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Part two in my movies that inspire travel series, this post features films with storylines set in Ireland. (Check out the Italy movies here.) My connection to Ireland runs deep, with ancestors on my mother’s side originating there. Her mother’s maiden name was McCool and all eight children in the family sported red hair, possessed fiery spirits and displayed playful natures.
Before I ever set foot on the Emerald Isle, I enjoyed movies and characters based there. I smiled over the charming accents, that in reality proved even more delightful in person. And my heart beat faster as I took in the beauty of those green hills and quaint Irish villages that served as backdrops for the films.
Check out these movies that inspire you to visit Ireland and discover the magic.
The Quiet Man 1952
This classic romantic comedy stars John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald.
A retired American boxer returns home to Ireland, anxious to reclaim his homestead and forget his past. He falls in love with a spirited but poor redhead, the younger sister of an ill tempered man determined to keep the two apart. The budding relationship is fraught with complications, one of which arises from the boxer’s shadowy past.
Fun fact: After the credits roll, there’s a scene with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara waving goodbye. O’Hara whispers something in Wayne’s ear that evokes a priceless reaction. Only the two actors and the director know what was said, and none ever revealed the line, even in memoirs. We do know O’Hara at first refused to whisper the words, saying she “couldn’t possibly say that to Duke”. The director insisted, saying he needed a genuinely shocked expression from Wayne. He got it.
My Left Foot 1989
Based on the true story of Christy Brown, My Left Foot stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker and Kirsten Sheridan.
Born with cerebral palsy, into a large impoverished Dublin family, Christy overcomes a difficult childhood to become a painter and writer. The only limb he has any control over is his left foot. Unable to speak as a child, Christy surprises everyone with his intelligence and sensitivity, expressing himself through his art.
Fun fact: Daniel Day-Lewis insisted on remaining in character between takes, and therefore refused to leave his wheelchair. He ultimately broke two ribs from sitting in a hunched over position in the chair during weeks of filming.
Far and Away 1992
This sweeping adventure drama stars Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Thomas Gibson.
A young couple struggle in Ireland, with family, traditional views and property eviction. They flee to the United States with the dream of owning property in Oklahoma during the big land rush.
However, life in the new country is difficult too. The man becomes a bare hands boxer and his bride’s parents follow them to the US with the intention of taking their daughter home. How long can they keep their dream alive?
Michael Collins 1996
This historical biopic stars Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Aidan Quinn, Julia Roberts, Stephen Rea and Ian Hart.
Set in 1916, this historical film explores the Irish revolution against the UK, led by Michael Collins. He develops dramatic new tactics for gaining independence including urban guerilla warfare and assassinations of Irish informants in the UK government. Although the British are willing to negotiate by 1921, Collins returns to Ireland with compromises that threaten to spark civil war in his beloved country.
Fun fact: Due to its historical nature, Michael Collins became the second most successful movie ever released in Ireland.
Waking Ned Devine 1998
Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flanagan and James Nesbitt star in this fun comedy.
When Ned Devine wins the national lottery, he literally dies from shock. News of the win, but not of Ned’s demise, spreads through the pretty Irish village of Tully More. As lottery officials arrive to confirm the winning ticket, Ned’s friends scheme to keep the prize money. They quickly discover, in hilarious ways, the difficulties of keeping a secret in a small town.
Fun fact: This sleeper film, shot on a low budget of $3 million, filmed in five weeks and ultimately grossed more than $50 million.
Angela’s Ashes 1999
This dramatic biopic stars Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge.
Angela’s Ashes follows the true story of young Frankie and his family as they struggle to escape the poverty in the slums of pre-war Limerick. The movie includes moving themes of love, suffering, deprivation, family dysfunction, striving and eventually, triumph.
Fun fact: The interior church scenes were shot in Dublin. Because of its controversial content, permission was denied to shoot in any Limerick churches.
This musical stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
A young Dublin man is a singer/song writer who earns a living working in his dad’s Hoover repair shop by day and singing on the streets by night. He meets a Czech girl in the city who plays the piano every chance she gets and does odd jobs by day and cares for her mother and daughter by night.
During an eventful week in Dublin, the pair write, rehearse and record songs together. They hope to create a demo that will land a music contract. What they discover is that their songs document their budding love story.
Fun fact: Bob Dylan was such a fan of the film that he arranged to have the two leads, Glen and Marketa, open for him on part of his world tour.
Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Dervla Kirwan and Alison Barry star in this romantic mystery.
On the coast of Cork a divorced fisherman discovers a woman named Ondine caught in his fishing nets. His precocious daughter, whose health is failing, believes the woman is a magical selkie. This tender film explores mystery and that powerful human emotion, hope.
Fun fact: The moving song that plays during the closing credits, titled Braille, was only available to subscribers of the artist’s newsletter. It never officially released.
Leap Year 2010
Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott and John Lithgow star in this romantic comedy.
Anna travels to Dublin to propose to her boyfriend on February 29. According to Irish tradition, a man who receives a marriage proposal on leap year day must accept.
Anna’s careful plans face major setbacks however when bad weather derails her journey to Dublin. With the help of a handsome small town innkeeper named Declan, Anna’s cross country trek just might result in an engagement…but to whom?
Fun fact: The bridge that Anna and Declan stand on while having a conversation about his ex-fiancé is located in St Stephen’s Green, a park in Dublin. (I’ve stood on that bridge!)
This romantic drama stars Saoirse Ronan, Emery Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson and Jim Broadbent.
Set in the early 1950s, the film follows a young woman who leaves her job in a grocery shop in Ireland to immigrate to Brooklyn. Her mother and sister remain in Ireland. All appears to go well in Brooklyn as she finds a job, studies at night to learn bookkeeping and meets a charming young Italian man.
However, she lives torn between two countries, with responsibilities and desires, anguish and emotions, connected to each. Which life will she choose?
Fun fact: The scenes for Brooklyn, New York were filmed in Montreal, Quebec, as the budget couldn’t cope with turning 2015 Brooklyn back into 1950s Brooklyn.
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Ireland
How many of these films have you seen?
I’ve watched them all. And the longing that makes my heart beat just a little faster, as I view these movies, becomes the passion that fuels my trip to Ireland…and beyond.
And since spending time in Dublin, I’m especially drawn to re-watch Once and Leap Year. Additionally, because of actor Alan Rickman’s untimely death, I’d love to see Michael Collins again too.
What movies are inspiring you to travel?
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