A Short List of St. Patrick’s Day Picks

Brendan (Evan McGuire) and Aisling (Christen Mooney) gathering oak berries together in The Secret of Kells.

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, it’s the perfect time for anyone with a passing interest in Irish cinema to dive just a little bit deeper into it. While there are plenty of actors and writers from the country, a focus on Irish directors and their films about the island itself seems to be in order.

A man is walking his donkey on a small road.
Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin. Photo by Jonathan Hession and courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Likely the best-known film on this list, The Banshees of Inisherin is a 2022 film that so perfectly captures Irish comedy. Equal parts heartbreaking and darkly funny, Banshees tells the age-old story of two friends who suddenly cease their friendship, unbeknownst to one of them.

Taking place on the fictional Inisherin (likely based on the very real Inisheer) in Galway Bay, Banshees captures 1930s Ireland through the events of a small town on an equally small island. Outside of the events of the film itself, writer/director Martin McDonagh captures Irish culture in a million different ways. The visits to the pub, the walk back home along low stone walls, and even the calm shores in the early morning all bring forth images of a nearly idyllic life, although perhaps not on Inisherin.

Even the events of Banshees themself feel so distinctly Irish, perhaps even more so Irish-Catholic. Old men obsessed with their legacy is nothing new, but the unique angle of self-sabotage, penance, and revenge is something that could perhaps only work in an Irish community.

Perhaps one of the strongest choices in this film is the simplest. When Pádraic (Colin Farrell) confronts Colm (Brendan Gleeson) over the way he has been acting, he points out how Colm even speaks like an Englishman. “Yet, he says, like he’s English.” This line, beyond seeming to mirror elements of the Irish Civil War, carries so much weight in how Colm doesn’t seem to want to be remembered by his own culture, only other ones. “You used to be nice,” says Pádraic, and despite him questioning his own statement, he really does seem to want to believe it, even if Colm never used to be.

Brendan (Evan McGuire) and Aisling (Christen Mooney) gathering oak berries together in The Secret of Kells.
Brendan (Evan McGuire) and Aisling (Christen Mooney) gathering oak berries together in The Secret of Kells. Image courtesy of Buena Vista International.

The Secret of Kells

One of the kinder films on this list, 2009’s The Secret of Kells is a visual wonder. With a style reminiscent of medieval Celtic art, Kells is as gorgeous as it is poignant. With a loose focus on the fair folk and the Tuatha De Danann and their interaction with the early Christians, director Tomm Moore’s story is “about” the creation of the Book of Kells. Like so many other films on this list, it’s less about that plot than it is about the people of Ireland itself.

It would be easy to call Kells a coming-of-age movie, but that doesn’t seem right. In some ways, it feels as if it’s more about understanding the choices of the generation before us, and learning to embrace the differences in the one after us. In fact, the parts of Brendan’s (Evan McGuire/Michael McGrath) life when he would be coming of age are all but entirely skipped over, with the film showing him only as a child or adult.

Unlike the rest of this list, Kells tells a story of one of the earliest times that Ireland was invaded, this time by the Vikings. It would have been easy to show this strife being ended by Brendan’s work or the wall around Kells, but that wouldn’t have been honest. For two hundred years, raids ravaged the people and their culture. While Vikings wouldn’t be the only people to do so, they had a very clear impact on the culture, just as the British would, and early Christians did as well.

A boy with a makeshift sword and shield plays with his friends.
Jude Hill in Belfast. Image courtesy of Focus Features


It’s easy for people to forget that director Kenneth Branagh is Irish, but it’s impossible to forget when watching Belfast. Seeming to come from Branagh’s own experiences growing up in Ireland before moving to England, Belfast centers around a Protestant family during The Troubles. Following Buddy, the youngest of the family, Belfast repeatedly contrasts the dark greys and blacks of familial and national struggles with the bright colors of the arts.

Perhaps the only true escape, only art forms are shown in color, from the broad rainbow of films to the more muted tones of theatre. This comes across as more of a reflection of Branagh’s inspirations than anything else, but it still carries so much in it. When the world is grey and bleak, sometimes means of escapism provide the only color and light.

Belfast is by far the most difficult film to watch on this list. Whereas even Banshees has moments of humor and is itself a dark comedy the next year, Belfast from 2021 falls so deeply into tragedy that it can hardly be recommended without this warning. Like so many families had to do during The Troubles, a central part of Belfast is the idea that, strong as you may be, sometimes it’s best just to give up.

All of the above being said, Belfast is more than worth watching. As tragic as it may get, it also has moments that are unbearably cute, and its focus on the youngest member of the family, Buddy (Jude Hill), was an incredibly strong choice. This film could have been carried by the perspective of any character, but it could never have had the impact it did had it not been following a child, someone who wanted so desperately to cling to a normal life, and who couldn’t understand the reasoning behind most of what was happening.

The titular band Sing Street in the film, all walking together as the article celebrates St. Patrick's Day
The titular band Sing Street in the film, all walking together. Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

Sing Street

It’s nice to round off these lists with an easy recommendation, something anybody can sit down and watch. Sing Street, directed by John Carney, may not have much to say about broader Irish culture, but it does still play a fairly central role in keeping these characters grounded.

2016’s Sing Street, much like Once before it, is a form of musical about its musicians. Maybe this idea is old, but the setting makes it worse. Having heard countless tales of Catholic schools in Ireland in the past, seeing it represented from the perspective of an outsider was a perfect fit. Despite still being Irish, Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) doesn’t fit in, and after his initial attempts, he doesn’t even try to. As with the rest of the films on this list, the ways it centers on creating art as a means of both escapism for its characters and as a way to highlight culture and legacy cannot be overstated.

Much like Banshees at the beginning of this list, Conor is writing music both for himself and those around him, using it to focus on building a better life and a real legacy for himself. The act of creation is one of self-expression, something that seems to permeate Irish culture.

Something that is so striking about Sing Street is how the film intersects with religion. Rather than display conflict between different denominations, Carney instead opted to show conflict with religion as something largely internal. Conor is constantly butting heads with his closest religious authority, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley). Maybe it’s something that all people have to reckon with, the ways their own culture clashes with their religion. The ways that religion play into Sing Street, it’s as if there are times when it is nothing but an oppressive force, hindering the next generations and the future they want to create for themselves.

Far be it from me to keep anyone away from the pub on a holiday, but for all of the people wishing for something to do at home, this is for you. Thanks to my family, St. Patrick’s Day has always been something of great importance in my own life, perhaps even more so now.

While there are Irish actors and directors everywhere, focusing on how people represent their home is important, be it good or bad. Creating a list such as this, short as it is, exposes a lot of oneself, and even more of how they perceive a culture. If nothing else, I hope that this can provide some ideas to another person, someone who can create their own art about the place their family comes from, and in doing so preserve their own legacy.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Written by CM McCambridge

June "CM" McCambridge is a current Goldring Arts Journalism graduate student at Syracuse University with a passion for film, music, and theatre. After spending years of her life working in each, she now shares her passions by writing about them.

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