovary.
This critically acclaimed 2014 film defies genre: It’s a murder mystery, a black comedy, and a drama about sin and forgiveness. “Good” priest Father James (Brendan Gleeson), who ministers in a coastal Irish town, is told during confession that he will be murdered in retribution for childhood sexual abuse the would-be murderer suffered by another priest; he has a week to get his affairs in order. He spends the week trying to uncover his future killer as well as help his parishioners, who all have demons of their own. Gleeson reunites with The Guard writer-director John Michael McDonagh, with Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd and Aidan Gillen costarring.
35. The Matchmaker
This pleasing 1997 rom-com has American Janeane Garofalo traveling to a small village in Ireland to track down relatives of her Senator boss, hoping to boost his appeal among Irish-Americans in Boston. Arriving during the annual matchmaking festival, she has to contend with eccentric villagers, the town matchmaker (Milo O’Shea) and a surly bartender (David O’Hara). As warm and comfy as an Irish sweater, the film takes jaunts to the remote Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast, and has several lovely moments of Irish folk music sung by the characters, including “Raglan Road” and “Carrickfergus.”
36. Albert Nobbs
This 2011 film starring and cowritten by Glenn Close follows a transgender man who works as a butler in a 19th-century Dublin hotel. In order to escape abuse and find work, Albert begins dressing as a man as a teenager; many years later, he discovers another transgender man (Janet McTeer) doing the same. Something of a cross between Downton Abbey and The Crying Game, the film explores gender identity during a very socially rigid time period; but the film still leaves us more to discuss today about its portrayal of the characters.
This 2012 monster comedy approaches the absurd as it also toys with the stereotype of the drunken Irishman. Under attack by strange alien beings with huge tentacles, the residents of an Irish island discover they can survive when their blood alcohol content is raised—so drink up they do. But how can they truly escape the beasties who threaten them? It’s ridiculous and thoroughly enjoyable at the same time.
38. The Field
One of the greatest Irish actors of all time, Richard Harris, stars in this 1990 film about a 1930s tenant farmer who is likely going to lose the field he’s tended for decades when the owner decides to sell. Exploring themes of family and death, it tends toward the tragic side of life; but Harris’s performance uplifts the film, enhanced by the quaintness of the countryside it depicts. Sean Bean costars.
This ensemble black comedy features crooks, cops and lovers interconnecting to form the loose plot of the movie, which involves a Dublin bank heist gone wrong and a police officer searching out a lowlife criminal, all while filmed by a documentary maker. The 2003 film is a who’s-who of Irish actors, including Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Colm Meaney.
40. The Boxer
Day-Lewis returns in another hard-hitting drama (no pun intended) from Irish director Jim Sheridan, who the actor also worked with on In the Name of the Father and My Left Foot (one Irish newspaper wittingly called this one “My Left Hook”). In the 1997 film, a former IRA member and boxer fresh out of prison tries to make a new life in Belfast without violence—soon, though, he’s entangled once again in the IRA.
41. The Secret Scripture
This 2017 movie returns to themes we’ve seen in other Irish films, including religion, sin, pregnancy and unfair treatment of women. Flashing from the late 20th century back to 1940s coastal Ireland, a young woman (Rooney Mara) is labeled as mentally ill after she falls in love with a Royal Air Force pilot; accusing of killing their child, she’s sent to an institution, where she recounts her tale as an old woman (Vanessa Redgrave).
42. Extra Ordinary
Irish humor sparkles in another horror-comedy set on the Emerald Isle. In this 2019 movie, Rose (Maeve Higgins) is a woman with supernatural abilities who is constantly bugged both by spirits and by humans who want her to get rid of their own ghosts. Reluctantly helping a man who’s haunted (literally) and his daughter, who has been possessed, Rose begins a ghost-busting operation to expel the spirits.
Although the story this 2014 film depicts is fictional, the history it presents is real. During the Troubles in 1971 Belfast, a British soldier (Jack O’Connell) gets separated from his unit during a clash that turns violent. As he tries to make his way back, he gets caught between disputing factions of the IRA. Showing the humanity, or lack thereof, on all sides, it’s an engrossing drama that unpacks this complicated conflict.
44. The Young Offenders
This 2016 comedy has two teens (Alex Murphy, Chris Walley), disadvantaged youth and sometimes-thieves from the Irish city of Cork, caught up in a drug bust when they happen to come across some missing cocaine. With both a drug dealer and a police officer after them, the bumbling duo have to figure out how to avoid trouble.
45. Into the West
Not to be confused with the 2005 Steven Spielberg miniseries about the American west, this 1992 fantasy tale has two boys escaping poverty in Dublin with the help of their grandfather, who belongs to a nomadic people called Travellers. After he tells them about Irish folklore, the brothers travel into the west of Ireland, as they try to get back a stolen white horse in the mythical land of Tír na nÓg. Irish actors Gabriel Byrne, Colm Meaney and Brendan Gleeson star.
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