Happy Saint Patrick’s Day folks!
We’re celebrating this momentous occasion by dusting off an old post that’s still relevant – giving a rundown of the top “Irish” characters in films, top Irish actors and the top Irish films – and as Screen Rant’s Irish writer it has come down to me to deliver.
Please be aware that this isn’t a definitive list of Irish actors or Irish films – yes the list does include some actors who do indeed hail from the Emerald Isle, but it also includes a few who don’t!
We’ve also decided not to include any Irish-Americans on the list because, well, there’s a load of them in American films and you’d give up after the first 150 names or so!
Top Irish Characters
Malone in The Untouchables
Sean Connery received an Oscar for his performance in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. The Scottish-born actor made minimal effort with his Irish brogue in the film, and ended up sounding exactly like Sean Connery!
No stereotype is left untouched – he’s a hard drinker (even during Prohibition), good with his fist and he swears like a sailor. It’s also a hell of a performance and probably Connery’s most iconic outside of the Bond franchise. That is if we don’t count Zardoz!
Tom Ryan in Butterfly on A Wheel
Irish-born Pierce Brosnan often plays the Irish man – but his portrayal of Tom Ryan in Butterfly on a Wheel makes the list because, well, he plays it with a Northern Irish accent – for no real reason. Throw in the fact that Brosnan is from the Irish Republic and it’s quite hard to fathom! It’s not a character trait – there’s no reason for it at all except for Brosnan to flex his Irish accent muscles.
Joseph Donnelly in Far and Away
No list of Irish film characters would be complete without mention of Tom Cruise’s Donnelly in Ron Howard’s epic tale. It’s as Irish as Guinness and 100% less authentic. It has to bee seen to be believed, To be sure, To be sure.
Ray and Ken in In Bruges
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson portray two Irish hit men in this Belgian-set black comedy. Farrell and Gleeson have never been better as the hired killers who are laying low in the titular city. Funny, violent and a little bit twisted, Ray and Ken are two Irish characters who you’d want to have a pint of the black stuff with.
Liam Neeson in Michael Collins
Neeson followed up his turn in Schlinder’s List by playing the titular Irish legend in Neil Jordan’s expensive misfire. While Nesson is well-suited to the role, he’s just too old. Collins was 31 years old when he died – Neeson was 43 when the film was released.
Top Irish Actors
Acting great and infamous booze-hound Peter O’Toole certainly has to top the list of great Irish actors. The Oscar-winner has been a legend on the stage and screen for decades, delivering performances that would make a lesser man blush!
O’Toole’s friend and carousing buddy Richard Harris has also given some mighty performances throughout his career. While he may have passed on in 2002, he did go out on a career high after starring in Gladiator and the first two Harry Potter films.
Kenneth Branagh is a quadruple threat on both stage and screen. He has won plaudits for his Shakespearean work, but films like Dead Again and the ill-fated Wild Wild West have shown that he isn’t adverse to some genre material. Next up is Marvel’s Thor, in which he directs and has a supporting role.
Brendan Gleeson has been showing minor support in big films for the past three decades. From his scene-stealing performance in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, to the aforementioned In Bruges, to the forthcoming Perrier’s Bounty, it would appear Gleason is going to remain a fixture on our screens for a good while yet. There’s also his outstanding lead role in John Boorman’s The General.
Liam Neeson has always been a well-respected character actor, but in recent years he’s gone to the next level as the go-to aging action badass. With Taken he showed that no ass would be left un-kicked and The A-Team kept that trend going. And of course what cements your rep as an aging kick-butt actor more than fighting a wolf with mini-bar bottles strapped to your fingers (The Grey)?
There’s a certain irony that Irish-born Pierce Brosnan will always be known as English spy James Bond, considering the amount of films that Brosnan has now made in his homeland of Ireland. The Nephew, Evelyn and Laws of Attraction have helped him put his Bond money where his mouth is. However, one really has to see his 80s Irish western Taffin to know that he’s been dabling in Irish films for years.
At the time we wrote this, Fassbender was the new acting kid on the block, and on the cusp of being the next big thing. Inglorous Basterds, Hunger and Fish Tank had shown his range, and X-Men First Class, Shame and the soon to be released Prometheus have solidified his talent and status in Hollywood.
Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Stephen Rea, Gabriel Bryne and Daniel Day Lewis (he’s not Irish, but he might as well be!)
Top Films about Ireland
Far and Away
When Ireland is portrayed in a film it’s usually a stereotype of drunks, horses, fighting and thatched cottages. All this is present in Ron Howard’s Far and Away. It’s a film that appears to have been made by a group of people who never set foot in Ireland. It’s a shame that it was shot there!
Alan Parker’s adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s novel was something of a revelation upon its release in the early 1990s. Strong performances and an outstanding soundtrack mean that this film is a minor modern classic – and it manages not to live up to any negative imagery.
John Carney directed this pseudo-musical about a Dublin busker and his relationship with an immigrant single mother whom he meets in the streets. It’s not as depressing as it sounds, and this low-budget film has a lot of heart and a great soundtrack!
Paul Greengrass’ 2002 political drama is based on real events which took place in Derry, Ireland in January 1972. It pioneers Greengrass’ love of shaky-cam, but it also has a lot of depth and accuracy as it was shot on the streets of Derry and Dublin. Keen Screen Rant readers might even be able to spot me in the background of the film… somewhere.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People
If you thought that Far and Away was filled with blarney – then you haven’t seen Darby O’Gill. This Disney film is a total Irish fairy tale and although it’s pure… I’m not totally sure what it is – but I have to admit that it’s great fun!
The Quiet Man
John Ford’s John Wayne starrer was shot in Ireland back in 1952 and it has been adopted by Irish people all over the world. A true classic, this is a film that is still watched on a continuous loop in many Irish homes today.
In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot, I Went Down and The Crying Game
That’s it folks. I’m sure that you have your own favorites – so let loose in the comments section!