Ireland became a major filming location in recent years but has a long, rich history of cinema. Among many reasons, movies stick around because of their relevance, their accuracy and their ability to tap into the hearts and minds of the audience. While some are better off forgotten, many others have managed to stand the test of time, and this Irish movie guide intends to show some that have reached critical acclaim. Besides, what better way to acquaint yourself with Ireland and Irishness than to soak in the movies that represent the island from the comfort of your couch?



Once (2007)


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A romantic drama set in Dublin, Once is a boy meets girl movie that may surprise you. It’s a sweet story centred around music and the intimate connections it can make. The soundtrack features original music from the movie’s leads, played by real-life musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. This independent feature was made on a small budget but went on to become critically acclaimed inside and outside of Ireland. 

Sing Street (2016)

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It’s 1985 and Conor has been moved from his expensive school and enrolled in a public school. To Conor, the school is confusingly different and mixing with the other kids proves to be a challenge, let alone figuring out the harsh and jaded teachers watching over him. In an attempt to impress a model, Raphina, Conor makes up a band and asks her to be the model in his music video. Although this gamble works, Conor now faces the fact that he has no band and no music video to produce. The film highlights family and financial issues, puberty, change, abuse and self-expression through music but remains firmly in the grounds of a comedy-drama. The score is filled with songs from iconic 80s bands and a series of original songs written for the movie to get stuck in your head. 



The Secret of Kells (2009)


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The Secret of Kells takes a mystical approach to Irish history. Set in the time of Vikings in Ireland and heavily based around the Book of Kells, it creates an enthralling world for kids and adults that’s fun and dramatic. The movie is beautifully hand-drawn and animated in a Celtic style. It follows Brendan, a young monk living in an abbey, learning to read and write religious texts. Brendan is mystified by rumours of a powerful book and is soon drawn into the world of mythical creatures. While there, he learns of a greater threat to the abbey than the Vikings. 

Song of the Sea (2010)

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Song of the Sea is a hand-drawn children’s animation steeped in myth and mystery. It follows Ben, a young boy living with his father, Conor, and sister, Saoirse, in a lighthouse. After the disappearance of their mother, Bronagh, Saoirse falls ill and goes missing. Ben then embarks on a dangerous quest to save his sister and meet some friendly and unfriendly creatures along the way. The movie takes a lot of inspiration from Irish myth. It’s a great way to introduce children to these stories in an easy to understand format. The soundtrack features performances from Lisa Hannigan, who also voices Bronagh. 



Michael Collins (1996)

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Michael Collins tells the story of one of Ireland’s primary political figures and the fight for Ireland’s independence. The movie dramatizes the life of Michael Collins and the revolution, though it takes some artistic license in its retelling. With its historical significance, this movie is a must-watch for any Irish movie guide. Anyone with interest in history, action and intense drama should find enjoyment in this movie, as it details one of the most turbulent times in Irish history.  

Hunger (2008)

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Hunger is a historical drama based on the life of Bobby Sands and the other prisoners inside The Maze prison during The Troubles. In order to regain status as political prisoners, they staged a hunger strike and no-wash protest within the prison. Hunger can be a difficult one to watch at times, as the hunger strike begins to ravage Sand’s body. Fassbender adopted a special diet for the role which saw his weight drop significantly in an attempt to truly represent the prisoner’s strike and commitment. Directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender, the movie received worldwide acclaim for the performances, production and cinematography. 


Coming of Age:

War of the Buttons (1994)

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Based on a French novel of the same name, War of the Buttons tells the story of an endless rivalry between two neighbouring towns and a war fought by children. Separated by class, the boys of Ballydowse begin trying to one-up the boys of Carrickdowse. As the rivalry grows, the intensity of the battles builds and drags the parents in. The Bally boys take the buttons, shoelaces and underwear of their victims as trophies of their victory, and to send the losers back to their parents in tattered clothes. The movie highlights the innocence of children, class disparity and the consequences of violence in a coming of age comedy-drama. 

What Richard Did (2012)


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What Richard Did tells the story of a tragic event caused by a group of teenagers in Dublin’s south side. Richard is a rugby player with his school and a general alpha male. He has a group of close-knit friends that begin to push further away as they harbour a dark secret. The movie deals with privilege, issues of masculinity to the self and in society, guilt and consequences of violence. While this may be a slow burn, the plot picks up in tension as the group’s fate begins to fall together and their secret becomes clear. 


Waking Ned (1998)


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Have you ever wondered what you would do if you won the lottery? What if you won a fortune in old age? For some, it would be the beginning of a new life, but for Ned Devine, it meant his end. Set in a tiny Irish village, this comedy begins with a rumour of the lottery being won by one of the villagers. After some investigation and dead ends, the winner is revealed, still smiling in disbelief and still clutching the ticket. The village comes together to defraud the National Lottery by covering the death of Ned Devine and splitting the fortune.

Calvary (2014)

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A good-natured but troubled priest is targeted for revenge by an unseen man during confession in this black-comedy drama. Played by Brendan Gleeson, Father James is given the time and location of his murder. With a week until this comes to pass, Father James begins to investigate the people of his parish and gets his affairs in order to leave and avoid his death. Though this title has moments of absurdity in its characters and great comedy, it wastes no time in introducing the plot and is heavy on tension throughout. As a black comedy, it deals with sensitive themes but keeps distinctly light-hearted humour present in each scene. 

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

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Perhaps not the most representative but deserving of an honourable mention on the Irish movie guide. After losing his job to a younger man, Darby O’Gill is captured and dragged into another world and encounters the leprechaun king Brian. To make his escape, Darby outsmarts the leprechaun king in a drinking game and takes the king with him. Brian offers to grant three wishes in exchange for his freedom. Produced by Disney and featuring a performance from Sean Connery, this movie is a classic for most Irish people and is essential on the Irish movie guide. Expect trad music played on solo fiddle, poitín and a visit from the dreaded banshee from this classic feature.


Although this Irish movie guide is not a complete list by any means, these movies give a sense of Ireland’s sensibilities, characters and history. While it’s not likely that any travellers will encounter leprechauns or selkies, each film offers an insight into Ireland’s society, values and history. Many of the sites from the historical films are available to visit, as well as The Book of Kells in Trinity College Dublin.

Sean Quigley
Sean Quigley


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