If Irish Eyes Are Smiling, You Can Bet They’re NOT Watching an Irish Movie, or: Eleven Irish Movies That it’s Entirely Possible That You Would Want to Watch

by | Mar 11, 2015 | Catholic Mom Movie Review, Hey Watch This, March, St. Patrick's Day | 44 comments

But then again, maybe you wouldn’t.

I watched a LOT of Irish movies over the past few weeks, in the hopes of finding a few to recommend for a fun St. Patrick’s Day family movie night. But I found that many them made me want to throw myself into the pit of despair.

Now, we listen to a lot of Irish folk music. And quite a few of our favorite songs have very serious subject matter. But while the melancholy of the lyrics of most Irish folk music is tempered by the cheerfulness of the tune, the sadness of most Irish movies is tempered by almost nothing. Those are some DE-pressing movies. Well made, but just achingly sad, and not so great for family entertainment. (As you may remember, I have a thing against depressing entertainment in general.)

But I persevered. I kept watching. I even ventured away from my beloved Netflix Streaming over to Amazon Instant Video and <gasp> a DVD. Eventually, I found that I had watched quite a wide selection of movies. And it turned out that I had found films for just about any age or mood or occasion, from lachrymose adults to giddy preschoolers. Each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Here’s the down-low, with my favorites towards the bottom . . .

Run and Jump (2013)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You like Will Forte of Saturday Night Live. He is very impressive in this dramatic role. You love the heartbreaking middle part of the romance in Jane Eyre, but aren’t so fond of the mysteriously exciting beginning part, or the slightly awkward happy ending.

Why You Might Not: You don’t enjoy sympathetic portrayals of the idea of teenage homosexuality (no actual relationships). You don’t want to spend the rest of your life terrified that your husband will suffer a stroke.

Appropriate For: Not rated but grown ups only, for lots of adult subjects and situations, and infrequent coarse language.

Where to Find It: I watched it on Netflix.

My Left Foot (1989)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You appreciate Oscar-worthy acting. This movie has two extraordinary performances. You enjoy positive portrayals of growing up in a big family. That was by far my favorite part of this movie. Although Christy is severely disabled, he has a really charming relationship with his siblings, and his mother is really inspiring. But HE is kind of a jerk.

Why You Might Not: You don’t like fake Hollywood-ized happy endings. This movie totally has one. The real story of Christy Brown, while very impressive, is also very sad. You like to know whether or not you like a character. I never really could figure out if I did.

Appropriate For: It’s rated R, mostly for language.

Where to Find It: I watched it on Netflix.

In Bruges (2008) 

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You like dark, violent, slightly-comedic movies, but prefer them to have a low body count. You prefer that hitmen be remorseful. Kinda, sorta happy endings are your favorite. You’ve always wanted to see a medieval Belgian town.

Why You Might Not: You can’t handle an almost constant barrage of bad words. You don’t like bad guys, or drug use, or making fun of little people, or Colin Ferrell.

Appropriate For: Rated R for violence, murder, drug use, and lots and lots of language.

Where to Find It: I watched it on Netflix.

The Secret of Kells (2009)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: It is extraordinarily beautiful to look at, and you like that sort of thing.

Why You Might Not: You don’t wish to find yourself at the end, disappointed and bewildered to realize that this ENTIRE movie not one time mentions that this book that has the power to bring people together is THE GOSPEL. It takes place in an Abbey. Its main characters are almost exclusively monks. It is about The Bible. But it has no Christian themes whatsoever. It’s all pagan legends and Irish nationalism. I could handle a combination of Christian and pagan references, but I found it unacceptable that Christianity was excluded.

Appropriate For: It’s not rated. My guess it that it would be a PG, rather than a G. There are some mystical scary parts, and some war violence. But the reason I’m not going to put it on for my kids is that it’s missing its heart. And I’m super-disappointed about it because, visually, I’ve never seen anything else like it.

Where to Find It: I watched it on Netflix.

The War of the Buttons (1994)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You like an old-fashioned dramatic BOY adventure story, about a war between the kids of two neighboring villages. You don’t mind swearing as long as it’s not in American.You’re okay with a long scene of many naked little boy backsides. You like a happy ending.

Why You Might Not: You DO mind swearing in what seems like it’s supposed to be a kids’ movie, even though it doesn’t really sound like swearing to American ears. There is also a scene of a heated family argument, that ends with watching the shadow of a boy being hided by his father.

Appropriate For: My family watched this one together. The boys loved it, the girls not so much. The whole thing is somehow really charming and really intense at the same time. It’s not rated, but it’s at least PG, maybe even PG-13 for its language, perilous situations, and the nudity thing (which was a really cute scene, actually).

Where to Find It: We watched it on Amazon. Only the French-made version is available on Netflix. I’m sure it’s still cute. But it’s much less Irish.

Waking Ned Divine (1998)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You liked Weekend at Bernie’s but you wished it was about old Irish people. Or, you’re just in the market for a charming, silly movie.

Why You Might Not: You watched War of the Buttons, and really don’t think you’re up for any more naked Irish backsides. Because this movie has one, too. You don’t like movies that celebrate wrongdoing.

Appropriate For: It’s rated PG, but I’d say grown ups only. I’m sure some people would disagree with me, but I just don’t think this is a movie that would be enjoyable for or appropriate for kids. It’s got a lot of complicated adult themes like lying, and cheating, and having children out of wedlock. And I found the resolution of the “problem” of the movie to be really shocking and disturbing, although it is meant to be funny. Overall the movie is cute, but I was really uncomfortable with that particular part.

Where to Find It: I watched it on Amazon.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You want to understand what all those Irish folk songs are really about. You always wondered what it would be like if Tommy from Peaky Blinders suffered some sort of head trauma and ended up a tenderhearted but very principled country doctor.

Why You Might Not: You don’t have a couple of hours to spare after watching it, to just curl up in a ball and cry.

Appropriate For: History buffs, Peaky Blinders junkies. It’s not rated, but I would guess it’s PG-13, for war violence and torture.

Where to Find It: I watched it on Netflix, but as of 2016 it’s not on there anymore. I’m not seeing it on Amazon either.

Leap Year (2010)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You’re looking for a romantic comedy.

Why You Might Not: You’re looking for anything else but that.

Appropriate For: Women. It’s rated PG and is surprisingly sweet and wholesome, and I loved the ending. It’s actually an American movie about an American girl in Ireland, which would account for its lack of melancholy, I suppose. But a side plot is the main character’s plans to move in with her current boyfriend, which seems like it would be worm-can-opening for young people in my house. And it’s really not the husband’s kind of movie. So, for me, this is a sick-day, or girlfriends’ movie night, or husband-out-of-town-type watch.

Where to Find It: I watched it on Amazon, but as of 2016 it’s on Netflix too.

The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You’re looking for a VERY Irish movie, full of stories and myths and legends. You think it would be nice to see a little girl go and live with her grandparents and have them turn out to be . . . nice.

Why You Might Not: I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t. It’s really sweet. And it has a no kidding happy ending. In an IRISH movie.

Appropriate For: All ages. The family watched this one together as well, and everyone liked it, though the boys thought it was a bit slow. It’s rated PG, but I can’t remember any language or scary parts.

Where to Find It: I ordered it on DVD
, it’s really cheap.

The Quiet Man (1952)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: You DO want to watch it because it’s just brilliant, and it’s John Wayne. There are so many great quotable lines in this movie.

Why You Might Not: It’s got kind of a Taming of the Shrew-thing going on, which might bother some folks. Maybe you just can’t do classic American cinema (shot on location in Ireland).

Appropriate For: It’s rated G, but it’s really not a movie for kids. There’s plenty of allusion to consummating marriages and whatnot. The husband and I watched it together on Valentine’s Day and really loved it.

Where to Find It: We watched it on Netflix.

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

Why You Might Want to Watch It: Oh you DO. You definitely do want to watch this. It’s got singing and dancing and fiddling and leprechauns, and perfectly hilarious special effects, and YOUNG SEAN CONNERY . . . SINGING.

Why You Might Not: I don’t know, maybe you hate cheesy old movies? Just don’t tell me about it. I want us to be able to still be friends.

Appropriate For: Our whole family watched it, even the preschoolers. The kids LOVED it, but it does have some pretty scary parts involving a spooky banshee. Anita had to move in very close next to Jack during that part. But if your kids can handle the scariness of the more intense Disney cartoons, they could probably handle this movie.

Where to Find It: We watched it on Amazon.

And that’s my honest opinion. But this is a sponsored post.

What have I missed? Do YOU have any favorite Irish movies?


  1. Caron

    I am always late to these things, so I want to recommend an Irish Christmas movie. It's called Nativity! and I bought it in 2009 on iTunes. It is rated PG. Also, when I taught irish, I streamed a lot of shows on http://www.tg4.ie, which is an Irish language TV station. Their programming is very, very good and has English subtitles. There is a toggle button in the upper right-hand corner to view the website in English. Cűla 4 is the children's portion.

  2. Erica Saint

    We love Darby O'Gill and the Little People! We own it in DVD.
    I watched an Irish miniseries that was on Netflix several years ago, and it seriously ruined my day and the next day. It was very depressing, and it was a love story!

  3. Christina

    Into the West is a not-entirely-depressing Irish movie that could be good for kids that I watched on Netflix a few years ago and loved! I let my kids see it and they loved the silly horse elements, even if the missing mother side of the story was a little sad. Overall, it was a fuadventure and I liked the ending!

    • Maddy

      I was about to recommend this one, too. Quite enjoyed it when I was a girl!

    • Kendra

      Thanks! It's still on Netflix, maybe that will be our Sunday family movie this week. 🙂

  4. Brigid Hogan

    Having seen most of these, I am happy for some fresh Irish movie ideas! And I had completely forgotten about The Secret of Roan Inish. My parents let me rent that from the video store MANY times. (Our video store was called Shamrock Video. Only as an adult do I realize how Irish my childhood was…)

  5. Lisa

    I grew up watching a taped VHS of Darby O'Gill (the banshee still creeps me out) and never saw the scene of Sean Connery singing until I bought the DVD about 5 years ago- I love it! And The Quiet Man is a great classic. 🙂

  6. Charlotte (WaltzingM)

    For the whole family, you might try The Secret of the Cave. American boy spends his summer in the Irish fishing village his father grew up in.

    • Kendra

      Kells, Roan Inish, the Cave . . . what is it with these guys and secrets in movies?

  7. October Rose

    I really want to see Roan Inish! We watched My Left Foot a year or two ago and it was excellent. Adding some of these to our to-watch list. 🙂

  8. Christy from fountains of home

    The Quiet Man Forever!
    And I've seen Darby O'Gill so many times growing up that it brings back the memories.
    I'm actually surprised I've seen most of these…I didn't know I like Irish movies so much!

  9. Hannah Gokie

    Leap Year is one of my favorite guilty-pleasure movies – I can't get David to watch it with me, but it's good for a girls night.

    The Quiet Man is absolutely fantastic. You really just can't go wrong with John Wayne, can you? Also, for what it's worth, every year around St. Patrick's Day they show The Quiet Man on TMC/AMC like, 20 times within the span of a week, so you can probably catch it there if you have cable (my parents do).

  10. Hafsa

    LeapYear is one of my favorites! I know it's a typical romantic comedy, but it's so sweet.

  11. Dianna

    I LOVE The Secret of Roan Inish. The music is so perfect; I used to try to play my violin along with the soundtrack when I was a teenager. 🙂

    Maybe we'll try watching Darby O'Gill this weekend.

  12. Anonymous

    I have seen most of these, but had kind of forgotten Darby O'Gill – so I just reserved it at my library for family movie night this weekend!

    Tip for The Wind That Shakes The Barley – turn on the closed captions in Netflix!

    • Kendra

      Yes! I have to watch all BBC shows with the captions on!

    • Anonymous

      I just wanted to come back to say my kids enjoyed Darby O'Gill, and my seven year old daughter who is really interested in optical illusions LOVED the special feature on the DVD about the making of the movie, in which they explained how they made the leprechauns look so small. This being before the era of CGI options, the logistics were extensive!

  13. Athena Carson

    I love this list because I hadn't heard of most of these, so thanks for the recommendations!

    Several years ago I watched an Irish movie called Bitter Harvest – not recommended for kids, as there are some themes of infidelity and a sneak peek at a married couple in bed, getting busy a mere 2 weeks after she had a baby (that right there is the most unrealistic part of the whole movie, IMO).

    I watched it because it was interesting to see Colm Meaney play a bitter old jerk. The same actor plays Miles O'Brien in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine who is the absolute nicest family man you can imagine, so it was interesting to see a bit more of the range that actor has.

  14. Tia

    Spot on about the Irish lachrymose movies. I watched Billy Elliott and wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon crying, even though people said it was heartwarming. What is heartwarming about a lonely sad boy and his lonely sad family? Even "funny" movies like the Commitments and The Snapper are weirdly gloomy.

  15. Patty

    I love The Quiet Man!!! One of my favorite movies of all time!! When I went to Ireland in college, I wanted so much to go to the little town that movie was filmed.

  16. Laurel

    This is great collection of "Irish" films! Thanks for putting it together, Kendra! I know this is a sponsored post promoting Netflix buuuuut another great place to get some of these is the library. 😉

  17. Rosa Patterson

    Ha! My sister's friend Padraic is in "the wind that shakes the barley" and I didn't know it was even on Netflix! I had to laugh when I saw his face in the picture- I didn't even realize he was a main character! I've actually never seen It because my sister did tell me it was very sad.

    • Kendra

      Oh he is a main character all right. You may never forgive him if you do watch it. ;0)

  18. arenda

    Ha, I love your thoughts on The Wind that Shakes the Barley – made me laugh out loud! 🙂

  19. Anonymous

    Just watched Leap Year and loved it! Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  20. Nicole Cox

    This is a tad off-topic (though I do LOVE Quiet Man and will never forget where it was shot in Ireland, since we flipped our rental van right by the Quiet Man bridge while vacationing), but was wondering about your current thoughts on Peaky Blinders several months after you recommended it. My husband and I started watching it after reading your post about it and we got through to second or third episode of Season 2 and finally had to just call it quits. I was SO overwhelmed by the stunningly frequent and seriously grotesque violence, and the really, really graphic/gratuitous sex scenes in nearly every episode. Now, mind you, I truly don't consider myself a prudish or squeamish viewer, and definitely not my husband either, but both of us were just kind of appalled. That and the f word every 3 words (yes, yes, I know it's part of the "vocabulary" there but still…). It just sort of felt wrong to be watching after a while, and at the very least a gigantic waste of time since it certainly wasn't anything good we were feeding ourselves. Did you end up watching all the way through? I'd say overall I have very similar taste in movies to yours, but was wondering your thoughts on it a few months later.

    • Kendra

      I really enjoyed the first season, but the second season was definitely outside my comfort zone. I ended up watching most of it through my fingers. I'm not sure what I'll do when season three comes along. Ideally they'll get back to that first season level, but that seems doubtful.

  21. Amanda

    I just love how many non-Netflix movies are in your Netflix-sponsored post 🙂

    • Kendra

      I hope THEY love it too. < crossing fingers (but in a not superstitious way . . .) > Netflix IS my favorite, but I couldn't not mention Darby O'Gill. They have no one to blame but themselves for not carrying it. ;0)

  22. Elizabeth

    I really loved In Bruges, even though I wasn't sure about it halfway through. I can't wait to watch The Wind That Shakes The Barley with my husband, who I think will love it enough to make it OK that I'm sure I'll have a major sob-fest. And I'm excited to share Darby O'Gill with my daughter! Fun!!

  23. Caroline

    This may not bother some folks, but The Quiet Man features wife abuse – a long scene in which John Wayne drags Maureen O'Hara some miles back to their village. The scene includes pushing her down hills, dragging, and an elderly woman offering him "a stick to beat the lovely lady" which he takes with a "thanks." One can argue that this was "just a quality of the time," but personally I can't see any good reason to show it to kids, at least without some explanation. (And I can't stomach watching a man abuse a woman when it's being shown for laughs).

    • Kendra

      Caroline, you should give The Quiet Man another try. The scene you mention is a trick that Sean and Mary Kate are in on together, it's HER plan, to get her brother to pay the dowry he owes them. She pretends to run away, Sean pretends to drag her back to her brother's house to give her back because, "No dowry, no marriage." So the brother relents and gives Sean the money, whereupon Mary Kate opens the furnace and Sean throws the money in, and Mary Kate announces to the whole village that she's going home to make supper for her husband, and she does.

      When she opens up the furnace, we realize that she was in on it the whole time. Because SHE was the one who cared about getting the dowry from her brother, Sean never cared or wanted the money, but he went along with Mary Kate's plan because it was important to her that her brother respect the customs of the time.

      No abuse! Just a determined Irish lass.

  24. Tomato

    Love this list. I remember loving Darby O'Gill and the Little People as a kid, though that banshee definitely gave me some nightmares!

  25. Cynthia

    Hi Kendra! I have not yet seen this movie, but heard about it on a Catholic podcast (Catholic Stuff You Should Know) and am so intrigued! It’s called Calvary and is about an Irish priest who hears the confession of a man who promises to kill him…and through the movie it’s him trying wrestle with figuring out who it is and how important it is that he stay where he is and serve the people around him without living in fear. From what I understand, it’s a great movie. Not sure how appropriate for small children, but something I am hoping to see soon!

    • Kendra

      Yes, I've heard a ton about that movie in the Catholic blogosphere, but I haven't seen it yet myself. We can only assume it's super fun and upbeat, right? ;0)

  26. Karen Perez

    Circle of Friends! It's been a long time since I last saw this movie, and do remember a couple uncomfortable (for me, anyways) sex scenes. But it's an Irish movie I remember really enjoying with my husband. I mean, Minnie Driver and Chris O'Donnell!! I think it's rated PG but should really be for adults only.

  27. Tori

    Have you seen Philomena? Its hard to recommend because it is a very hard movie to watch (babies getting torn away from their mothers; just drown me in tears right now). But I loved the steadfastness of faith that Philomena portrays, even in the face of some terrible wrongs that supposed agents of the church have inflicted on her. It isn't the cynical atheist who triumphs, but the sweet, hurt, old lady who is trying to overcome, to love and forgive, and find her son. It isn't perfect (the film does have some positive portrayals of homosexuality) but she's still a rare heroine these days. And she's Irish, so it fits. 🙂

  28. Christie R

    The Secret of Roan Inish. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    That's what is mostly responsible for (and where I first heard the name of) my son.

    I disagree about The Secret of Kells, though!!! I think it's full of Christianity, just not explicit. Would it be okay if I used your review as a jumping off point to write about it in my own blog? I've got tons of IDEAS!

    Wish we'd been at the hooley!

    • Kendra

      I'd love to read your review of The Secret of Kells. The pagan stuff is certainly explicit though. The only Christian reference I noticed was when Brendan suggests that they say a prayer to find the lost magical pagan eye, and Brother Whatshisface just totally ignores that suggestion. I'd love it if you could help me find the Christian themes, because I so want them to be there.

  29. Tess

    Have you ever seen Evelyn? There's an Irish movie with another honest-to-goodness happy ending! It's about a landmark legal case over whether a father could keep sole custody of his children if their mother abandoned them. My husband loves that movie as both a father and a lawyer, but it would probably be too much for younger kids (the mom abandonment would be a lot to handle emotionally, I think) but should be fine for older ones (although it's been a while since I watched it so I can't say that 100% for sure). Anyway, you guys might enjoy it!


  1. Family Movie Nights, Are They Even Possible? . . . Our Favorite Movies (Mostly) Appropriate for All Ages - Catholic All Year - […] See also: If Irish Eyes Are Smiling, You Can Bet They’re NOT Watching an Irish Movie, or: Eleven Irish…

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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