17 Irish Movies to Watch on St Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!!

I’m wearing green today even though I have no plans to go anywhere 😉 Man, looking at the beautiful photo of Dublin above makes me wish we could actually travel to Ireland, or anywhere for that matter.

Well, we can always travel vicariously through the movies. There are quite a few Irish-set movies I’ve enjoyed over the years. I’ve also blogged about those movies a few times already, whether it’s memorable scenes, songs, or actors. So I’m going to include those movies I’ve mentioned, as well as new ones that weren’t on the list. Whether you’re into intense dramas, heartfelt rom-coms or family-friendly movies, there’s something for everyone here. So here they are in alphabetical order:

Brooklyn

An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.

I’m glad I saw this on the big screen during a film festival a few years ago (which I’ve reviewed here). A seemingly-simple story of an immigrant girl that’s deeply poignant and moving, and as an immigrant to the US myself, I can certainly relate to Saoirse Ronan‘s character. I count this as one of my favorite role of Ronan’s conveys her internal struggles in a subtle but effective way. Directed by John Crowley and written by Nick Hornby, it’s also got a great ensemble cast: Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Domhnall Gleeson andEmory Cohen.

Circle of Friends (1995)

Set in 1950’s Ireland, the movie focuses on Benny Hogan and her best friend, Eve Malone. 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, the ice-cool Nan Mahon, the ‘college belle’. They also encounter the handsome and charming Jack Foley, whom Benny quickly falls for.

I love, love this movie that I’ve written a post dedicated for this movie here. It’s one of my fave rom-coms that I’ve watched multiple times. I enjoy seeing Minnie Driver on screen and her earlier role as Benny (Bernadette) is just so delightful. The story of friendship is lovely, plus there’s Colin Firth in a rare baddie role.

I love this song You’re The One by Shane MacGowan & Máire Brennan.

The Eclipse (2009)

In a seaside Irish town, a widower sparks with a visiting horror novelist while he also begins to believe he is seeing ghosts.

This one you might not have heard of, not to be confused with the Twilight movie. It’s more of a drama than horror though there are indeed some spooky elements. Based on a supernatural love story by author Billy Roche and was co-adapted by Conor McPherson, it stars Ciarán Hinds and Iben Hjejle as Michael and Lena, who met during a literary festival in Wexford. Michael is still recovering from the loss of his wife to cancer and he’s confronted by strange visions. Aidan Quinn also makes an appearance as another author who isn’t too keen on the two main characters getting together.

The scenery in Irish seaport town of Cobh is beautiful, and the cinematography is definitely atmospheric.

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)

A powerful meditation on guilt, forgiveness and reconciliation, this potent drama tells the story of two men on opposite sides of Northern Ireland’s political struggle: one a killer, the other the brother of the man he killed. 

This one is such a powerful and poignant film… definitely a riveting character study of two people on opposite sides. I’ve actually seen a local play reading of this as a local playwright is trying to adapt this into stage play. Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt are both terrific in their roles, though they barely share a scene together. I’ve written a full review of it here – despite being only 89 minutes long, it definitely packs an emotional punch!

Frank (2014)

Jon, a young wanna-be musician, discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank.

Why hire a handsome actor like Michael Fassbender and have him wear a giant papier-mâché head for practically the entire movie? Well, that part wasn’t just a silly gimmick, but there’s an intriguing story behind it and Fassbender did an amazing job acting without the use of his face. This Lenny Abramson’s movie is  certainly one of the weirdest I’ve seen but it’s a quirky and memorable commentary about the creative process. You can read my full review here.

The Guard (2011)

An unorthodox Irish policeman with a confrontational personality is partnered with an up-tight F.B.I. agent to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring.

I love buddy cop comedies! Ok so this one isn’t quite Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys, but it’s two unlikely people, an Irish cop and FBI agent who couldn’t be more different. But of course they end up bonding while working together on an international cocaine-smuggling operation. I love Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle here, their banters are definitely amusing. I just realized that the director, John Michael McDonagh, is Martin McDonagh’s brother who worked with Gleeson in In Bruges.

The Matchmaker (1997)

Marcy is an assistant to Senator John McGlory, who is having problems with a re-election campaign. Desperate for Irish votes, McGlory’s chief of staff Nick sends Marcy to Ireland to trace McGlory’s relatives or ancestors. Marcy arrives at the village of Ballinagra when it is preparing for an annual Matchmaking Festival.

I saw this ages ago but somehow I still remember parts of it, especially the gorgeous Ireland scenery. The film was filmed in Connemara, west coast of Ireland. I also quite like Janeane Garofalo who always plays the smart girl in rom-coms. I wonder what she’s doing now. David O’Hara is quite charming as her suitor, I’d say it’s a much better movie than the more popular Leap Year (despite the gorgeous Matthew Goode, this movie is simply terrible I won’t put it on this list!).

Once (2007)

A modern-day musical about a busker and an immigrant and their eventful week in Dublin, as they write, rehearse and record songs that tell their love story.

One of the best musical romantic dramas that’s quintessentially Irish with a universal story about unrequited love. This is perhaps my favorite from John Carney (whose later film Sing Street is also on this list!). It’s got a meet-cute, gorgeous Dublin scenery, wonderful music and two actors with a lovely chemistry. I haven’t seen Glen Hansard nor Markéta Irglová in anything else since, but their lovely performance is forever cemented in this charming and bittersweet film. This song just absolutely broke my heart, I tear up every time I hear it.

Ondine (2009)

An Irish fisherman discovers a woman in his fishing net whom his precocious daughter believes to be a selkie.

Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan has a penchant for making films with supernatural, fairy tale bent. This one touches upon Celtic mythology involving selkies as in ‘seal folk,’ mythological beings capable of transforming to human form by shedding their skin. Well, the on-screen chemistry between Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda are so palpable as they fell in love on set and they had a kid together. I love the scenery of the fishing village in County Cork, Ireland and it’s lovely to hear Colin use his real Irish lilt.

Philomena (2013)

A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

Most people who read my blog regularly know I LOVE Dame Judi Dench and this is definitely one of her best work. I included this movie on this list of favorite movies about journalists/reporters in movies. It’s also a bit of a road movie as she and Steve Coogan’s journalist character went on a journey to find her long lost son. It’s a bittersweet story of loss by renowned British director Stephen Frears.

P.S. I Love You (2007)

A young widow discovers that her late husband has left her 10 messages intended to help ease her pain and start a new life.

Ok I’m aware this movie wasn’t well-received by critics (I mean 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, come on!) but it was a hit with audiences (80%). I for one adore this movie despite Gerry Butler’s ghastly Irish accent. It’s the best of his rom-coms in a string of duds (esp. The Ugly Truth which truthfully IS ugly). It’s a lovely story of loss and love, and Holly’s loss of her husband is heart-wrenching thanks to Hilary Swank‘s believable performance. There’s even a rendition of The Man That Got Away from A Star Is Born, Swank is quite good mimicking Judy Garland she could’ve played her in the JUDY biopic! There are also memorable turns from the ensemble cast, particularly Jeffrey Dean Morgan who played an Irish man believably!

The soundtrack is wonderful as well, filled with lovely songs and a sweet score by John Powell.

The Secret of Kells (2009)

A young boy in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids is beckoned to adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives with an ancient book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers.

I’m including pretty much ALL of Cartoon Saloon movies here, but naturally, it’s an Irish Animation Studio based in Kilkenny, Ireland. Tomm Moore‘s strikingly beautiful hand-drawn animated movies have all earned an Oscar nomination, and it’s easy to see why. The first of his trilogy based on Celtic mythology, it’s spiritually-tinged and speaks about an inspiring message of devotion, bravery, sacrifice and forgiveness. The voice cast are wonderful, with Brendan Gleeson providing the voice of one of the characters.

Sing Street (2016)

A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band to impress the mysterious girl he likes.

As someone growing up in the 80s, naturally it’s a treat to watch these Irish boys trying to escape their family life by forming a band. Apparently it’s a semi-autobiographical story of John Carney, and it’s the perfect love letter to the 80s and the power of music. I like the cast mostly-unknown young actors, which featured a star-making turn by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo with his beautiful singing voice. Peelo has a sweet chemistry with Lucy Boynton‘s Raphina and Jack Reynor provides some of the most moving dramatic moments as Peelo’s brother. But the star of the film is definitely the music and all the catchy songs that I’m still listening to even today.

Song of the Sea (2014)

Ben, a young Irish boy, and his little sister Saoirse, a girl who can turn into a seal, go on an adventure to free the fairies and save the spirit world.

The second Celtic-mythology animated feature from Cartoon Saloon is SO gorgeous one could easily get lost in marveling at the visuals. The world-building and attention to detail is so mesmerizing. I just LOVE the color scheme depicting the ocean, it’s so soothing but also mysterious and magical. This might be my favorite of the trilogy, which I’ve reviewed in full here. Just like in his first film, there’s something so amazingly-evocative in the way the animation is done, where you could practically feel the sea breeze, the chilly wave and wind of the Irish coast.

Veronica Guerrin

Based on a true story, this is about the Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, a reporter for The Sunday Independent, who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons and drug lords in 1996.

Cate Blanchett can play virtually anyone and can disappear into any role. That’s the case here where the Aussie thespian played Irish intrepid journalist who met a tragic end when she tried to expose powerful drug lords. It’s a tour de force performance that every Blanchett fan should watch. Though it’s not exactly an enjoyable movie per se, it’s definitely a gripping thriller. I’d say it’s one of the late Joel Shumacher’s best work and one of my favorite films about journalists.

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

When a lottery winner dies of shock, his fellow townsfolk attempt to claim the money.

I actually just saw this one last night as I wanted to watch an Irish movie this week. I think I watched only parts of it ages ago and I’m glad I finally saw it in its entirety. Though the movie was actually filmed in The Isle of Man, it wonderfully captures the Irish spirit and small town life. Ian Bannen as Jackie and David Kelly as Michael are truly hilarious as the two best friends trying to trick the lottery company into thinking Ned is still alive. It’s such a fun, oddball, charming movie that one can watch with the whole family or on a movie night with friends, guaranteed to put everyone in a cheery mood. There are plenty of drinking scenes whether in a town’s pub or at home, too, so a good escapism movie to watch on St Patty’s Day!

Wolfwalkers (2021)

A young apprentice hunter and her father journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack. But everything changes when she befriends a free-spirited girl from a mysterious tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night.

The last of the Celtic folklore trilogy from Cartoon Saloon is once again nominated for an Oscar! I can’t say enough how gorgeous this movie is, and I’m obsessed with the look of Mebh, the Wolfwalker girl. With her full orange mane and huge green eyes, she’s such a mesmerizing character.

I love the unlikely friendship storyline between Robyn and Mebh, but unlike most Disney movies, the story can be a bit dark and even sad at times so it’s perhaps more suitable for adults and older kids. But like most Tomm Moore’s previous work, the visuals are simply exquisite, and accompanied by wonderful Gaelic music/songs that transports you to a magical world.


So which are your favorite Irish movies? Feel free to suggest some in the comments!

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11 thoughts on “17 Irish Movies to Watch on St Patrick’s Day

  1. A great film about Ireland but it’s not by an Irish filmmaker but rather a British filmmaker is The Wind That Shakes the Barley starring Cillian Murphy and directed by Ken Loach. I think it’s one of the best films of the 2000s and certainly deserving of the Palme d’Or.

    I also totally recommend Brooklyn as I just love that film a lot as it definitely is Saoirse Ronan’s adult break-out role.

    There’s a film called Intermission with Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Shirley Henderson, and Kelly MacDonald that is really good and funny. Cavalry with Brendan Gleeson and Hunger by Steve McQueen starring Michael Fassbender. Those 2 are quite bleak but they’re great films set in Ireland.

    1. Hey Steven! Thanks for your recommendations. I’m intrigued by Intermission, great Irish cast too! Cavalry also sounds good as I like Brendan Gleeson. Hunger sounds really bleak indeed.

  2. Ted Saydalavong

    It’s that time of the year already? I have no clue that’s almost St. Patty’s Day. Of course I’m not Irish but I used to celebrate it with friends back in college by getting very drunk. Lol!

    I’ve never seen any of the films from your list there. But I guess the only movie that I’ve seen that deals with Irish people was Patriot Games. I was going to say Braveheart and Rob Roy but those were about Scottish folks, I keep confusing the two countries. Ha ha!

  3. Yeah I think most people miss St Patty’s Day this year as there’s no parade or anything.

    Ahah come on Ted, don’t get the Irish and Scots mixed up, they won’t like that 😀 The Guard is actually really good and I think it’s something you might enjoy.

  4. I’ve seen 10 of these. I’d rank them this way:

    P.S. I Love You-Not always a Hilary Swank fan but she’s good in this.
    The Matchmaker-Janeane Garofalo seemed like she had a nice little career going there for a bit with this and “The Truth About Cats and Dogs” but then it didn’t pan out as I thought it would.
    Circle of Friends
    Philomena-An imperfect film but Judi is wonderful.
    Veronica Guerin
    Waking Ned Devine
    Brooklyn-I liked this until Eilis returned to Ireland and then her selfish irresponsibility pissed me off so much it ruined the film for me.
    Ondine
    Once
    Song of the Sea-I am just not an animation guy.

    Of the others the one that really appeals to me is The Guard. I’m a fan of both leads and the premise sound entertaining.

    Some others that are either set in Ireland or Irish themed that you didn’t mention.

    I suppose the most famous of them is The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara which I like but not as much as the rest of my family. It just wasn’t St. Paddy’s Day if we didn’t watch it when I was a kid!

    The others I’ll break down by genre:
    Crime:
    I Went Down-This also stars Brendan Gleeson. It’s an unconventional film for Ireland in that it does not have pastoral scenes of lovely landscapes but settings that aren’t what you would usually expect in that country.
    Odd Man Out-A IRA refugee (a great James Mason) is hiding out after a failed robbery in Belfast.
    The Crying Game-Clever twisty thriller.

    Musicals:
    The Daughters of Rosie O’Grady-Colorful mostly fictious movie about the title characters has pleasant songs, Debbie Reynolds’ first big role and Gordon MacRae in glorious voice (LOVE him!)
    The Commitments-A young Dublin guy forms an Irish bar band.
    Finian’s Rainbow-Film version of the big Broadway hit is a bit bloated but has wonderful music and Fred Astaire.
    Little Nellie Kelly-Sweet minor Judy Garland musical was one of her first adult roles, she plays both the title character and her mother. It’s on the corny side but the music is good, and Judy is at her peak.

    Darby O’Gill and the Little People-A cute fantasy starring a young Sean Connery.

    Young Cassidy-A 1965 roman a clef biography of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey with a liberal dose of reinvention and a powerhouse cast. Aside from Rod Taylor, shortly after The Birds, as O’Casey’s stand-in the film also has Julie Christie, Maggie Smith, Michael Redgrave, Flora Robson and Edith Evans among other prominent British performers.

    1. Hey Joel! Pardon the tardy reply. THANK YOU for your recommendations of Irish movies! I hadn’t heard of I Went Down, that sounds great, and also Young Casidy, I’ll put those on my to-watch list! I didn’t realize there are so many Irish musicals, the one I had heard and been wanting to see is The Commitments which I think is one of the inspirations for Sing Street.

      Hey, fun idea of ranking the ones you have seen. surprised to see PS I Love you at the top but I think that movie is so underrated. Of the ones you haven’t seen yet, I think you’d appreciate Five Minutes of Heaven, it’s a really thought-provoking drama.

  5. Nice list, Ruth! I’ve seen four of them: Waking Ned, PS I Love You, The Guard, and Philomena. Waking Ned is such a quirky, original film. I saw it for the first time years and years ago and it still holds up on rewatches.
    The Guard is excellent too; Gleeson and Cheadle are a fun match.

    Dublin is one of my favourite places to visit. I’ve been twice now and am looking forward to going again soon when the world opens up.

    1. Hi ya Claire, man I’m jealous you’ve been to Dublin! I can see how that’s one of your fave places to visit. Looks soooo enchanting from the pictures.

      You’ve only seen four from this list? You’ve got to watch all the Cartoon Saloon animated features, they’re so amazing! As for the live action ones, if you like good music in movies then ONCE and Sing Street are must-see as well.

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