Erin Go Bragh bitches! It is once again the most wonderful time of the year, the day when everyone pretends that are at least 10% Irish and gets blasted on dyed green beer and Irish car bombs. As someone with Irish heritage, I know just how important it is for my brethren to celebrate their roots by wearing a green t-shirt, making a pass at a girl wearing green face paint, and then, once she turns you down, drowning your sorrows by beer bonging until you pass out.
Some would argue that this method of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day isn’t exactly a cultural experience. While your pub crawl may take you through your city’s arts district, the only way that you’re going to step foot inside an art gallery or book store on St. Patrick’s Day is if they have public restrooms.
If you spend St. Patrick’s Day celebrating the baser side of Irish stereotypes, why not spend the next morning nursing your hangover and watching some movies by and about the great people of the Emerald Isle? Here are some Irish movies you need to watch while you recover from getting St. Patty’s Day wasted.
The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)
If you don’t want to cry in front of your bros, this might be one to save for another day. The Wind That Shakes the Barley examines the rise of the IRA in the 1920s in hopes of helping Ireland gain independence from Great Britain. Much of what we hear about the Irish rebellion in America is romanticized with a positive spin. After all, our national mythology is built around gaining independence from England, so it would be a bit hypocritical to speak ill of another country that threw off the shackles of John Bull. The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a painful reminder that all revolutions eat some of their children, and often pit brother against brother. This lovely, heartbreaking film may not fill you with Irish pride, but it will give you a stronger point of view on the tumultuous events of the Irish Rebellion.
Waking Ned Devine (1998)
Irish comedy often has a melancholy streak that makes the work as human as it is hilarious. Such is the case with Waking Ned Devine. In this small comedy, two old men (Ian Bannen and David Kelly) discover that their neighbor has died of shock upon discovering he won the Irish lottery. Once the men find their dead neighbor’s corpse with ticket in hand, they hatch a plot to get the winnings and split them amongst the local townsfolk. What results is an unforgettable, hilarious mediation on mortality and the relationship between money and happiness.
Award season favorite Brooklyn attempts to capture the Irish immigrant experience in microcosm. Ellis (played by rising star Saoirse Ronan) is caught between two worlds. She escapes Ireland for Brooklyn, New York in hopes of finding a better life. Once in Brooklyn, the demands of family and her nostalgia for the land she left behind pull her back to Ireland. The film is an exploration of a tension that all immigrants feel, and one that anyone who travels far from home can relate too. For many people adulthood is about working out the tension between the place you’ve gone and the place you left behind.
The Commitments (1991)
I have a special attachment to The Commitments, since I grew up with my parents blasting the soundtrack around the house on weekends. Like Once and Good Vibrations, The Commitments is an Irish movie with an essential soundtrack. The film follows a group of working class Dubliners as they form a band working in the style of 1960s American soul music despite being a group of white working class Dubliners. We follow the ups and downs of the group as they chase their unlikely dream to unforeseen places.
Angela’s Ashes (1999)
Sometimes, life is painful. For young Frank McCourt, that sometimes was all of the time. A large family and an alcoholic father (Robert Carlyle) aren’t often a recipe for financial success. For the McCourts, this combination meant a lifetime of misery. Frank’s mother Angela (Emily Watson) does her best for the family, but in this film we watch Frankie and his siblings move from one terrible situation to another as they grow up deeply impoverished in Ireland. If you’re looking for a pick me up perhaps you should look elsewhere, but if you are looking for a deep exploration of the human condition, then you should add this one to your Netflix queue.
You may not realize it, but you’ve seen Brendan Gleason before. The veteran character actor has appeared in supporting roles in Braveheart, Gangs of New York, and the Harry Potter films. Here, Gleason gets to be front and center. If Angela’s Ashes doesn’t provide enough human misery to help you through your St. Patty’s hangover, then Cavalry might be just what the doctor ordered. Gleason stars as a priest who is given one week to live by a disgruntled survivor of childhood abuse by another priest who has since died. We follow Father James as he visits with parishioners and family and prepares for his encounter with death. No, this one isn’t meant to be uplifting, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely worth your time.
In the Name of the Father (1993)
Long before Daniel Day-Lewis became known as that GOAT when it comes the character acting, he played the leading man in a series of small period dramas. One of the best is In the Name of the Father, the story of a man wrongfully convicted of a 1974 IRA bombing. Day-Lewis was already on track to earning his reputation as a fiercely committed character actor by the time he performed in the film. He lost fifty pounds for the role, and was rewarded with a Best Actor nomination. The film itself examines the miscarriage of justice. As Day-Lewis put it, the key to the film is, “How could I understand how an innocent man could sign that confession and destroy his own life?”
My Left Foot (1989)
Before Daniel Day-Lewis and director Jim Sheridan teamed up on In the Name of the Father, they joined forces on My Left Foot. In My Left Foot, Day-Lewis portrays Christy Brown, a man who finds artistic success despite his cerebral palsy. The film explores the trials of Brown’s young life, and the ultimate triumphs as an artist and a writer as an adult. As would be the case with In the Name of the Father, the film earned Sheridan, Day-Lewis, and a slew of others involved with the film Academy Award nominations.
The Secret of Kells (2009)
Let’s take a brief break from human misery to talk about this French, Belgian, and Irish co-production that took the animation world by storm. The Book of Kells tells the story of a young boy named Brendan who lives in a monastery in perpetual fear of Viking attack. After taking an interest in books, Brendan is chosen as an apprentice to Brother Aiden, who is intent on finishing the mythical Book of Kells. Brendan’s apprenticeship leads him on the path of adventure where he encounters Vikings and evil deities, never losing sight of his goal. Though it took a full decade of development before the film came to fruition, The Book of Kells accomplished the main goal of the filmmakers: to marry modern animation and traditional Irish art.
After fourteen years of making short films at a steady clip, director Steve McQueen was given the opportunity to helm his first feature film, Hunger. McQueen is probably best known in the United States for his Academy Award winning film 12 Years A Slave, but his debut is also quite an accomplished act of filmmaking. The film documents the 1981 Irish hunger strikes led by political dissident Bobby Sands. The hunger strikes were part of “The Troubles,” a period in Northern Irish politics where the Irish agitated for greater freedom from the United Kingdom. In the film, Michael Fassbinder plays Sands, who, along with fellow Northern Irish prisoners took extreme action in hopes of changing the United Kingdom’s policy in Northern Ireland.
I Went Down (1997)
After giving you a slew of heavy films to digest, we’ll end with something a little lighter. This crime comedy is from earlier in Brendan Gleason’s career. In this film, Peter McDonald plays Git, a small-time crook who gets himself into hot water while attempting to help an old friend settle his gambling debts. In the course of trying to stand up for his friend, Git makes some bad decisions that lead to him being partnered with a mob heavy (Gleason) on a mission to kidnap an errant mobster and bring him back to Dublin to atone for his sins. Along the way, the two form an unlikely friendship as they do their best to stay alive.