It is anybody’s guess why it is so all-American to be Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Maybe it is because so many Americans trace their roots back to the land of the four-leaf clover. According to Census Bureau data, there are seven times more Irish in America than in Ireland. Still, that doesn’t explain why so many of the other 300 million Americans feel compelled to drink green beer and eat corn beef and cabbage every March 17.
Not that everybody loves the Irish. Liberals often describe Irish-Americans as intolerant and small-minded. Last year, to “celebrate” St. Patrick’s Day, a Salon writer penned a piece titled “How did my fellow Irish-Americans get so disgusting?”
Despite the progressive pouting, most Americans can relate to the Irish ethos—the emotion, the energy, the passion for triumph and the familiarity with tragedy. Hollywood gets that. That’s why Irish-themed films have always been a staple of the cinema. Here are seven movies that will have you fist-pumping “Erin go Bragh.”
7. The Departed
Nothing bridges the Emerald Isle and land for people yearning to be free than this story of Irish gangsters run amok in Boston. Loosely based on the career of the infamous crime boss Whitey Bulger and featuring music by the Dropkick Murphys, this 2006 Martin Scorsese film is just this side of awesome.
6. Darby O’Gill and the Little People
Here is a heavy dose of Irish folklore, American-style. Darby is captured by the leprechauns, and the high jinks commence. This 1959 Disney flick wound up paving the way for cinematic history. When Darby came out, American film producer Albert Broccoli was casting about for someone who was ruggedly handsome—and would work dirt cheap—to play a spy in his next film. The actor playing Darby’s replacement caught his eye, and that’s how an “Irish” Sean Connery (who is Scots-Australian) became the consummate English gentleman spy, James Bond.
5. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
You can’t be Irish without a strong dose of pathos over the “troubles” leading up to Irish independence. This engrossing film shows all sides of the conflict as two brothers get caught up in the guerilla war that tried to throw off the yoke of British rule. It’s a haunting, beautiful, moving movie.
4. Riverdance: The Show
You can’t be Irish if you don’t have a musical soul. This hit song-and-dance-fest took America by storm with stage shows all over the country. Riverdance was also captured on film. A 1995 performance at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, is available on DVD.
3. Good Vibrations
Not all Celtic music is harps, raven-haired sopranos, and barrel-chested baritones. Meet Terri Hooley, a radical, rebel-rousing music lover in 1970s Belfast. In this 2012 film, Hooley’s record shop becomes ground zero for rekindling the spirit of a crumbling community and birthing Ireland’s punk rock craze. This film is a high-energy funfest.
2. The Angry Red Planet
Perhaps, the most schlocky science fiction film ever made. This 1959 movie-matinee mainstay features a trip to Mars where the intrepid crew faces giant bats, man-eating plants, and a massive, one-eyed amoeba. They just don’t make them like this anymore.
The ship’s misogynistic captain calls one of the crew Dr. Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) “Irish” instead of Iris. Naura Hayden was actually born in Los Angeles and isn’t Irish. In fact, other than the nickname, the film has nothing to do with Ireland, but if you have been out celebrating all St. Patrick’s Day you won’t really care.
Nothing is more Irish-American than Notre Dame, and that storied university has inspired two immortal football films: 1940’s Knute Rockne All American (with Ronald Reagan as the Gipper) and this 1993 classic starring Hobbit Sean Astin as the kid who just won’t quit. At the end you will join everyone in the stadium chanting “Rudy, Rudy!”
From sports films to musicals to devastating dramas and silly films, it is all Irish cinema that’s not to be missed when all Americans celebrate Lá Fhéile Pádraig.