As all of Chicago’s proud Irish wake up this morning with massive Jameson- and Guinness-induced headaches after yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, a new storm is rising in the motherland’s northern reaches. As a kid, I grew up in one of America’s most densely populated Irish-American areas, that is, the far South Side of Chicago in Beverly. To me, Ireland was all leprauchans and shamrocks and connoted the hearty ability to drink everyone else under the table. Lord knows why Chicago’s Irish love to embrace the worthless-drunk stereotype imposed on the Irish by their colonial overlords. Maybe it’s a kind of clever subversion?
As the Troubles reared their ugly head last week, perhaps now is a good time to remember the Ireland beyond its liquor distilleries and green pastures. I’ve been to Ireland twice (though never to Ulster) and have made it my duty to learn about the Ireland outside its South Side reputation.
Here is a list of some of my favorite movies about the Troubles and beyond:
1. In the Name of the Father
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this long, brutal epic about a mistake of Kafkaesque proportions. Gerry (Day-Lewis) is a punk who’s been in the wrong place at the wrong time; he and his friends are mistaken for members of the I.R.A. and hauled off to prison. This film accurately portrays 70’s Belfast and all its anarchy and terrible fragility. It’s also directed by Jim Sheridan, who made two other stupendous movies about Ireland or Irish people, those being My Left Foot and the heartbreaking In America.
2. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
This movie won the Cannes Palme d’Or in 2006, though it didn’t really deserve it. (Almodovar’s Volver did, by golly!) This movie stars heart-throb Cillian Murphy in Ireland’s War for Independence against the British in 1920. Brit Mike Loach directs. This is definitely another movie featuring loads of heartbreak, betrayal, and lovely shots of the charmingly dilapidated peasant houses of rural Ireland.
3. Michael Collins
Okay, so this movie isn’t that great, but it’s the most historically-accurate movie about the hero of Irish independence, Michael Collins. Liam Neeson stars in his early days (along with Julia Roberts! Woah! Flashback to the 90’s!) This movie is a decent history lesson for people wanting to learn about how Ireland went about establishing their own country in 1916. Easter Sunday shoot-out at Dublin’s National Library included.
Alright, so I haven’t seen this one, but I know it’s supposed to be very good (and, as is tradition, brutal!). Steve McQueen directs this 2008 movie; it didn’t get very wide release but I bet you can Netflix it by now. I know I’m scrambling to rent a movie about Bobby Sands’ six week long hunger strike at the Long Kesh prison! Spoiler alert: he dies of starvation.
5. Breakfast on Pluto
This whimsical film follows Patrick, aka Kitten, after he leaves podunk Ireland to be a glam-rocker in London. I guess he’s not so much part of glam rock as he is part of the sexually androgynous, tight-panted, coke-snorting, Roxy-Music-listening subculture of England’s mid-70’s. But the politics Kitten has so diligently ignored during his childhood follow him all the way to London. We learn about the intersections of politics and self, and the inevitability of nation defining identity… Starring Cillian Murphy. Directed by Neil Jordan (who also directed Michael Collins.)
After researching these five films, four of which I have enjoyed very much, I realized that the pool of actors and directors making serious movies about Ireland are few. But after watching any or all of these listed here, you may feel you have a better handle on the IRA, the Troubles, or Ireland as a whole.