I know, I know - sitting at home on the sofa is no place to be on St Patrick’s Day. Maybe you’re boycotting a parade, or having a few friends over, or resisting the commercialisation of our nation’s Saint Day by locking yourself in the house, ignoring phone calls and vowing never to buy another green item of clothing. Either way, if you find yourself at home and longing for a cinematic taste of Mother Ireland, here’s a selection of classics (and not-so-classics) for you to work your way through, whatever your mood. Unless you’re in the mood for Darby O’Gill and the Little People, that is.
Plus, because it’s not really St Patrick’s Day without a drop or two of Our Lady’s tears, I’ve chucked a few toasts in for good measure. Sláinte!
2. Michael Collins (1996)
First up: a history* lesson! Sure, Michael Collins isn’t the cheeriest of films, but Neil Jordan’s biopic of the contentious Irish leader has a lot going for it - not least a star performance from Liam Neeson. The formation of the Irish Republic is serious stuff, but on a day like St Patrick’s Day, it’s sometimes good to look back and remember how the country got to where it is today.
Drink: every time Julia Roberts’ American accept slips out.
*may not be historically accurate
3. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)
More history! More depression! Ken Loach’s story of a young doctor who becomes involved in the republican movement is, like many of his films, dark and harrowing, and about as depressing as they come. But it is a story that ought to be told, and Loach tells it very well. Brace yourselves, and keep the Kleenex close.
Drink: a restorative brandy when you swoon because Cillian Murphy’s eyes are JUST SO BLUE.
4. Wake Wood (2010)
Ok, enough of the history stuff - who likes a horror film?
Before Hammer Horror really cemented their successful return with 2012’s The Woman in Black, they released this little-known independent horror film, which apparently took only £1,251 pounds at the box office. The story of a couple who relocate to rural Ireland following the death of their daughter, only to find themselves living among a community with strange pagan practices, it’s part-Don’t Look Now, part-The Wicker Man, utterly ridiculous and absolutely brilliant.
Drink: every time you spot a nod to a horror classic.
5. Dark Touch (2013)
Isn’t Ireland spooky? Sticking with the horror theme, Dark Touch is the story of Niamh, a young girl with supernatural powers beyond her control. Yes, like Wake Wood, it’s hugely derivative, and owes an awful lot to Carrie, but it is, in parts, genuinely shocking, and Missy Keating (daughter of Ronan!) gives a chilling performance. The ending will blow your mind.
Drink: every time the English support worked laughs inappropriately or talks about caviar.
6. Waking Ned (1998)
Fancy something s little lighter? Waking Ned (or Waking Ned Devine, if you’re in North America) follows a group of elderly villagers who band together to claim the Lotto winnings of a dead neighbour. This is pure nostalgia for the old west (even though it was actually filmed on the Isle of Man), and as heart-warming as they come. Who said Irish-themed cinema always has to be depressing?
Drink: because it’s a wake, and that’s what we do!
7. War of the Buttons (1994)
There have been several adaptations of Louis Pegaud’s novel La Guerre des boutons, including two in 2011, but, without question, the best is John Robert’s 1994 version, which relocates the narrative to Ireland in the 1960s. The film uses the device of rival gangs on either side of the bridge which divides the towns of Carrickdowse and Ballydowse as an allegory for the partition of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but I totally didn’t notice that when I was a kid - I just really loved the story!
Drink: try a shot for every button - see how far you get.
8. Into the West (1992)
Another film I watched religiously as a child was Mike Newell’s Into the West. Ossie and Tito, two young traveller boys living in the Ballymun flats in Dublin, travel to the west of Ireland on a mysterious white horse named Tír na nOg that may or may not be the ghost of their dead mother. Gabriel Byrne is charming as their father, and even Ellen Barkin’s ropey accent can’t destroy the magic for me. Half folklore, half Western, I love this film so much, I even wrote my dissertation on it.
Drink: every time Tír na nOg saves the day!
9. Ondine (2009)
Sticking with folklore for this next film, Ondine is Neil Jordan’s film about Syracuse, a fisherman who catches a drowning woman in his net, and believes her to be a selkie, the seals of Irish folklore who shed their skin on land to become beautiful women. Ondine may find its roots in folklore, but it is much darker than Into the West, and is truly a comment on the state of the modern west.
If you’re unfamilar with the Cork accent, you might need subtitles (!?), but Colin Farrell’s accent is brilliant and it’s nice to see him, you know - acting.
Drink: every time Alison Barry (as Syracuse’s daughter) almost ruins a scene by over-acting hideously.
10. Poitín (1977)
If Ondine challenges notions of the west, Poitín is hugely responsible for creating them. The first feature film entirely in the Irish language, it was heavily criticised, upon its first broadcast, for its stereotypical depiction of the drunken Irishman, telling the tale of moonshiners in rural Connemara.
Drink: try doing the full Withnail and matching the film’s characters drink-for-drink.
11. The Quiet Man (1952)
John Ford’s The Quiet Man is perhaps the ideal St Patrick’s Day film. Following John Wayne as Sean Thornton, an Irish-American who returns to his homeland to tend the family property, It’s a story of homecoming and rediscovering what it means to be Irish. The film is often noted for its version of Ireland which is free of religious and class divisions, which it presents as a model for the country’s future. It is, of course, naive, but this version of Ireland has become iconic, and sometimes it’s nice to imagine it exists.
Drink: nothing. You’ve earned a rest. Just bask in the glory of Maureen O’Hara.
12. Of course, if none of these films appeal to you, you could always watch old episodes of Ballykissangel on YouTube… Now that’s a happy St Patrick’s Day!
This is just a small selection of the many wonderful Irish-themed films out there. Add your own recommendations (and drinking tips) below.