Best Movies About St. Patrick and Irish History in America

Best Movies About St. Patrick and Irish History in America
Marilisa Sachteleben, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Mar 3, 2011

When I mention St. Patrick’s Day, what leaps to mind? Shamrocks, leprechauns, green beer, and parades? St. Patrick’s Day may have morphed into partying, but Ireland and St. Patrick are steeped in history, tradition, and lore. Here are movie selections that explore Patrick and Irish history in America.

“Patrick: Brave Shepherd of the Emerald Isles”

This animated film comes from CCC’s Saints and Heroes DVD collection. These are cartoon versions that relate the life stories of various saints, Biblical heroes, and literary figures. The films, while animated, are historically accurate and appeal to children and adults alike.

“St. Patrick: The Living Legend” (1995)

This documentary-style narrative takes the viewer on a journey into the life of St. Patrick using icons, historical footage, and montages of religious pilgrimages, processions, and parades.

“Patrick” (TV movie, 2004)

Harder to find, but infinitely more rewarding, this Hallmark Channel docudrama features Irish film megaliths Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Sean T. O Meallaigh. For a dramatic presentation, this film explores all sides of the Patrician legends, historical data, and lore. One interesting detail that comes to light is that Patrick’s family settled in Wales, not Roman Britain. “Angela’s Ashes” author Frank McCourt provides a commentary about the Church in Rome and the Irish.

“St. Patrick: The Irish Legend” (2000, Patrick Bergen, Alan Bates)

This movie provides visuals to flesh out the story of Patricus, a young 4th-century Roman boy who was taken as a slave to Ireland and returned to bring the Gospel to the Druids. I fault the movie for catering to the legends surrounding Patrick (banishing snakes from Ireland) and not core doctrine and history.

“Gangs of New York” (2002, Liam Neeson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio)

Excellent film retelling of 1860s Irish in Manhattan’s Five Points. Weaving fictional characters with real figures Bill the Butcher, Boss Tweed, and other characters from New York history, the movie often sensationalizes when it should stick to fact. Nevertheless, “Gangs of New York” provides some educational background into the Irish in America and makes for good viewing.

“Far and Away” (1992)

Ron Howard’s turn-of-the-20th-century film is heavy handed with the Hollywood glamorization. The story of Tom Cruise, a poor Catholic laborer and Nicole Kidman, a wealthy, Protestant gentry, gives a fairly accurate portrayal of the Irish experience in America. The movie does an especially fine job showing the prejudice toward Irish in the United States, whether they were rich or poor in the old country.

“Michael Collins” (1996, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman)

Retells the story of the Easter Uprising of the IRA and the development of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, during the Irish Civil War. The film shows the relationships and activities of Irish revolutionaries Eamon de Valera, Harry Boland, Liam Tobin, Joe O’Reilly, and other IRA legends. It explores the origins of Fine Gael and Fianna Fial, Ireland’s leading political parties.

“Angela’s Ashes” (1999, Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle)

Beautiful book-to-movie version of Frank McCourt’s memoirs of a struggling Irish family. It’s a good sociological expose about immigrant poverty.

These films provide some social and historical basis and counter-balance the usual St. Patrick’s Day movie fare.

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