The Films of the Irish: What to watch this Saint Patrick’s Day

Photo by Leighton Smith on Unsplash

Many of us identify Saint Patrick’s Day with movies like John Wayne’s The Quiet Man, but if you’re looking for something new to see this year, here are some outstanding films to stream, rent, or borrow.

The Secret of Roan Inish
1994 (PG)

Don’t let the “family” label scare you off this underseen gem — it’s one of the rare films that treats children as intelligent individuals. Featuring breathtaking cinematography by the legendary Haskell Wexler and a heroine portrayed with fearless pluck by Jeni Courtney, The Secret of Roan Inish is as perfect as this genre gets.

Set in post-war Ireland in 1946, 10-year-old Fiona Coneely is sent to live with her grandparents after the death of her mother in a small fishing village in Donegal. She soon learns the local legend that her family is descended from Selkies— seals who can shapeshift into a human. Years earlier, her baby brother was washed out to sea in a cradle shaped like a boat and there is talk that the boy didn’t drown and is being raised by the seals. Fiona catches sight of a naked little boy on the abandoned Isle of Roan Inish and takes an active role in uncovering the secret of the island. *Note – there are closed captions for those who have trouble with accents.

Available on Amazon Prime, Tubi (free with ads), and the Toledo Public Library.

Song of the Sea
2014 (PG)

Easily one of the most beautifully animated films of all time, Song of the Sea is similar to The Secret of Roan Inish. Once again this is a film that builds its story on the legend of Selkies in Irish Folklore. Little Saoirse is the last of the selkies — women in Irish and Scottish legends who transform from seals into people. She escapes from her grandmother’s home to journey to the sea and free fairy creatures trapped in the modern world.

Tomm Moore is a director whose mission seems to be to bring these myths and legends to the contemporary world. He skillfully draws a parallel between the folktales and the film’s present-day characters. Aside from being a jaw-droppingly beautiful film that can move its audience to tears, there’s a message here about the importance of retaining our connection to the earth, especially through our ancestors and their stories.

Nominated for Best Animated Film in 2014, it’s available on Amazon Prime or through the Toledo Public Library.

The Secret of Kells
2009 (PG)

Young Brendan lives in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids. But a new life of adventure beckons when a celebrated master illuminator arrives from foreign lands carrying an ancient but unfinished book brimming with secret wisdom and powers. To help complete the magical book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a dangerous quest that takes him into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide.

Available on Amazon Prime or through the Toledo Public Library.

Angela’s Ashes
1999 (R)

Based on the best-selling autobiography by Irish expatriate Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes follows 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 film stars Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson.

Available on Amazon Prime and through the Toledo Public Library.

Breakfast on Pluto
2005 (R)

In the 1970s, a young trans woman, Patrick “Kitten” Braden, comes of age by leaving her Irish town for London, in part to look for her mother and in part because her gender identity is beyond the town’s understanding. The film stars Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson.

Available on Amazon Prime, Tubi (free with Ads) and through the Toledo Public Library.

Waking Ned Devine
1998 (PG)

The residents of a small Irish town learn that one of their own has won the lottery— and then immediately dies of shock. Realizing that only he can claim the prize, the remaining citizens hatch a plan to get the money for themselves. A delightful comedy by director Kirk Jones.

Available on Hulu (premium subscription) and through the Toledo Public Library.