The five best Irish movies

By Barry Lord

Remember when Father Ted and Dougal were sent to the local fleapit to protest against the “blasphemous” film The Passion of Saint Tibulus?

“Come on, Ted,” offers Dougal. “It could be another Commitments.”

With the release today of Sing Street, Director John Carney’s vibrant evocation of Irish life in the 80s, audiences across the country may be echoing Dougal’s words.

There will those outside of the country who may wonder which Irish film has had the same impact on audiences as the tale of the white Dublin soul band undone in the end by petty squabbling and jealousy.

But a cursory glance over film listings in the past twenty years alone will show that we’ve offered up plenty of cinematic gems since Alan Parker’s 1991 triumph.

So I’ve put my together my five personally significant Irish movies, in no particular order.

Sure to cause a row, I’m sure. Where, for example, is Mrs. Brown Boys Da’Movie?  Or that contender to Citizen Kane’s cinematic throne; Boy Eats Girl, with Samantha Mumba? Suppose you’ll just have to make up your own.

By Source, Fair use,

Calvary –  Dir. John Michael McDonagh

If you’re looking for a film that reflects modern Ireland, look no further than Calvary. People who loved McDonough’s hilarious debut The Guard (also starring Brendan Gleeson) turned up expecting a few laughs. What they got instead was a darkly comic meditation on faith, redemption and guilt. Gleeson is the priest counting down his final days before a High Noon-style encounter with a vengeful parishioner, in a town where the church is more reviled than revered and his authority is undermined by years of public scandal within the institution. The sense of greed that engulfed the country during the boom time is brilliantly personified by Dylan Moran’s shameless but ultimately repentant banker. Once seen, hard to forget.

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My Left Foot – Dir. Jim Sheridan.

I lived round the corner from Ardmore Studios, where this was filmed, and was summoned one day, with a bunch of other kids from the area, to play one of the lead character’s younger brothers. The lead character, Christy Brown, was played by one Daniel Day Lewis. At the time I didn’t want to be in a film. I wanted to watch the 1988 summer Olympic Games in Seoul with my friends! I didn’t appreciate the significance of the film at the time (I was only nine years old after all!) But take quiet satisfaction from the fact that I was a small part of an absorbing true tale of one of Ireland’s great writers and painters, and boast that I saw a consummate professional at work; a man that would collect the best actor Oscar for 1989, along with the splendid Brenda Fricker as the Matriarch.

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The Quiet Man – Dir. John Ford.

Despite the fact I’m often irked by visitors to this country that are somewhat disappointed by the fact that modern Ireland doesn’t resemble the one depicted in this epic, this is still a classic. Fights often start and end in a car park, but here they begin in a pub, continue in a farm and finish in someone’s kitchen. Aside from that, it’s a pretty and hugely quotable film (“Oh, that red head of hers is no lie!”). And it was made by the legendary John Ford, whose parents hailed from Galway.

Once – Dir. John Carney

The small film that made it big. Launched a successful stage show and a memorable soundtrack. One critic called it Lost in Translation set to music, but it’s so much more than that. Funny, quirky and with two engaging leads, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

Michael Collins – Dir. Neil Jordan.

Controversial when it was released in 1996 and soon to be re-issued as part of the 1916 commemoration, this is an enthralling story of the Irish rebel leader’s battle for Irish independence, a typically commanding performance by Liam Neeson, a valiant stab at an Irish accent from Julia Roberts and a terrific turn from the late, great Alan Rickman as Dev.


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