The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has left a deep mark on history, its legacy is mostly bloody and heavily involved in the Irish past, so it’s no wonder that the group has been used as a source of inspiration by filmmakers both when it comes to fictional events and movies based on true stories. From political intrigue to heavy action flicks, we decided to bring you the 10 best movies about IRA if you want to both educate yourself and be intrigued by doing it. Let’s go.
1. ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ (2006)
What it’s about: In County Cork, Ireland, in 1920, Damien O’Donovan prepares to leave his village to practice medicine in London. Meanwhile, his brother Teddy leads the local flying column of the Irish Republican Army. After a hurling match, Damien witnesses the British Black and Tans execute his friend Micheál Ó Súilleabháin for refusing to speak English. Although shaken, Damien initially rejects his friends’ pleas to join the IRA, believing the war to be unwinnable. However, witnessing the British Army’s intimidation tactics at the railway station convinces Damien to stay and join Teddy’s IRA brigade, thus becoming involved in the struggle for Irish independence.
Why you should watch it: ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ is extremely powerful social commentary and the movie itself won several awards. It’s also one of the best dramatized portrayals of the struggle for Irish independence and it has Cillian Murphy, what more could you ask?
2. ‘Michael Collins’ (1996)
What it’s about: ‘Michael Collins’ is a historical biographical film directed by Neil Jordan. The movie follows the life and activities of Michael Collins, an Irish revolutionary leader who played a major role in Irish independence during the early 20th century and is credited as being the general founder of the IRA. The film begins with Collins’ involvement in the Easter Rising of 1916, a rebellion against British rule in Ireland. It then tells of his rise to greatness within the IRA and his role in the guerrilla warfare tactics used against British forces.
Why you should watch it: We can’t tell that ‘Michael Collins’ is the perfect biography since the movie was initially criticized for having a lot of inaccuracies, but still it has an awesome cast primarily starring Liam Neeson and it’s one of the best depiction of the state of Irelan during this period.
3. ‘In the Name of the Father’ (1993)
What it’s about: In Belfast, Gerry Conlon is mistakenly identified as an IRA sniper by British security forces during a riot. His father, Giuseppe, fearing IRA reprisals, sends him to London. In London, Gerry becomes involved in criminal activities, including burglary and drug use. Meanwhile, an explosion in Guildford kills four off-duty soldiers and a civilian, leading to Gerry’s arrest on terrorism charges. Gerry, along with his friend Paul Hill and two others, is tortured by the police in an attempt to extract a confession. They become known as the Guildford Four.
Why you should watch it: ‘In the Name of the Father’ is a movie based on a true story but the director was landed in hot water for allegedly faking some parts of the stories directly making them up. Sheridan tried to explain that the movie was not actually about Guildford Four but rather about Gerry’s father. It’s still a great movie despite featuring some questionable courtroom scenes.
4. ‘Baltimore’ (2023)
What it’s about: Rose Dugdale, a former debutante and a rich heiress from England, joins the IRA. In April 1974, she orchestrated an art heist at Russborough House, the residence of Sir Alfred Beit.
Why you should watch it: This is a powerful movie with an even more powerful performance by Imogen Poots who is lauded to be the centerpiece of the movie. The film features themes of guilt, and conscience that are bound to resonate with you.
5. ‘Bloody Sunday’ (2002)
What it’s about: The movie follows the events of January 30, 1972, from the perspective of Ivan Cooper, a Member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland associated with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a key organizer of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Derry. The march ended in complete tragedy when British Army paratroopers opened fire on the demonstrators, resulting in the deaths of thirteen people and the later death of another wounded man.
Why you should watch it: This movie is based on the book Eyewitness Bloody Sunday by Don Mullan. It’s one of the most famous movies on the topic although it has been criticized that the movie could have been even better if more focus was put on the actual protesters instead of the leadership behind the protest.
6. ‘Patriot Games’ (1992)
What it’s about: Former CIA analyst Jack Ryan, now a history professor at the United States Naval Academy, is in London with his wife Cathy and their daughter Sally. While there, Ryan intervenes in a terrorist kidnapping attempt on Lord William Holmes, the British Minister of State for Northern Ireland. Ryan is injured but manages to disarm one terrorist and fatally shoot two others, including the younger brother of Sean Miller. Miller is subdued by Ryan. The terrorists are part of a radical IRA splinter cell led by Kevin O’Donnell. Shortly after the incident, IRA operatives attempt and fail to assassinate O’Donnell, deeming him and his followers too extreme.
Why you should watch this: Not based on a true story but based on a fictional book. The movie is also a sequel to ‘The Hunt For Red October’ and is highly entertaining if you’re a fan of Tom Clancy’s work.
7. ‘Hunger’ (2008)
What’s it about: The movie follows the events surrounding the 1981 Irish hunger strike led by IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, who protested against the British government’s policy of treating IRA prisoners as ordinary criminals rather than political prisoners. The film primarily focuses on the experiences of Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender) during his time in Maze Prison and his decision to lead a hunger strike in an attempt to regain political status for IRA prisoners.
Why you should watch it: ‘Hunger’ doesn’t put IRA in the main focus, instead it deals with human rights, political activism, and the lengths to which individuals are willing to go to fight for their beliefs.
8. ‘The Devil’s Own’ (1997)
What it’s about: In 1972 Northern Ireland, eight-year-old Frankie McGuire witnesses his father’s murder for his Irish republican sympathies. Twenty years later, in Belfast, Frankie, now involved with the IRA, is ambushed by British Army and Special Reconnaissance Unit agents along with three other IRA members. Two of them are killed, but Frankie and his comrade Sean Phelan manage to escape. Pursued by a British Army helicopter, their commander Martin MacDuff determines that the IRA needs Stinger missiles to defend themselves.
Why you should watch it: ‘The Devil’s Own’ initially received mixed reviews due to getting some of the facts wrong, but it’s overall a decent movie. Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt are starring so this is an additional plus.
9. ”71′ (2014)
What’s it about: The movie is set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1971 during the Troubles, a period of sectarian violence between nationalists (mostly Catholic) and unionists (mostly Protestant), with the backdrop of British military intervention. The film follows a young British soldier named Gary Hook, played by Jack O’Connell, who becomes separated from his unit during a riot in Belfast. Stranded in enemy territory, Hook must navigate the dangerous streets of the city, caught between the IRA loyalist paramilitaries, and the British Army.
Why you should watch it: ’71’ is also a movie based on a true story but what separates it from the majority of the movies in this list is the fact that it can easily be served as a perfectly decent action-thriller in its own right. The movie is also filmed in quasi-documentary style.
10. ‘Shadow Dancer’ (2012)
What it’s about: The film begins in 1973 during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, where Collette’s younger brother dies in a tragic incident. Fast forward to 1993 in London, Collette is arrested after a failed bombing attempt. MI5 officer Mac offers her a choice: spend 25 years in jail or become an informant for MI5, spying on her own family. Collette reluctantly agrees to inform in exchange for a new identity after her service.
Why you should watch it: Although short the movie presents one of the most realistic depictions of The Troubles. The movie is also heavy on betrayal, espionage, and moral dilemmas without being too preachy.
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