A list of films that sum up Irish mentality and comedy. To be sure you need to watch these films to fully comprehend the Irish zeitgeist.
All the films here represent a certain part of Irish culture with most of them being mandatory watching for every Irish person. The scenes and lines are indelibly burned into the national psyche.
A word of warning: being from Dublin I’ve gone with some Dublin centric choices.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People
The main reason to watch this film is to understand how Hollywood sees Irish people. With leprechauns and banshees it’s so full of tropes and stereotypes that it hurts, but at the same time there is something charming and quaint about it, also it has Sean Connery and he sings. Yes, he sings.
A film about a field? A field that was bare rock! Outsiders are trying to take the field? Bull McCabe’s field? This film is a veritable who’s who of Irish cinema. A friend once remarked that I was a typical Dubliner and couldn’t consider myself Irish until I watched this story about a field. Richard Harris was nominated for an oscar for his role. Also did I mention it’s about a field?
Into The West
A story about two traveller children living in the flats who get a horse from their granda’. Oh, and their da is the king of the travellers so obviously the horse is magic. As if that wasn’t enough of a storyline add the theft of their horse in to the mix! Classic lines and lots of emotions. Every single Irish person is filled with joy at the mention of Tayto and Ossie.
Due to Ireland’s harsh libel laws all the criminals got fancy nicknames like the ‘Monk’, and the ‘Penguin’. The biggest and baddest of those criminals was Martin Cahill who pulled off a series of daring heists with precision and planning. His story is integral to the history of Dublin. This film won best director at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
The Butcher Boy
I don’t really know what to make of this movie but I’ll tell you this much: it has Sinead O’Conner as the Virgin Mary and if a film isn’t worth watching on that basis then you may as well stop reading now. The accents are gas craic as well to be sure.
Making Dublin look like a truly miserable place to live this movie picks you up and lifts you high. The stereotypes found in this movie are as ever present today in Dublin as they were back in the day. Oh man those faces are so familiar.
A young wan gets pregnant. That premise is turned in to a hilarious movie with so many immortal lines from “A1 Sharon” to “Is that a turkey or a baby?”. If you only watch one movie on this list then watch this one.
In The Name Of The Father
This film is insanely good, receiving 7 oscar nominations. It tells the story of two of the wrongfully imprisoned Guilford Four. Best line of the movie: “My name is Giuseppe Conlon and I am an innocent man”.
My Left Foot
“Christy Brown, born with cerebral palsy, learns to paint and write with his only controllable limb — his left foot”. With Oscar winning performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker. Movies of this calibre are rarely made.
Not set in Ireland but the characters, especially Colin Farrell’s, come out with some pithy remarks that are of the type that are typical of my Irish friends and family. An off-kilter comedy if ever there was one.
Brown sauce in tea is that a thing? Will I ever dare try it? Also it has that most quintessential of Irish things: a small child riding a bicycle.
Adam & Paul
Junkies are a mainstay of Dublin life. This film is a downbeat comedy about the trials and tribulations of two lads as they search for that next score.
Drugs and a murder on the west cost of Ireland. Brendan Gleeson’s comic timing and delivery in this film sets the bar for all others. Also once again a small child on a bicycle is featured. You can’t get away from them.
Honourable mentions go to The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Brooklyn, Angela’s Ashes, Calvary and Michael Collins but I don’t think they have entered the national psyche to the same extent as the previous movies have.
When you make it through that list you may have a thirst for more, if so then checkout the top 50 Irish films on the Irish Independent.