If checking out the parade in Dublin is not on your agenda this year, and you’re not into spending March 17 binge-drinking in a fake Irish pub surrounded with people wearing giant leprechaun hats, know that there’s a way to celebrate Irish culture that does not involve booze and ridicule. Pour yourself a cup of Barry’s, sit your rear on the couch, and stream one of the many excellent Irish movies and TV shows available at the click of a button. If you’ve had your fair share of Michael Collins and Father Ted over the years, here are more recent, funny, thrilling, and tear-jerking movies and TV shows that will transport you to Ireland this Saint Patrick’s Day.
For a good laugh
Soft Border Patrol
The consequences of Brexit on the border between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are still unknown, but it’s already bringing back painful memories of checkpoints and watchtowers that we’d rather keep at bay. To lighten up the mood, check out Soft Border Patrol, a hilarious and fictional take on post-Brexit border controls between the European Union and the United Kingdom, within Ireland. A mockumentary in the style of The Office, the Northern Irish TV show follows awkward and often clueless border agents in all their administrative glory during their patrolling duties. From locals reporting seeing former IRA leader Gerry Adams crossing the border to people complaining about signage in kilometers instead of miles, each episode is 30 minutes of absurdity we hope will remain fictitious.
The Young Offenders
If you can’t get enough of the sing-songy accent of Cork, tune in with The Young Offenders, a TV series set in the southwestern Irish city and inspired by a movie of the same name and featuring the same actors. The main characters, the young offenders themselves, are Conor and Jock, two good-hearted teenagers with a lack of common sense combined with a knack for getting into trouble. Raised in difficult single-parent families, the pair wants to get rich but are hardly competent or motivated enough to find and hold a job. To achieve their dream, they come up with wacky money-making schemes that never seem to work out but that will have you howl with laughter and reach for more.
Probably the funniest take on life during The Troubles — the nationalist and religious conflicts that took place in the North between 1969 and 1999 — Derry Girl is a surefire belly-aching laugh. The TV series follows five teenagers — including Irish Catholic Erin, Clare, Michelle, Orla, and England-born James — as they come of age in the divided northern city of Derry in 1992. While The Troubles are taking place in the background, the group of friends is focused on their own issues (relationships, boy bands, school) and remain almost entirely unphased by the Orange Order Marches, bomb threats, IRA rebels needing to get smuggled across the border, and gun-toting army men. It’s full of ‘90s nostalgia, including always excellent music by the Cranberries, and will have you look back at your own teenage years with fondness and hilarity.
For nail-biting drama
An adaptation of Tana French’s unputdownable Dublin Murder Squad novels, Dublin Murders follows Cassie and Rob, a detective duo from the fictitious Dublin murder squad, as they attempt to find the killer of a 12-year-old girl named Katy. It’s dark, precise, extremely suspenseful, and full of psychologically damaged people, so it makes for great entertainment. The TV series combines French’s first two novels (In the Woods and The Likeness) in the eight episodes of the first season. There are no words on if the remaining four novels will be adapted for the TV.
Set in Belfast, The Fall is a blood-curling series following Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a man with a compulsion for strangulating young women, as he is being hunted by stone-cold Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) through the dreary Northern Irish city. If you live on your own and scare easily, wait to watch it with a group of people in daylight — Paul Spector is every woman’s worst nightmare as he silently climbs into houses at night to kill his female targets. There are three seasons to this excellent thriller, and every single episode will have you jump, gasp, and double-check the lock on your doors and windows.
For a good cry
If you’ve watched The Magdalene Sisters, you know that the Catholic Church in Ireland is responsible for inflicting unimaginable atrocities on women and children. If you have not watched the 2002 drama and are not sure you can handle it, watch true-story Philomena instead. In the 1950s, a young woman named Philomena becomes pregnant out of wedlock. So as not to bring any more shame to her family and to lead her back on the straight and narrow, she is sent to a convent where she is forced to work for her penance and is only allowed to see her son one hour a day, until the toddler is sold by the sisters to an American couple.
Fifty years later, a freelance journalist convinces her to tell her story, and they embark on a search for her stolen child together. While heart-breaking, Philomena is not all tears and pain — there’s fun, hope, and forgiveness, making it a tragic yet beautiful story that is less tormenting than The Magdalene Sisters. Although not an Irish movie per se, it tackles a topic extremely important in Irish history and is partially set in Co. Tipperary (but filmed in Northern Ireland).
For some amazing music (with a side of romance)
This fresh take on a musical that won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2008 is simple, uplifting, and full of amazing, original tunes that you’ll be humming long after the credits. Glen Hansard (from the band The Frames) and Marketa Irglová are the two main characters in this story set in Dublin. The pair meets on the streets of the Irish capital as he busks to make ends meet, and she sells roses to stay afloat. From there, an artistic and emotional connection develops, and they write and record their music together all over the city. The movie only cost $150,000 to make, proving that talent and a great story is all that’s needed to successfully pull at people’s heartstrings.
For an Irish diaspora story (and more romance)
Because the story of the Irish people extends way beyond the border of the Emerald Isle, it’s impossible to celebrate the nation without including the Irish diaspora. 2015 movie Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman who immigrates to the US from Ireland in the 1950s, leaving her family behind. Although a community of similar women awaits her in New York, she struggles with homesickness until she finds love with a young man of Italian descent. Brooklyn is aesthetically beautiful, the actors are spot-on (Saoirse is outstanding), and the story is a blend of love, sorrow, struggle, and success that immigrants all over the world, no matter where they are from and where they went, have felt deeply.
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