St. Patrick's Day: 21 Irish- and Celtic-Themed Films

Updated on September 10, 2019
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has been a professional writer and critic of films, books, music and theater for over 20 years.

My Favorite Irish Films

We can enjoy a good variety of films for St. Patrick’s Day. The first two films below are my favorites, followed by a top-10 and top-9 list.

In America (2003)

Starring Cast: Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton, Djimon Hounsou, and Sarah Bolger.

The Sullivans are a young Irish couple with two young daughter daughters. They sneak illegally into America and to NYC. The father "Da" plans to begin an acting career, but in truth, the family is trying to run away from the memory of the death of their young son from a brain tumor at age 5.

The film is full of humor and sadness of everyday life in a tenement building in New York. Getting to know a fellow artist, African, in the apartment building and the fact that he is dying brings a confrontation of the Sullivans with their own past.

The film is not cute, but it is sweet, about the overcoming of adversity with family and friends and of finding the real opportunities that America can afford to immigrants from around the world. The young actors that play the actors are very genuine and it is hard to tell that they are acting. However, all the performances are striking and memorable, and the relationships well crafted.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Marker and surveying triangulation point on Garth Mountain.Beacuse of th emarker set atop the ancient burial mound, Garth is known as 'the mountain with a nipple on the top.'
Marker and surveying triangulation point on Garth Mountain.
Marker and surveying triangulation point on Garth Mountain.
Beacuse of th emarker set atop the ancient burial mound, Garth is known as 'the mountain with a nipple on the top.'
Beacuse of th emarker set atop the ancient burial mound, Garth is known as 'the mountain with a nipple on the top.'

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995)

Released 1995: Comedy, True Story or Historical Fiction

This and In America are my two favorite films among all the rest concerning people of Celtic heritage.

Up a Hill involves a Welsh village, real name Ffynnon Taf or Taff's Well, that needs their hill (real name Garth Mountain) to qualify as a mountain as a matter of honor during World War I. They've lost so much in the war, they need to hold on to their remaining assets, no matter how whimsical. They have always called their mountain a mountain and no English mapmaker (played by Hugh Grant) is going to tell them that it is 15 feet too short.

The Welsh villagers trick the mapmaker comes into staying in town until something can be done—like making the mountain taller.

A pastor and a pub owner (Morgan the Goat, played by Colm Meaney) create a plan for a solution and enlist the whole town. The reverend spurs them all on by reciting Psalm 99:9 "Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy."

The names of the townspeople are entertaining by themselves - Johnny Shellshocked Jones is right out of World War I, and is joined by Williams the Petrolum, Tommy Twostroke, Davies the School, Thomas the Trains, Evans the End of the World, and The Smiler. The film was enjoyable also just to see Colm Meaney in action.

Starring Cast: Colm Meaney, Kenneth Griffith, Ian Hart, Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald. Robert Pugh, Garfield Morgan, Iuean Rhys, Dafydd Wyn Roberts, Fraser Cains, Harry Kretchmer, Howell Evans.

Note: Ed Sullivan of Visalia, California went to Taff's Well about 1998 and found a map of the mountain in the library. Climbing the mountain, he actually found a mound of dirt atop it and a surveying marker atop that. He notes the book includes information that even 5 years after the 1917 mountain incident, in 1922, there was still controversy about how high the mountain stood. The 1921 map in the library still lists it as a hill.

Spotlight on the Isle of Man

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ferry Map from the Isle of Man in the Irish See to ireland and the UK. (click to enlarge) {public domain photos]Manx Flag - a triskelion.A Manx cat, characteristically intelligent and companionable - and no tail.
Ferry Map from the Isle of Man in the Irish See to ireland and the UK. (click to enlarge) {public domain photos]
Ferry Map from the Isle of Man in the Irish See to ireland and the UK. (click to enlarge) {public domain photos]
Manx Flag - a triskelion.
Manx Flag - a triskelion.
A Manx cat, characteristically intelligent and companionable - and no tail.
A Manx cat, characteristically intelligent and companionable - and no tail.

Top 10 Historical Celtic Films

The best known Irish and Celtic films set in a historical context include the following list, from oldest to newest.

  1. The Plough and the Stars (1936). Dublin, Ireland in the era of the 1916 Easter Rising. Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, and Barry Fitzgerald. based on a play by Sean O'Casey that promoted a pacifist agenda. There were riots in the streets against the play.
  2. Captain Boycott (1947). Story of British prejudice against the Irish. Stars Stewart Granger and Kathleen Ryan.
  3. The Fighting Prince of Donegall (1966). A Disney film about Ireland in 1587. Hugh O'Donnell inherits the title of The O'Donnell, the Prince of Donegal. He attempts to unite Ireland agaisnt England, But then Hugh is kidnapped and imprisoned by the Viceroy of Ireland and held ransom for the Clans' good behavior. Hugh must escape prison and the Viceroy's villainous henchman
  4. The Molly Maguires (1970). Birth of the Labor Movement. One of my favorite films. Irish immigrants that sailed to an America they envisioned with streets of gold found only mud. They were exploited and worked in very low-paying, back-breaking manual labor. In 1876, the Molly Maguires formed a group (a first union) that pursued better working conditions in Pennsylvania coal mines. However, they used sabotage and bombs. Still, they were successful in forming the first labor union type of group and inspired future generations. Thus, not only was an Irish person (Annie Moore) the first immigrant into America through Ellis Island, but it was the Irish that organized for the Labor Movement. Famous Cast: Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Samantha Eggar, Frank Finlay, Anthony Zerbe.
  5. The Year of the French (1982)
  6. Mountains of the Moon (1990). Another favorite. Bram Stoker (Dracula) wrote that the Irish of British descent were treated very poorly by the English, as second-class citizens. Stoker was a contemporary of the film's subject, the scholar Sir Richard Burton, who was born in Ireland to his English-Irish father and Scottish mother. Burton went to Africa in search of the source of the Nile River with a party of full-blooded Englishmen, without much of their respect. Of course, there was controversy about who should receive the credit for the discovery—no "half-breed", as it were, deserving credit in the eyes of the English. Starring Patrick Bergin, Iain Glen, Richard E. Grant, Fiona Shaw, and John Savident.
  7. In the Name of the Father (1993). Celts vs. English. Irishmen were victims of British oppression in the 1970s. The Irish "Guildford Four" were wrongly convicted of bombing an English pub in 1974, because they were thought to be members of the IRA. Their families and the press kept hammering at the government until the men were released. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson, and John Lynch.
  8. The Irish in America (1995). Freedom and the Gold Rush. Mass immigration to the USA resulted in 2,000,000 Irish in 5 years fleeing the fist of England. In the 1840s the Potato Famine struck hard, sealing the bargain, because England controlled the foodstuffs stockpiled before the famine and would not let loose. This is a documentary that shows the immigration and the Irish involved in fighting in the Civil War and panning for gold in the Gold Rush. Narrator: Aidan Quinn.
  9. The Ghost and the Darkness (1996). This is one of my Favorite Films. It stars Michael Douglas, Val Kilmer, and Tom Wilkinson. A true story, an Irishman, engineer Col. Patterson, went to East Africa to build a bridge in 1896 under English authority. The colonel deals with attacks by two rogue lions during his project that is already "handicapped" because of his Irish heritage and resulting prejudice.
  10. Michael Collins (1996). Another favorite film. Stars Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Julia Roberts, and Alan Rickman. Irish battle for independence, 1916–1922. After the Easter Rebellion against England, Michael Collins, leader of Sinn Fein, trained the Irish army to be guerrilla fighters (like the Swamp Fox of the American Revolution). The Irish Army then became the IRA. Many of the Irish wanted independence and no compromise. Collins and the IRA finally received a treaty with England to create the Irish Free State.

9 Great Historical Irish Films

  1. Some Mother's Son (1996). True stories of the IRA in 1981.
  2. The Irish in America (1998) Long Journey Home. Documentary.
  3. One Man's Hero (1998). Tales of the Potato Famine and those that fought it.
  4. Omagh (2004). Aftermath of the treaty that made Ireland a free state and the subsequent bombings of the "Real Ira."
  5. Bloody Sunday (2002). Profound. Commemorated by U2s Sunday, Bloody Sunday. 1/30/1972: Parliament member Ivan Cooper led a peaceful March that ended in 13 civilian deaths and 27 woundings. Stars James Nesbitt, Allan Gildea, Gerard Crossan, Mary Moulds, Carmel McCallion.
  6. Warrior Queen (2003). Another favorite. Celtic Queen, Boudicca fiercely opposed the Romans as they occupied Britain. emperors Claudius and Nero attested to her strength and tenacity. Starring Alex Kingston (from the series ER), Steven Waddington Emily Blunt, Leanne Rowe, Ben Faulks, and Hugo Speer.
  7. Tristan & Isolde (2006). Similar to Romeo and Juliet, but the opposing families are Irish and Cornish and oppose each other on the British slave trade of the Irish.
  8. True Story Of The Molly Maguires (2006). History Channel documentary.
  9. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). Taken from the title of an Irish rebel song in the late 18th century.

Some Celts Are French and Spanish

And some Celtic may or may not be making crop circles in the middle of the night, but many persons of Celtic heritage from around the British Isles have made good films.

Celtic languages are organized together under Indo-European languages and were used throughout Western Europe in centuries past. In the 21st century, Celtic languages are found mostly among the British Isles and in France, on the peninsula of Brittany [OSU Languages Department].

The four clusters of Celtic languages include two that are felt to be extinct (one never knows when one will discover a speaker of a “dead language”). These are

1. Gaulish and related dialects that spanned the lands from France to Turkey and Holland to Northern Italy; and

2. Celtiberian in Aragon (NE Spain) and other parts of Spain.

Two living languages among the Celtics are

3. Goidelic that is an umbrella to Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Manx (like the cat, actually a language from the Isle of Man), and Shelta and

4. Brythonic covering Breton, Cornish, Cumbric, Welsh, Westcountry Brythonic, Ivernic, and Pictish (by some accounts).

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Patty Inglish MS


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      • stars439 profile image


        8 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

        Wonderful Hub. And God Bless You.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

        There is also a book that is out of print about African Celts. It was a tracing of blood types and blood markers from Africa up through Wales. The book's premise was that Africans in Wales cut the stones used at Stonehenge and moved them from Wales to their present site. Interesting, but I can no longer find the copy our state library had.

      • profile image


        11 years ago

        i don't know much about these movie's but i do know that the celts have a strong tie to ireland i don't dispute that and i am not a linguist either nore am i a histroian but what checking i have found out about the celts which no oe seams to sing or write about it there most early histroy before they ended up ireland scotland and wales and england why is there no talking about when they lived in germania what the songs and there dances or beleif of that time

        see celts have a very rich history but the only thing every talks about is how there past was and what was found in ireland now i have no problem with that but the celtic people did not start there inireland it is just where they ended up and what was there language before it galic heritage what is there life like when it was in germania

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

        Christoph! - Another good review of Angela's Ashes! And, I found the book on a giveaway bookshelf at our large public library, so I get to read it first. It must be meant to be for me to read and see it.

        You SAW and hear Frank McCourt - how grand a time that was, to be sure.

        When I pulled out notes from genealogy search and anthropology classes, I found so much side information - it led to these Hubs. It also led me to find St. Patrick's letters translated into English from the original language and these sorts of translations are the best, I feel, rather than a translation of a translation, etc. Like cloning, the resutls are less robust with each iteration!

        Glad to have had this topic to being out the writing and info. Thanks, Christoph!

      • Christoph Reilly profile image

        Christoph Reilly 

        11 years ago from St. Louis

        Wow Patti. You always come at a story from an unexpected angle, and what, I've read 5 St. Paddy's Day hubs by you so far? I'm shocked that I've only seen two of these films. I, too, an a big fan of Angela's Ashes, especially the book and it's sequel, and saw Frank McCourt speak at the Symphony Hall here. As you might expect, he just oozed Irish charm. He was facinating.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

        I;ll read the book while searching out the film! Thanks, Princessa.

      • Princessa profile image

        Wendy Iturrizaga 

        11 years ago from France

        Another great hub Patty. I liked "In the Name of the Father" DDL was superb, and I am for "Angela's ashes" too, both the film and the book were fantastic.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

        2 recommendations for Angela's Ashes - it must be a real favorite.

      • Triplet Mom profile image

        Triplet Mom 

        11 years ago from West Coast

        Patty, Great list, I am also a fan of The Ghost and the Darkness. And I completely agree you should check out Angela's Ashes a real tear jerker!!

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

        I have not had the pleasure of viewing thatone, but I'll look it up, since you recommend it! Thanks for telling me about it. :) Some of the list above are rather bloody, aren't they?

      • Anna Marie Bowman profile image

        Anna Marie Bowman 

        11 years ago from Florida

        Some great movies in here!!! What about Angela's Ashes?? That movie, and the book, made me cry. I loved it!!


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