Prof. David Campion

O'Brien's Tower, built 1835, on the Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare



SOME of the most enduring images of Ireland in the popular imagination of Americans have come from films. Some of these films are of average quality and imperfect in their historical accuracy, but many are excellent and effectively recreate the environment and compelling issues that Irishmen and women faced at different periods in their history. And since films are the media through which many Americans gain their impressions of Irish history, politics, and culture, they are worthy of consideration by historians for that reason alone.

In the last twenty years, the Irish film industry has experienced something of a renaissance. Apart from bringing their rich literary heritage to the screen, the Irish have used film and television to explore the most controversial aspects of their history and culture, from exposing the deepest wounds of the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland to challenging the social power and morality of traditional Irish Catholicism. Yet the Irish film industry has not been without its critics. Some have complained that Irish filmmakers who seek financial backing from Hollywood production companies for their medium-to-big budget films often cater to the conceits and tastes of American audiences—especially with regard to political topics. The profits of American distribution then offset the costs of production. The result, these critics say, is the presentation of a distorted and overly "Americanized" sense of Irishness combined with a one-sided and ill-informed view of Irish history (particularly of Northern Ireland's political troubles).

Yet in spite of such concerns, most would not question the rising levels of talent and sophistication both in front of and behind the camera. In recent years, many Irish films have received worldwide recognition for their quality and innovation while some Irish directors and actors have become international celebrities. The Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) and Northern Ireland Screen support and award superior achievement in the industry.

Below is a selection of films useful for complementing our study of politics and society in Modern Ireland. Most of the films listed below can be obtained at Watzek Library. You can also find many of them on Netflix. In addition to the list below you might consult the Irish in Film and Irish Film and Television Network (ITFN) web databases.

Some information courtesy of Internet Movie Database. Used with permission

A Portrait of the Artist (1977)
The Dead (1987)
Nora (2000)

Man of Aran (1934)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
December Bride (1990)
The Field (1990)
Dancing at Lughnasa (1998)
Waking Ned Devine (1998)
Bitter Harvest (2001)
Middletown (2006)
Calvary (2014)

The Fighting 69th (1940)
The Quiet Man (1952)
The Last Hurrah (1958)
The Molly Maguires (1970)
Only the Lonely (1991)
Out of Ireland (1995)
Long Journey Home (1996)
The Matchmaker (1997)
One Man's Hero (1998)
This is My Father (1998)
The Irish Empire (1999)
Gangs of New York (2002)
In America (2003)
Ned Kelly (2004)
Van Diemen's Land (2009)
Brooklyn (2015)

My Left Foot (1989)
The Commitments (1991)
The General (1998)
Conspiracy of Silence (2003)
The Magdalene Sisters (2003)
Veronica Guerin (2003)
Once (2006)
Pavee Lackeen (2006)
Kings (2007)
Philomena (2013)

Mein Leben für Irland (1941)
Shake Hands with the Devil (1959)
The Dawning (1988)
Troubles (1988)
Fools of Fortune (1990)
The Treaty (1992)
Michael Collins (1996)
The Last September (1999)
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
Coward (2012)

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987)
The Playboys (1992)
Broken Harvest (1994)
Circle of Friends (1995)
The Butcher Boy (1998)
Angela's Ashes (1999)
A Love Divided (1999)
Borstal Boy (2000)
Evelyn (2002)
Song for a Raggy Boy (2003)
Jimmy's Hall (2014)

Odd Man Out (1947)
A Quiet Day in Belfast (1974)
Cal (1984)
Four Days in July (1985)
Hidden Agenda (1990)
The Railway Station Man (1992)
In the Name of the Father (1993)
Some Mother's Son (1996)
The Informant (1997)
This is the Sea (1997)
The Boxer (1998)
Divorcing Jack (1998)
Mapmaker (2001)
Bloody Sunday (2002)
Boxed (2002)
Omagh (2004)
Hunger (2008)
Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008)
Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)
Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012)
'71 (2014)


Director: Robert Flaherty, 1934

Robert Flaherty's famous documentary dramatizing and heroizing the Aran Islanders is the first cinematic attempt at an anthropological study of local Irish culture. However, the way of life that the film documents had already disappeared by 1934, hence the "cast of characters" at the end of the film. Many of the cast had to be taught the "traditional ways" that they depict in the film.

© Home Vision Entertainment


Director: Stanley Kubrick, 1975

In a small village in eighteenth-century Ireland, Redmond Barry is a young farm boy in love with his cousin Nora. When she becomes engaged to a British captain, Barry challenges him to a duel and wins. He then flees to Dublin and, with no other alternative, assumes a false name ("Barry Lyndon") and joins the army to fight in the Seven Years War. An excellent period film that brings to life the privileged world of the Anglo-Irish Protestant ascendancy. Based loosely on the 1844 picaresque romance by William Thackeray.

© Warner Home Video

Director: Jonathan auf der Heide, 2009

This thriller is based on the true story of Alexander Pearce, an Irish thief and Australia’s most notorious convict. In 1822, Pearce and seven fellow convicts escaped from the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station in Van Diemen’s Land (present-day Tasmania). The plot chronicles the increasingly desperate struggle of the eight men to survive in the Tasmanian wilderness. Transportation to Australia was a common fate for Irish rebels and criminals. The dialogue is Irish and English.

© Screen Australia


Director: Paul Wagner, 1995

The talents of numerous Irish and American historians, ethnologists, musicians, and actors are combined in this excellent documentary that tells the stories of Irish immigrants who settled in North America. The film mixes an adept historical overview and deeply touching personal stories with well-chosen archival material and gorgeously filmed modern footage. Narrators include Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Brenda Flicker, Aidan Quinn, Kelly McGillis and playwright John B. Keane.

© Koch Vision/Shanachie Video


Director: Lance Hool, 1998

This film is a highly romanticized portrayal of the true story of Irish immigrant soldiers in the US Army who deserted and fought for Mexico in the Mexican-American War. The plot follows Sergeant John Riley who accepts a commission in the Mexican Army and commands his fellow Irishmen in the Batallón San Patricio fighting under their own banner. A typical Hollywood epic, the film offers a melodramatic and often simplistic view of this little-known chapter in Irish and American history.



Director: Martin Scorsese, 2002

This stylized and visually stunning film recreates the experiences of Irish immigrants in the "Five Points" of Lower Manhattan during the mid-nineteenth century. It highlights the poverty and machine politics of immigrant New York, as well as the violent conflict between gangs of Irish and "Nativist" Americans from the famine immigration of the 1840s through the Draft Riots of 1863. Based on the 1928 non-fiction book by muckraking New York journalist Herbert Asbury.

© Miramax


Director: Michael Ritt, 1970

This film is set in 1876 in the coal country of Western Pennsylvania. Angered at the cruelty and exploitation by the mining company, the Irish immigrant miners form a secret society to carry out acts of sabotage and violence against their employers. They name their organization "The Molly Maguires" after the legendary agrarian anti-landlord vigilantes of the same name back in Ireland. The company responds by hiring Irish informants to infiltrate the group. Based on true events.

© Paramount Studios


Director: Gregor Jordan, 2004

Based on the true story of Edward "Ned" Kelly, at one time the most wanted man in the British Empire. In 1870s Australia, young Ned is a bushranger living in poverty with his family of first-generation descendants of transported Irish convicts. His frequent trouble with the law and his resentment of colonial class prejudice lead him to form a gang of outlaws who redistribute their loot among the poor farming communities. Ned Kelly has become an Irish-Australian icon and is the subject of many other films.

© Universal


Directors: Thomas Lennon & Mark Zwonitzer, 1996

This documentary series surveys the history of Ireland and its impact on the United States of America. It chronicles the centuries of hardship endured by the Irish and the waves of immigration and settlement in America from the first colonization efforts by the Scotch-Irish through the postwar immigration of the twentieth century. The music is outstanding.

© Disney


Director: John Huston, 1987

An adaptation of one of the great short stories of James Joyce. The plot revolves around a Christmas dinner at the house of two spinster musician sisters and their niece in turn-of-the-century Ireland, attended by friends and family. Among the visiting attendees are the sisters' nephew Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta. The evening's reminiscences bring up melancholy memories for Gretta concerning her first, long-lost love when she was a girl in rural Galway.

© Vestron


Director: Joseph Strick, 1977

Stephen Dedalus is a young man growing up in Ireland in the early twentieth century. His search for knowledge and understanding, and the decline of his family's circumstances, lead him to revelations on the nature of art and politics. His self-discovery makes him feel unwelcome in his own nation, and forces him to decide whether to leave and accept exile, or to stay and fight. From James Joyce's classic semi-autobiographical novel from 1916.

© Image Entertainment


Director: Pat Murphy, 2000

This period drama is based on the relationship between the novelist James Joyce and his longtime lover, Nora Barnacle. In 1904, James, an aspiring young writer in Dublin, meets Nora, a hotel chambermaid recently arrived from Galway. Together they travel to Trieste, have two children, and then return to Dublin. During their stormy relationship she tolerates his drinking, pulls him through his phobias, and helps him confront the stifling social and moral constraints of life in Ireland.

© First Look Pictures


Director: Ciaran Donnelly, 2012

In 1909 the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast embarked on the most ambitious project in its history: to build the largest ship in the world. This television miniseries recreates the events of the three-year construction of the unsinkable liner Titanic from the perspective of the wealthy investors, middle-class engineers, and working-class shipyard crews. The plot alternates between the technical details of the fated liner and the rising political consciousness of Belfast's Protestants and Catholics.

© Lions Gate


Director: Neil Jordan, 1996

A biographical account of the IRA fighter and Irish statesman from the 1916 Easter Rising to his assassination in 1922. A vivid recreation of the Irish republican movement, the guerrilla campaign against British forces, and the Irish Civil War. The film is historically accurate, but the characterization of Collins, Harry Boland, and Eamon De Valera remains controversial.

© Warner Home Video


Director: William Keighley, 1940

The 69th Infantry Regiment from New York, composed largely of Irish Americans, had a legendary reputation dating back to the Civil War. This film tells the story of the heroism and leadership of the regiment's chaplain, Rev. Francis Duffy, during some of the most brutal campaigns of the First World War. Father Duffy was one of three men of the 69th awarded the Medal of Honor and the regiment became the inspiration for the Notre Dame University nickname "The Fighting Irish."

© Warner Bros.


Director: David Roddham, 2012

This moving short film follows two cousins from Northern Ireland who in 1917 volunteer for service in the army and are plunged into the hellish fighting along the Western Front. The brutality of combat and life in the trenches is matched by the callous indifference of the military leadership toward their soldiers suffering from shell shock and the manner in which punishment is dealt out. Twenty-six Irish-born soldiers in the British Army were executed for cowardice in the First World War. They were not officially pardoned until 2006.

© Different Productions


Director: Deborah Warner, 1999

Set in Co. Cork in 1920, this film revolves around the lives and romantic complications of an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family living on their estate in the midst of the Irish war for independence. A compelling look at the last days of the Protestant Ascendancy and of their own sense of Irishness being tested through the changing national climate of their country and an uncertain future. Based on the 1929 novel by Elizabeth Bowen.

© Lions Gate


Director: Michael Anderson, 1959

This film is set in 1921 Dublin amid the IRA guerrilla campaign against the British security forces. Irish-American medical student Kerry O'Shea hopes to remain uninvolved, but saving a wounded friend gets him outlawed, and inexorably drawn into the rebel organization under his former professor Sean Lenihan, who has "shaken hands with the devil" and begun to think of violence as an end in itself. Complications arise when the British offer a peace treaty that is not enough to satisfy Lenihan. Based on the 1934 novel by Rearden Conner.



Director: Ken Loach, 2006

In 1919, Irish volunteers wage a guerrilla campaign against the ruthless "Black and Tan" paramilitary squads arriving from Britain to block Ireland's bid for independence. Driven by a deep sense of duty and love of country, Damien abandons a promising career as a doctor and joins his brother, Teddy, in this dangerous and violent struggle. Their victory is followed in 1922 by the Irish Civil War that pits these same comrades against each other. The title comes from a famous Irish ballad. This film won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

© Sixteen Films


Director: Jonathan Lewis, 1992

This TV movie, produced for RTÉ, focuses on the painstaking negotiations in late 1921 between the provisional government of the Irish Republic and representatives of the British Government under David Lloyd George. An intelligent and even-handed film about a controversial moment in Irish political history that ended the Anglo-Irish War but split the republican movement and led to the Irish Civil War.

© RTÉ Films


Director: Christopher Morahan, 1988

In 1919, Major Brendan Archer arrives in Ireland to reunite with his Anglo-Irish Protestant fiancée, Angela Spencer. Unfortunately, the Spencer family home, the Majestic Hotel on the Wexford coast, is a decaying shadow of its former self, as is Angela. Archer's attentions are soon drawn to her lively friend, Sarah Devlin, a passionate Irish nationalist. They fall in love, but Archer discovers some disturbing aspects about their relationship. Based on the 1970 novel by J.G. Farrell.

© BFS Entertainment


Director: Robert Knights, 1988

Set in 1920, the plot of this film revolves around the unlikely friendship between Nancy, an orphaned teenager raised by a loving aunt, and Cassius, a middle-aged tramp who is the same age that her unknown father would have been. When Nancy discovers that Cassius is actually an IRA gunman on the run and that the authorities are closing in, their relationship and her innocence are shattered. Based on Jennifer Johnston's 1979 novel The Old Jest.

© Lions Gate


Director: Max W. Kimmich, 1941

This Nazi propaganda film from 1941 tells the story of the O'Brien family and of their heroism and martyrdom over two generations as their country suffered under the oppressive rule of Britain. Produced for Nazi-occupied Europe, the film was intended to challenge pro-British allegiances, but in some cases it had the unintended consequence of making audiences identify the Irish struggle with their own resistance against the Nazis. The film itself is a fascinating historical document about the manipulation of Irish politics and anti-British attitudes.



Director: Pat O'Connor, 1990

This story traces the lives of a prosperous Irish Protestant family living through the Anglo-Irish war and caught between IRA guerilla violence and the brutality of the "Black & Tan" auxiliary police. A revealing portrayal of this important chapter in Irish history and its impact on everyday life. However the movie itself, though beautiful filmed, tends toward melodrama and after a while the plot become a bit tedious. Based on the 1983 novel by William Trevor.

© Film Four International


Director: Goran Paskaljevic, 2001

Set in the small village of Skillet in 1924, this film is a tale of envy, hatred and revenge. The plot revolves around Harry, a bitter, mean-spirited, and domineering widower who lives with his shy son Gus. Harry tells Gus "a man is measured by his enemies"—and in Harry's case, his sworn enemy is George, the popular local pub owner. A comic yet disturbing look at village politics in Ireland and of the terrible consequences of a local feud gone out of control.

© Ardustry Home Entertainment


Directors: Alan Gilsenan & Dearbhla Walsh, 1999

This five-part series, first broadcast on BBC Ireland in 1999, offers a compelling, contemporary historical perspective on the events, people, and influences that shaped the identity of Irish culture as it expanded throughout the world. The focus is not on Ireland as a country but the Irish as a global community—an "empire" formed by the emigration of millions of Irish natives, with pockets of culture all over the world and large populations concentrated in England, America, Canada, and Australia.

© Fox Lorber


Director: Alan Parker, 1999

Based on the 1996 Pulitzer prize-winning memoir by Frank McCourt, this film traces the experiences of young Frankie and his family as they try against all odds to escape the poverty endemic in the slums of pre-war Limerick. The story opens with the family in Brooklyn, but following the death of one of Frankie's siblings, they return to Ireland only to find the situation there even worse.

© Paramount


Director: Ken Loach, 2014

The true story of socialist Jimmy Gralton who in 1932 returns home to Co. Leitrim after ten years of exile in America. Seeing that poverty and oppression have not decreased under the self-governing Free State, the activist in him reawakens and he re-opens Pearse-Connolly Hall, the social center and dance venue that led to his earlier deportation. Jimmy's Hall is popular with the local community, but is perceived as a threat to political and social order by the parish priest, landlords, and Gardai who conspire to shut it down. Filmed in Leitrim and Sligo.

© Film 4


Director: Peter Sheridan, 2000

In 1942, Brendan Behan, the acclaimed Irish dramatist, is sixteen years old and headed to Liverpool on an IRA bombing mission. The mission is thwarted and he is convicted and imprisoned in Borstal, a reformatory for young offenders in East Anglia. There Brendan is forced to live and work side-by-side with those he perceives as the enemy—a confrontation that reveals a deep inner conflict in the young man and forces a difficult self-examination. Based on Behan's 1958 autobiographical novel.

© Strand Releasing


Director: Aisling Walsh, 2003

The true story of William Franklin, an Irish veteran of the Spanish Civil War who returns home in 1939 and is employed as the only lay teacher in St. Jude's Reformatory, an oppressive and predatory school run by the Christian Brothers. Despite the brutal environment, William manages to kindle intellectual enthusiasm among his initially illiterate students by introducing them to poetry. His resistance to the school's regime sparks an even harsher crackdown in response. Based on the 1991 book by Patrick Galvin.



Director: Pat O'Connor, 1998

A young boy narrates the story of growing up in the 1930s in a fatherless home with his unmarried mother and four spinster aunts on a modest farm in Co. Donegal. The sisters are reunited with their brother Jack, a missionary priest returning after 25 years in Africa to live out his final days at home. The plot follows the daily lives and interaction among the women as the town prepares to celebrate the pre-Christian Celtic harvest festival of Lughnasa. Based on Brian Friel's award-winning play from 1990.

© Sony Pictures


Director: John Ford, 1952

This John Wayne classic tells the story of an American boxer who returns to his native Ireland where he finds a fiery prospective spouse (Maureen O'Hara) and a country greener and more beautiful than he remembered. The Quiet Man was one of the first films to introduce American audiences to the beauty of the Irish landscape. It won Academy Awards for cinematography and direction. Based on the short story by Maurice Walsh.

© Republic Studios


Director: Carol Reed, 1947

Johnny McQueen has been hiding in the Belfast home of his lover Kathleen and her mother, planning a hold-up that will provide his clandestine political group with the funds needed to continue its activities. A morally complex study of conscience and the bitter aftermath of terrorism, this noirish thriller was one of the first films to address the political violence of Northern Ireland on intimately human terms. Based on the 1945 novel by F.L. Green.

© Image Entertainment


Director: Maurice O'Callaghan, 1994

This film, set in village Ireland in the 1950s, revolves around two neighbors who in their youth had fought for independence from Britain but were then pitted against each other in the ensuing civil war. Years later, the politics of their past continue to affect their daily life and that of their families. A vivid portrayal of how leftover emotions and unfinished business from the Irish Civil War haunted many citizens of the Republic in the decades that followed.

© VCI Video


Director: Thaddeus O'Sullivan, 1990

Sarah Gomartin, a servant girl on an Ulster farm, bears a child to one of the owner's sons. Her steadfast refusal over many years to "bend and contrive things" by naming one of the brothers as the father reverberates through the puritanical Ulster community, alienating clergy and neighbors, hastening her mother's death, and casting a cold shadow on the life of her children. Based on the 1951 novel by Sam Hanna Bell.

© Fox Lorber


Director: Paul Quinn, 1998

A middle-aged American teacher discovers photos from his mother's past that convince him that she never told him the truth about his real father. When he travels to the Galway village where he believes his father might still live, the details are slowly revealed about a Romeo & Juliet love affair that was blighted by class, religion, human meanness, and Irish angst.

© Sony Pictures


Director: Pat O'Connor, 1995

Set in Ireland in the 1950s, this is the story about the lives, loves, and betrayals of three Irish girls—Bennie, Eve, and Nan—as they begin their studies at University College, Dublin. Bennie soon seems to have found her ideal man in Jack, but events conspire to ruin their happiness. Based on the 1990 novel by Maeve Binchy.

© HBO Films


Director: John Crowley, 2015

In 1952, Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant, arrives in Brooklyn, where she takes up work at a department store and quickly falls into a romance with a local New Yorker. When her past catches up with her, she must choose between two countries and the parallel lives she has lived within each of them. Based on the 2009 novel by Colm Tóibín.

© Fox Searchlight


Director: Sydney Macartney, 1999

A moving and dramatic love story of a marriage between Sean and Sheila, a Catholic and Protestant living in Co. Wexford in the 1950s. Sheila’s refusal to allow the local priest to force her to enroll her children in Catholic school quickly divides the town along sectarian lines. When Sheila flees to Belfast with her children, the crisis makes international headlines and severely tests her marriage to Sean. Based on a true story.

© New Yorker Films


Director: Brian Kirk, 2006

Set in the 1950s, this gothic thriller tells the story of newly-ordained Rev. Gabriel Hunter who returns home to his small Ulster border village as its new Protestant minister. The town is full of drinking, gambling, and irreligion—and Gabriel's own family is no exception. As a messenger of God, Gabriel believes he must save the townspeople from their sinfulness, but the battle for their souls brings surprising revelations. Filmed in Belfast and Co. Antrim.

© Green Park Films


Director: Jim Sheridan, 1990

"Bull" McCabe's family has farmed a field for generations, sacrificing endlessly for the sake of the land. When the widow who owns the field decides to sell the field in a public auction, McCabe knows that he must own it. But while no one in the village would dare bid against him, an American with deep pockets decides that he needs the field to build a highway. The Bull and his son decide to convince the American to give up bidding on the field, but things go horribly wrong. Based on the 1965 play by John B. Keane.

© Artisan Entertainment


Director: Neil Jordan, 1998

This film plots the progressive deterioration of a young boy "from the lanes," son of an alcoholic father and suicidally depressed mother, whose fantasies increasingly revolve around the totemic Irish figure of the pig. He is visited increasingly by the Blessed Virgin, played by Sinéad O'Connor, for long colloquies on the various and essentially tragic events of his life. Based on the 1992 novel by Patrick McCabe.

© Warner Home Video


Director: John Ford, 1958

Based on the 1956 novel by Edwin O'Connor, this film tells the story of Frank Skeffington, last of the great big-city Irish-American political bosses, running for re-election as mayor for the last time. The novel and film were based loosely on the life and career of Boston mayor James Michael Curley and provide an authentic portrait of the world of the Boston Irish and urban American machine politics.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Gillies MacKinnon, 1992

Set in 1957 in a rural village near the border with Northern Ireland, a young woman, Tara, scandalizes her neighbors by having a baby out of wedlock and refusing to identify the father. She is a rare beauty and every man in town desires her, especially the local police sergeant. The arrival of a dramatic troupe, "The Playboys", stirs things up even more when Tara falls in love with one of the players. The budding romance is tested by the couple's rebellion against village provincialism and traditional Irish morality.



Director: Jack Clayton, 1987

Judith Hearne is a middle-aged, piously Catholic spinster earning a living by giving piano lessons in 1950s Dublin. She falls in love with a shady hotel owner who, in turn, decides to exploit her affections. The film offers an unsparing portrait of a lonely individual with nothing holding her together but her own ever-weakening faith and an increasing dependence on alcohol. An unsentimental critique of the peculiarities of Irish Catholicism. Based on the 1955 novel by Brian Moore.

© Island Pictures


Director: Peter Mullan, 2003

An unflinching and compelling emotional drama tracing the young lives of four "fallen women" rejected by their families and abandoned to the care of the Catholic Church in 1960s Ireland. The film graphically portrays the ordeal of these women forced to work in the Magdalene laundries for indefinite periods of servitude in order to atone for their sins.

© Miramax


Director: Yann Demange, 2014

In 1971, Private Gary Hook, a young British soldier, is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a terrifying riot on the streets of Belfast. Attacked by a mob, he is alternately helped by random kindness from various locals and pursued by killers from both the Provisional IRA and the British Army's Military Reaction Force. Unable to tell friend from foe, the raw recruit must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorienting, alien, and deadly landscape.

© Crab Apple Films


Director: Paul Greengrass, 2002

This film tells the story of Bloody Sunday—January 30, 1972—as it unfolded over one day, chronicling the arrival of thousands of British troops in the tense and crowded streets of Derry in Northern Ireland and the simultaneous preparations by civil rights leaders for a nonviolent but forceful march that was to make the case for Irish self-determination. The day tragically ended with British troops killing thirteen unarmed civilians. Based on the book by investigative journalist Don Mullan, a Derry native who witnessed the event as a teenager.

© Paramount


Director: Milad Bessada, 1974

This intense and realistic drama is centered on a pair of Catholic identical twins, one from Belfast and the other living in Canada who comes to visit her sister. The plot culminates in a bombing by the Provisional IRA, the tarring and feathering of one of the women—because of her love for a British soldier—and the ultimate revenge of the troops. Based on the play by Andrew Dalrymple.

© Twinbay Media International


Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2009

In 1975, in Northern Ireland, seventeen-year-old UVF member Alistair Little kills a Catholic boy, Jimmy Griffin, in his house in front of his younger brother Joe. Alistair is arrested and imprisoned for twelve years while Joe is blamed by his mother for not saving his brother. Thirty-three years later, a TV program arranges the meeting of Alistair and Joe expecting the truth to come out and then for reconciliation between the two.

© IFC Independent


Director: Pat O'Connor, 1984

19 year-old Cal McCluskie, a Catholic, lives with his father in a Protestant neighborhood in a town in Northern Ireland. Cal is a reluctant IRA recruit trying to undo his past, but soon discovers that the IRA is a close-knit and fearful fraternity where membership is for life. As Cal's relationship with Marcella, a policeman's widow, grows emotionally deeper, it becomes increasingly more complicated politically and morally. Based on the 1983 novella by Bernard MacLaverty.

© Manga Films


Director: Mike Leigh, 1985

Two Belfast couples are each expecting their first child around the same day as the July 12th Orange marches. Collette and Eugene are Catholic—he was crippled from a beating by British soldiers. Lorraine and Billy are Protestant—he is a soldier in the Ulster Defence Regiment. Both women have their babies on the same day and share a hospital room while earlier their husbands sit together in the maternity ward waiting area. A quietly moving film about normal human interaction among people in a divided society.

© Water Bearer Films


Director: Jim McBride, 1997

The film revolves around the relationship between an Irish informant in the IRA and his British "handlers." It conveys powerfully the oppressiveness and weight of history that sustains hatred and the impossible dilemmas faced by ordinary people in Northern Ireland who try to navigate between the opposing forces and stay out of trouble.

© Paramount


Director: Terry George, 1996

Based on the true story of the 1981 hunger strike in the Maze, a British prison in Northern Ireland, in which republican prisoner Bobby Sands led a protest against the treatment of him and other inmates as criminals rather than as prisoners of war. The film focuses on the mothers of two of the strikers, and their struggle to save the lives of their sons.

© Castle Rock


Director: Steve McQueen, 2008

This film dramatizes the six weeks prior to the death of Bobby Sands during the 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland. Sands was the first of several Irish republicans in the Maze Prison to use the hunger strike to gain status as political prisoners. His example increased worldwide attention to Northern Ireland's troubles, galvanized the republican and loyalist communities, and ignited debate about the morality of this extreme form of protest.

© Blast Films


Director: Jim Sheridan, 1993

One of the most controversial court cases in modern British history is the subject of this award winning film. Gerry Conlon, a Belfast youth living in England, and three friends are convicted of the 1974 IRA pub bombing in Guildford. Even Conlon's father is jailed. An appeal to the British judiciary reveals forced confessions and wrongful prosecution. The appeal ultimately wins the release of the "Guildford Four" after years in prison and calls into question the integrity of Britain's criminal justice system.

© Universal


Director: John Boorman, 1998

This film follows the life and death of Martin Cahill, the celebrated Dublin gangster who stole millions during the 1980s, but attracted unwanted attention from the IRA, the UVF, and members of his own gang. Cahill’s thievery and violence are undeniably reprehensible, but his charm, humor, and folk hero status stand in deliberate contrast to the institutionalized hypocrisy and corruption of the Catholic Church, the Irish government, and the paramilitaries alike.

© Sony Pictures


Director: Ken Loach, 1990

After an American human rights lawyer is assassinated in Belfast his girlfriend comes to Northern Ireland to learn the truth about his death. She is joined by a respected and fair-minded police detective from England assigned to the case. Their inquiry leads to backroom meetings with IRA gunmen and officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and exposes political manipulation and betrayal of trust at the highest levels of government.



Director: Jim Sheridan, 1998

When former IRA member Danny Flynn returns to Belfast after fourteen years in prison, he wants only to find peace, resume his boxing career, and search out his long lost love. This film portrays with stark honesty the lives of ordinary people caught up in the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland, one of Britain's longest and most troublsome political problems.

© Universal


Director: Jim Sheridan, 1989

In this true story told through flashbacks, Christy Brown is born with cerebral palsy into a poor, working-class Irish family. Able only to control movement in his left foot and to speak in guttural sounds, he is mistakenly believed to be mentally handicapped for the first ten years of his life. Eventually he develops into a brilliant painter, poet and author. Based on Brown's 1954 autobiography of the same title.

© HBO Films


Director: Kari Skogland, 2008

From 1987 to 1991 Martin McGartland, a young Belfast Catholic, lived the harrowing double life of a secret agent. To the IRA, he was a trusted intelligence gatherer and an integral member of an active cell, but to the British government he was one of their most valuable informants. McGartland is credited by British intelligence with saving the lives of at least fifty people marked for assassination by the IRA. Based on McGartland's 1997 book.

© Phase 4 Films


Director: Michael Whyte, 1992

This film revolves around a Belfast woman whose husband has been murdered as a mistaken target in an IRA shooting. She moves to a small coastal town in the Republic to raise her teenage son away from the violence of Northern Ireland. There she meets and falls in love with a disfigured American veteran who has relocated to Ireland and is attempting to get the local railway station back in working order after years of disuse. Based on the 1984 novel by Jennifer Johnston.

© Turner Home Entertainment


Director: Alan Parker, 1991

This film, based on the 1987 novel by Roddy Doyle, tells the story of a group of unknown musicians from the working class slums of North Dublin who join together to perform American soul music. Rousing musical numbers are combined with gritty and unsentimental images of the unemployment and depressed economic conditions that until very recently were so endemic to Ireland.

© Twentieth Century Fox


Director: Bruce Beresford, 2002

Desmond Doyle is devastated when his wife abandons their family the day after Christmas. His unemployment and the fact that there is no woman in the house to care for the three children, Evelyn, Noel and Brendan, make it clear to the authorities that he is in an untenable situation. The Catholic Church and the Irish courts intervene to put the Doyle children into Church-run orphanages and Desmond must fight to get them back.



Director: Kirk Jones, 1998

Jackie O'Shea, a resident of the Irish coastal village of Tulaigh Mohr, learns that one of his neighbors has won £6.9 million in the national lottery. When Jackie discovers that the winning ticket holder has died of shock, he enlists the entire village in a plot for him to impersonate the winner and share the spoils. A light-hearted and comical look at village politics in present-day Ireland (though filming actually took place on the Isle of Man).

© Twentieth Century Fox


Director: Marion Comer, 2002

The IRA, before executing an informer, often calls on certain "tame" priests secretly to provide last rites. This film is the story of what happens when they get a young priest who refuses to cooperate. Based on published reports—never denied by the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland—this suspenseful hostage drama explores issues of personal ethics, responsibility, terrorism, and absolution. A thoughtful film, but a bit overwrought at times.

© Lightyear Video


Director: Chris Columbus, 1991

A sentimental drama about Danny Muldoon, an Irish-American cop in Chicago who lives with his mother, a real battleaxe from the old country. As Danny, an aging and lonely bachelor, pursues Teresa, a reclusive undertaker's daughter, he faces his overbearing mother's protests and must choose between his search for love and his duty to his mother as a good Irish son. This underrated film stars John Candy, Anthony Quinn, and the legendary Irish actress Maureen O'Hara in one of her last film roles.

© Twentieth Century Fox


Director: Jim Sheridan, 2003

Two young Irish parents, Johnny and Sarah Sullivan, have just lost their only son. Trying to escape their grief, they move, illegally, with their two daughters to a junkie-infested apartment building in Hell's Kitchen in New York City to start a new life. While they struggle with meager jobs through a suffocatingly hot summer, the family develops a friendship with an AIDS-stricken Nigerian artist in the apartment below them. This film is based loosely on the life experiences of director Jim Sheridan.

© Twentieth Century Fox


Director: Mark Joffe, 1997

Marcy is an assistant to Massachusetts Senator John McGlory, who is having problems with a re-election campaign. Desperate for Irish votes, McGlory's chief of staff sends Marcy to Ireland to trace McGlory's relatives or ancestors. Marcy arrives at the village of Ballinagra when it is preparing for its annual "matchmaking festival." Intended as a romantic comedy, this film provides comic insight into the attachment of Irish-Americans to their "homeland" and the reaction of the native Irish.



Director: Joel Schumacher, 2003

This film recounts the tragic story of an investigative journalist from Dublin who was murdered for exposing the activities of the Irish mafia in the mid 1990s. Guerin's reporting was focused mainly on the nefarious enterprises of drug kingpin John Gilligan and his various associates and how they aquired inexplicable wealth despite their limited financial positions. Guerin's murder led to a reform of Ireland's criminal justice system.

© Disney


Director: Mary McGuckian, 1997

This film is set in Northern Ireland shortly after 1994 ceasefire. Hazel is a Protestant teenager who lives with her family in the countryside and is largely isolated from sectarian politics and violence. Malachy is a Catholic youth who lives in a neighborhood in West Belfast in the midst of the "Troubles" and controlled by republican paramilitaries. The two meet and fall in love, but in the midst of a new hope for peace their romance cannot steer clear of the realities of their environment.

© Paramount


Director: Tom Collins, 2007

This film focuses on the lives of four hard-drinking expatriate Irishmen who left Ireland in the 1970s. The men reunite in Kilburn, a traditionally Irish section of London, for the wake of their friend Jackie who was found dead on the tracks of the Underground. The story of their lives is told through flashbacks and the dialogue is mostly in the Irish language. Adapted from Jimmy Murphy's critically-acclaimed play "The Kings of the Kilburn High Road."

© Newgrange Pictures


Director: David Caffrey, 1998

This black comedy follows Dan Starkey, a cynical Belfast hack reporter whose tempestuous love-life suddenly intersects with the nascent Northern Ireland peace process. The plot follows the formula of a political thriller, but the film is really a wicked satire offering a mix of raw inside humor, an outlandish storyline, and a surprisingly realistic and sensitive portrayal of Northern Irish society from the point of view of those who live there. Based on the 1995 novel by Colin Bateman.

© Ventura Distribution


Director: Johnny Gogan, 2001

Richie Markey is a cartographer who uncovers the remains of an alleged police informer while under contract to map a border region in Northern Ireland during the early stages of the peace process. As local tensions are stirred by the discovery, Richie realizes that the completion of his map holds the key to the mystery of the man's death. In continuing his work, he gets drawn into local hostilities and a dangerous political endgame. A bit simplistic, but an engaging thriller nevertheless.

© BFS Entertainment


Director: Pete Travis, 2004

On August 15, 1998, a car bomb exploded in Omagh, Northern Ireland, killing 29 people and injuring some 220 others. It was the single worst act of terrorism in Northern Ireland in over thirty years. This film, produced for British television, revolves around the atrocity, the subsequent investigation, and the lives of the affected families.

© Channel Four Films


Director: John Deery, 2003

A scandal erupts within the Catholic Church in Ireland following the suicide of Frank Sweeney, a parish priest, and the expulsion of Daniel McLaughlin, a young seminarian accused of having been open to the sexual advances of a classmate. A local journalist is convinced that the two incidents are linked and pursues the story. The film offers a scathing indictment of priestly celibacy and gives a glimpse into the divisions within the Catholic Church in present-day Irish society.

© TLA Films


Director: Perry Ogden, 2006

An intimate portrait of Winnie Maugham, a resilient and spirited ten-year-old girl, and her proud family, who are part of Ireland's "traveller" community. The travellers, who call themselves pavees, have their own language and are Ireland's only indigenous ethnic minority. Like gypsies, they often live in caravans and exist at the margins of society. The Irish refer to them pejoratively as "knackers" or "tinkers."

© An Lár Films


Director: John Carney, 2006

A modern-day musical set the streets of Dublin, this film tells the story of an Irish street musician and a young Czech immigrant working as a housemaid. During an eventful week they write, rehearse, and record songs that reveal their unique love story. An affectionate yet realistic portrayal of the increasing cultural diversity of Ireland and the role of immigrants in reshaping Irish society during the economic boom of the early 2000s.

© Fox Searchlight


Director: Stephen Frears, 2013

The true story of Philomena Lee, who as an unwed mother was forced to give up her baby to a convent in Tipperary in 1951. Fifty years later she embarks on a journey to discover what happened to her child and is aided by Martin Sixsmith, a British investigative journalist. A controversial look into the coerced adoptions and forced labor of unwed mothers that was common practice in postwar Ireland. Based on the 2009 book by Sixsmith.

© Pathé


Director: John Michael McDonagh, 2014

In a rural village in Co. Sligo, a parishioner reveals in a confessional to Father James about his childhood sexual abuse by a priest. The anonymous man says he will kill James the next Sunday, because it would cause more harm to the Catholic Church to kill a good priest than an evil one, and in any case the offender is now dead. A well-reviewed character study, this film confronts the continuing scandal of sexual abuse in the Irish church and the crisis of faith among the many left in its wake.

© Fox Searchlight

Created by campion@lclark.edu | Updated September 2017