12 of the best Irish films (and no, P.S. I Love You is not on the list)

Written by Katy Harrington

The very dodgy trailer for new Irish film Wild Mountain Thyme got everyone talking for the wrong reasons – the accents, the daft plot and why is Emily Blunt dressed like it’s 1920 and covered in mud all the time? So, we asked an Irish writer to chose some of the greatest Irish movies that deserve to be celebrated (and watched). Here are a few of her favourites to watch now. 

Us Irish are a fairly sound bunch most of the time, but there are a few things that get on our nerves – people who have never been to Ireland giving you a history lesson about the Famine is one, and doing terrible Irish accents (NB: no native of the island has ever said “top of the morning to you” and no one ever will) is another. 

The latter became a hot topic once again lately when the trailer for a new film, Wild Mountain Thyme was released, with all of the cast doing a disservice to the nuanced accents of our land. The movie adds to the growing list of terrible Oirish films that butchered the medium and the accent (Far and Away, P.S I Love You, Leap Year…) 

It’s a shame that tripe like Wild Mountain Thyme gets so much attention because really for a small island we’ve actually produced some cinematic crackers. So to right the wrongs of all the bad Irish movies, I’ve chosen some of my favourites for you to enjoy now. 

Oh, and a note to Hollywood: stop making all this terrible paddywhackery ‘faith and begoorah’ nonsense or we will unleash our deadliest weapon…we will send you Jedward.

  • My Left Foot

    Do not be put off by the fact this 1989 movie has aged a little, because the incredible true story of young Christy Brown (an Irish writer and painter who had cerebral palsy and was able to write/draw using only one foot) more than makes up for it. 

    Not only does it star arguably the best actor the world has even seen (Daniel Day-Lewis) there’s also a mesmerising performance by the immense Brenda Fricker as Christy’s feisty Irish mammy. Day-Lewis won an Oscar for this role, and while the debate around able bodied actors playing roles of people with disabilities  rages on, this film is an undisputed Irish classic. 

    There will not be a dry eye in the house.

    Rent it from The BFI here

  • The Wind That Shakes The Barley

    If you want to understand the Irish ‘problem’ you could do worse than watching this epic drama from director Ken Loach. 

    The Wind That Shakes The Barley tells the tale of two brothers torn apart by the Irish revolt against the British. Corkman Cillian Murphy’s icy blue eyes won the Cannes Palm D’Or prize for their performance in this role…just kidding. But truly, the film did win and deservedly so for its glorious cinematography and barnstorming performances that bring the haunting screenplay to life. 

    Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime here

  • Sing Street

    If you love Derry Girls you’ll adore this adorable coming of age story set in Dublin in the 1980s. 

    The story is simple and one every Irish person (including this one) knows all to well – a young lad with big dreams escapes his strained family life by starting a band and moving to London. Add 80s hair, fashion and soundtrack (think The Cure, Duran Duran) and you have the sincerely gorgeous Sing Street

    Starring the ubiquitous Aiden Gillen and the too-good-to-be-true Jack Reynor as the best older brother ever, this warm, funny and honest show is  just what you need right now. 

    Rent it from the BFI here

  • The Field

    OK so this one has a touch of the diddley-i about it but it’s still a good watch if you are in the mood for nostalgia, flat caps and the one thing that Irish people care about most (no, not pints) LAND! 

    You might think this came out in the ‘60s but it was actually released in 1990 (written and directed by Jim Sheridan) and stars the masterful Richard Harris, John Hurt, Sean Bean, oh and look there’s Brenda Fricker again. What a ledge. 

    Plot summary: When a widow decides to sell the eponymous field and an “outsider” comes in to try and buy it things KICK OFF. You can watch it on YouTube for free and the comments underneath will give you an idea of the love out there for this Irish gem. 

    Watch it on YouTube

  • Intermission

    This hidden gem is a glorious find if you haven’t seen it the first time ‘round. 

    A darkly comic crime caper with a zinger of a script, stunning soundtrack and our gift to humanity, Colin Farrell. 

    There’s love, greed and violence in this highly quotable 2003 Irish film with the dream cast of Kelly Macdonald, ol’ blue eyes Cillian Murphy, Emma Bolger, Colm Meaney and the outstanding Shirley Henderson. 

    If that’s not enough watch it for the HIGHLY controversial scene featuring the unholy matrimony of  brown sauce and a cup of tea. 

    Watch it on YouTube here

  • Into The West

    Here’s something you probably didn’t know about Ireland – we make better crisps than you and God named those crisps Taytos. 

    Now that we have established that unshakable fact, let me neatly segue to Into The West, a movie which features a loveable character called Tayto, who you will love as much as you would love a bag of cheese and onion Taytos (sorry to labour this point). 

    This movie is less Irish, more classic American Western adventure, featuring two Traveller brothers who go on the run. Told with heartbreaking Irish pathos and featuring amazing scenery (including a young Gabriel Byrne’s stupidly handsome face) this gorgeous family movie is full of wit and grit and has one of the most iconic scenes in Irish film history (when they take their horse into a block of flats in the lift). 

    Guaranteed to have you screaming “TAYTO” by the end of it. 

    Rent it from Cinema Paradiso here

  • Waking Ned Devine

    Time for something more upbeat and another Irish passion (playing the Lotto!). 

    This cute country men vs city slicker, David vs Goliath story of very bad luck is pure Irish joy. The story is deliciously mischievous – old man Ned Devine wins the Irish national lottery, but there’s one one problem, Ned’s dead baby and so ensues an elaborate plot to claim his winnings and get one over on the ‘man’. Waking Ned Devine will remind you of the true value of friendship and it’s very, very funny. 

    And it’s only 99p to rent on Apple TV. Winner. 

    Rent or buy on Apple TV

  • The Magdalene Sisters

    Ireland makes depressing films because it has a very dark past. The true evil perpetrated by the Catholic church (both priests and nuns) on the impoverished and vulnerable people it was supposed to care for and protect is examined in this chilling film about the Magdalene laundries (real places for ‘fallen women’ run by nuns, now closed down but which continue to haunt their victims and Ireland to this day). 

    I’m not selling this well am I? But really, if there is one film on this list I implore every woman to watch it is this. Despite the gruelling subject matter there is light in this incredible film thanks to the superb cast that includes Anne Marie Duff and the criminally underrated Irish actress Laura Jane Noone. 

    The Magdalene Sisters is unforgettable. Irish cinema at its vey best.

    Buy or rent it on YouTube here

  • The Commitments

    Can pasty white Irish people sing Aretha, Al Green and Otis? You are damn right they can and lord do they in this blistering adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s famous novel of the same name.

    Set in the northside of Dublin, Jimmy Rabbitte aspires to manage the world’s greatest band, with only one music in mind: soul. Rabbitte forms his band of misfits and to everyone’s surprise, they are really bloody good. But just as everything is coming together on stage, the whole thing starts to fall apart behind the scenes. 

    Watching The Commitments is a rite of passage, we won’t let you into the country ‘til you’ve seen it, and you’ll be bleeding glad you did. 

    Buy it here on Google Play

  • The Butcher Boy

    Back to dark comedy (it’s all we do really). 

    The Butcher Boy is a masterpiece from director of The Crying Game, Neil Jordan. 

    With the genius that is Stephen Rea and the most incredible acting from a very young Eamonn Owens as the notorious Francie Brady, this movie is based on the sensational novel by Pat McCabe and includes a cameo by Sinead O’Connor as the Virgin Mary – what could be more Irish that that? 

    Wait till you see what Francie does to Mrs Nugent! 

    Rent or buy it here on YouTube

  • Once

    How many songs do you know where the opening bars can make you bawl your eyes out? Well, Falling Slowly is that song (it won an Oscar FFS) and Once is that movie. 

    If you haven’t seen this low-fi Irish love story you are in for a treat. Set in Dublin, Glenn Hansard (of Irish band The Frames) plays a love lorn busker who falls for a Czech girl (the insanely talented Marketa Irglova) who only happens to have the voice of a bloody angel. Then life happens and they are pulled apart. 

    The mastery of John Carney’s picture (he also did Sing Street) is it is so simple and unflashy you don’t quite expect it to slap like it does. And it does.  

    Prepare for your heart to be ripped in two and prepare to love every minute of it. 

    Rent it on Google Play now

  • In The Name Of The Father

    We started with Danny Day-Lewis and we’ll end with him. 

    Set in the wake of the (real) 1974 Guildford Bombings, In The Name Of The Father tells the true story of the innocent Irish men arrested charged and imprisoned for a crime they never committed. 

    The story of their fight for justice will have you out of your seat. 

    DDL is sensational obviously, but Pete Postlethwaite’s performance as his father Giuseppe Colon is a masterclass that must be seen. Oh and check out a young and sexy as hell Emma Thompson as their gutsy lawyer. 

    Buy it on YouTube here

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