L13FC: Religion and Violence in Irish Films

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. Traditionally, a co-host joins me and we share an angle into the film industry and talk to people all day long. It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea:  cbruchman@yahoo.com. 

It probably has occurred to you that if there’s a movie about the Irish whether it was filmed in Ireland or contains Irish characters, invariably, elements of Catholicism and violence follow. Is this a stereotype? Why are the Irish depicted as scrappers, alcoholics, boorish and profane? A sign of the cross in one breath, a hard right sent or received in the next? As an ethnic group, the Irish and Catholicism are intrinsic, and in films, the priests and nuns usually misbehave behind their cloisters and vestments?  Tis a gray line between their luck and their paddy-whacked explosive history.  If the violence isn’t with the Catholic church, a mob, a brawl or bout in the ring, the violence likely happens between the IRA and the feud between Northern Ireland Protestants and their Southern Catholic counterparts. Need a quick reminder of Northern Irish History? READ THIS Can you think of a film set in Ireland or containing Irish characters which don’t feature religion and violence? The only two exceptions I can think of are Brooklyn (2015) and Waking Ned Devine (1998). (Well, Eilis did emigrate and establish herself with the help of Father Glynn, didn’t she?)


If it’s a film set in the Boston area, the Irish family is revered, Catholicism is followed, violence is worshipped, and the culture is packaged with an indiscernible vernacular and enough profanity to make a sailor blush.

 Would you consider Good Will Hunting a violent film?

Daniel Day-Lewis

He loved Ireland so much he became a citizen. Some of his best films include him playing an Irish character.


Favorite Irish Characters in Films 

Violence and Religion are the cornerstones of Irish history and those values are reflected in film. Have the stereotypes worn thin? What’s the fascination and glamorization of violence, alcohol, and the perversion of faith?  My favorite stereotype is that they’re funny.




51 thoughts on “L13FC: Religion and Violence in Irish Films

Add yours

  1. Nice idea for a theme, Cindy.
    I can recommend an Irish film without religion and violence. A slow-moving drama, with a riveting central performance that you won’t forget in a hurry.
    Then there are the historical dramas, where the characters are far more than the usual stereotypes.
    Three to be getting on with. I will try to come up with some more.
    Best wishes as always, Pete.

        1. I stuck that one in the visual gallery above. You could probably add the recent musical “Sing Street”, but I haven’t seen it to comment.
          I was wondering if ‘The Guard’ (2011) starring Gleeson and Chedle? It’s a thriller comedy?

    1. Martin McDonagh is a playwright, screenwriter and film director, born and brought up in London to Irish parents. He holds dual citizenship. He has been described as one of the most important living playwrights in Ireland (Wikapedia). In Bruges is a great dark comedy. I loved it — the cast, the story line, the ironies, the complexity of the script– a great call, Alex.
      Colin Farrell represents the Irish stereotypes beautifully. He’d be the one you’d want to cover your back and no doubt is the life of the party. He’s not bad on the eyes, either. 😉

      1. I know. And that ending was brilliant. I also loved the reference to the American tourist not finishing the tower. And the line about why bother going to the top to see the town when he can see the town from ground level haha.

  2. I don’t know if their history is any more full of violence and religion than any other nation. Certainly Catholic faith has been presented on film quite a bit and seems the more traditional and stringent then more younger Christian Churches. But who knows. I will say that the Irish maybe have that sense of violence because of all the British colonies there subjugation was particularly violent and their rebellion against rule never really went away. I’m not an expert on the history but there’s something in that for me. On Northern Ireland, that is a complicated and painful war for all concerned. Great films have been made of that time Hunger being the most recent. Does the stereotype hold true? Do the Irish drink more, swear more, fight more and laugh more? Was there a thirst for life borne out of their culture and history that is truly unique? I don’t know but stereotypes exist for a reason and I like the idea of the Irish as something unique. Life could be hard in that part of the world, that’s why we went to the new worlds if we could. I do like the idea that the Irish have a certain sense of humour about themselves. When I watched The Siege at Jadotville recently there were little exchanges of dialogue that rang true to me as Irish. But who’s to say.

    1. Well said, Lloyd. Yes, all cultures have their mobsters, brawlers, and comedians. Irish tourism and media have made a $ out of those stereotypes. I don’t know one American who wouldn’t want to visit Dublin and held south stopping to kiss the Blarney Stone or to buy a pint, some lace, or anything having to do with a shamrock. Add the fact that I hail from outside Chicago where the Irish have a huge history–the Chicago River this very minute is green and thousands are looking forward to the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I’ve already bought my corned beef in anticipation for the 17th. My point is, here in America, places like Boston and Chicago and Brooklyn, the Irish are highly celebrated.

  3. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend “Into the West” a very moving film great for all ages–mainly about two runaway boys and a magical horse. Gabriel Bryne starred as their dad and co-produced. No violence except for a scrap on the beach at the climax of the film. Interesting subtext about the social ostracizing of Ireland’s travelers (i.e gypsies). Being from Boston, I can’t stand films that subliminally glorify the homicidal violence of depraved real-life gangsters like Whitey Bulger and have boycotted “Black Mass,” I would recommend “Spotlight” from that list.

    1. Welcome, Rick. A Bostonian, huh? It’s a different world. I’d be curious to listen to a conversation between a modern Dubliner who traveled to Boston–would they understand each other?
      I have not seen ‘Into the West’ so thanks for the suggestion there.

  4. The Southern Irish at the moment have had enough of the Catholic church especially the young. That may affect the film themes in the long term. More gay interest films for example.

    1. Welcome, John. Yes, I do think you are right. That fed up with religion mentality will only increase, I fear. More and more people are opting for spirituality than organized religion. I see it in the schools and in the media/films/television/community. I think our society, generally speaking, is worse for it.

  5. Two recent standout films for me with Irish connections were Brooklyn and Sing Street, neither of which laboured the Irish characteristics you mention. I guess it depends on the genre; if its a historical drama then it unavoidably must recognise historically significant national traits. But like in so many countries, old-world associations wear thin and do not define or adequately depict the contemporary reality.

    1. The contemporary reality — I’d like to see more films about that. Comedies tend to focus on the present day situation, but as you say, historical dramas, well, they’ll be rehashing the similar conflicts. Thanks, Richard.

  6. For me Irish characters are the Reality of people on planet Earth, drinking and fighting and out-spoken. The characters seem to me to be a reflection of life’s population. But most people like to see themselves as civilized. I don’t know about Irish people personally, but if the characters in these movies are similar I would say they seem to be more open to their emotions and more connected to their beliefs. I like the darker aspects of Irish movies, I like to delve down inside, “Mystic River”, “The Crying Game”. They touch my core. The same place my laughter comes from-I loved “Waking Ned Devine”!!!, such a good movie. I have no Irish blood anywhere in my family but every year on St. Patrick’s Day my mother cooked Corned Beef with the brining and everything. I can still smell it.

    1. Welcome, Elva. Yes! I think you are on to something. The reality of people on planet Earth. Base. Real. Hardworking. Survivalists. Flawed. Throw in some humor about Murphy’s Law and you have summed up the Irish well! Somehow they manage to hold on to hope and they love God. I draw inspiration from them.

  7. Even ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ is full of violence! Those damn Leprechauns are a mean lot.

    Seriously, however, I’d consider the end of the horrific bloody feud between North and Southern Ireland to be of the greatest occurrences of our times.

    I guess the difficulties of History and surviving in the that country has made for a hard image. ??

    I would say that most of those are darn good movies. ‘The Verdict’ is a favorite of mine.

    1. Hi JC. I just watched The Verdict last week, and it was the film that inspired me to think about how the Irish are portrayed in films. Example after example came to mind that their conflicts centered around religion and violence. I think they had to scrounge and scrapple to exist makes them junk yard dogs. Tough and mean. Yet, they love God and are quick to laugh. The contrariness of their culture has me in admiration.

  8. Brooklyn isn’t violent but there are callbacks to the Irish identity as it were. Here is an immigrant, making her way to the American East Coast no less, for employment opportunities no less. Religion is present, as is a pint or two in a pub and small mindedness of a small community. I got teary too when the Priest said these are the men who built all the highways and the bridges. There were other nation’s people who did that too but the Irish did their fair share and look where it got them. And yet still they sang in gratitude for their supper. That’s a very Irish thing to do I like to think. I’m not sure if subsequent generations are going to realise that when Kennedy was elected President that was almost as much a game changer as when Barack Obama was elected. Regardless of politics it meant a great deal to Irish Catholics because Irish Catholics were cops and nurses and builders and labourers. Not Presidents. Hmm. We’re talking about movies right? I like In Bruges too.

    1. I’m glad you realize their importance to American culture. I’ve done research on their part in building the churches and and canals in the Midwest. That was after they built them on the East Coast. Australia– they built railroad track, too. I remember outside of Sydney, our group went to the Green Mountains, and their work was featured on the tour.Their toughness was appreciated in the World Wars.

  9. Great post. FYI, “Sing Street” is from the Director of “Once” and “Begin Again”, both great films. This post reminds me of the scene in “Blazing Saddles” when they welcome everyone: black, chinese etc to the town – “But we don’t want the Irish!”

      1. All three are wonderful, upbeat musicals…in some ways, better than “LaLaLand” – “Begin Again” for example is terrific with a great cast – Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Haylee Steinfeld and Adam Levine – and a great soundtrack! “Once” won the Oscar for Best Song – I just posted about the Singer/Songwriter Glen Hansard – https://johnrieber.com/2017/03/10/glen-hansard-opens-for-pearl-jam-once-the-commitments-glen-hansards-musical-oscar/

  10. In The Name of Your Father is powerfully acted and The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a high priority I must see sooner rather than later. But I agree there are often stereotypes , we need more Irish characters that surprise 🙂

    1. Welcome, Chris. ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ is a man’s man film. There’s nothing sentimental or uplifting about it. It depicts cold, Boston with great cinematography and one of Robert Mitchum’s finest performances. DDL can do no wrong in my book. I appreciate you stopping by; come back soon!

  11. A very interesting post! I agree with you about the over-representation of religion and violence in Irish films. Irish Gabriel Byrne is one of my favourite actors, and in his career, he was involved in many religion and violence-themed films, such as in the weird “Stigmata” (though, I also believe that Ireland produced some films which have little to do with such themes, such “Once” or “Sing Street”). In some way, such over-representation is almost natural, because it shows a country’s historical and cultural aspects – and how else one is going to get a public funding for a film? I mean, a large proportion of German films is about war and the holocaust, and many Italian films make, if not direct, than indirect references to mafia. Also, I think it is not necessarily “violence” which is the emphasis in Irish films, but rather the fight for independence and human rights playing out in an oppressive political context, such as film “Hunger”, for example.

    1. Welcome, DB. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I agree, nations and ethnic identities have an image or story that defines them, for better or worse. Especially agree with the German reference. That’s the main association, WWII and the Holocaust. For African Americans, it’s slavery and civil rights. Italy — the mob. Yes.
      I remember the movie ‘Stigmata’ — and I appreciate Gabriel Byrne, too. There’s someone I haven’t thought about in a long time. Oppression and violence go hand in hand. The Irish have been fighting since their infancy.

  12. I love “The Quiet Man” and it is one of my favorite John Wayne movies! Maureen O’Hara is one of my Mom’s favorite spunky film actresses. 🙂
    “The Crying Game,””Philomena” and “The Commitments” are really on a long list of films featuring Irish characters.
    To add one more, Cindy: I liked “Brooklyn,” which had some 2015 (I think) award nominations. The main character has a first name of Siobhan, I think. May have misspelled it. She comes to America, from Ireland thanks to her Catholic Priest. It is a wonderful and positive movie.

      1. It was well done but like my Mom said, “Not schmaltzy.” She’s funny when it comes to romance and would rather watch something wild and dramatic like “Suicide Squad.”

I ♥ comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: