Dublin is known more for its great literature than its cinematic epics but the movies do offer a way of getting under the city’s cultural skin without having to give Ulysses another try.
For many years Ireland and its capital have been home to a thriving film industry meaning there are plenty of opportunities to see homegrown tales translated to the big screen and lots of real-life movie locations to spot.
Essential films to watch before your trip
Get a dose of history – complete with some Hollywood inaccuracies – by watching Michael Collins (1996). Liam Neeson brings the Irish icon to life magnificently and the film itself is a decent portrayal of the broad strokes of the fight for Irish independence, touching briefly on the beginning of the civil war that follows. Being a historical drama, it makes good use of Dublin’s Georgian backdrops, and a location tour doubles up as an introduction to the city’s most important historical attractions: Dublin Castle; the Four Courts; City Hall; and Kilmainham Gaol.
The Commitments (1991) takes viewers into the tough economic realities of 1980s’ Dublin to the accompaniment of a rousing soundtrack. A whopping 44 Dublin locations were used in the movie but many of them have been redeveloped since then. Eagle-eyed viewers can still visit some important settings for the band’s musical journey though, including churches on Sheriff Street and Gardiner Street and Mansion House which was disguised as the Westley Hotel.
Once (2006) is a charming tale of a Dublin busker and Czech flower-seller who bond over their mutual love of music while wandering the streets of the city. Relive the movie’s opening scene by visiting Grafton Street and listening to an eclectic mix of real-life buskers, or recreate the film’s bittersweet ending by finding a quiet time to stroll through Temple Bar.
Completing the tuneful trio, Sing Street (2016) is a coming-of-age story about a teenager dealing with a change in school, falling in love, and going on a musical exploration of his own. It perfectly encapsulates that generation’s need to look outward for creative and personal fulfilment and you can experience some of those moments by wandering along Synge Street, idling in tiny St Catherine’s Park, or looking over to London from Dun Laoghaire Harbour (just like the characters do in the movie).
Spot the film locations
Dublin is also the setting for other famous films, though cunningly disguised as somewhere completely different. One of the better known examples is Educating Rita (1983) where Trinity College makes a photogenic stand-in for the University of Liverpool. Phoenix Park’s People Garden and the polished interior of the Stag’s Head also provide backdrops to the comedy.
Dublin seems to lend itself to romance; it was also the main shooting location for Love Rosie (2014), despite the bulk of the action meant to be in an unidentified English town. It’s hard not to feel a bit loved up when exploring the charming streets of Stoneybatter, the Victorian-style indoor market of George’s Street Arcade and the dreamy coastline of Howth village.
Another romantic comedy, Leap Year (2010), is perhaps renowned for being one of the most inaccurate representations of Irish geography, showing all sorts of landscapes in completely wrong parts of the country, but it does manage to beautifully capture a romantic stroll in St Stephen’s Green that will have you adding it to your itinerary in no time.
Small screen settings
Dark, gothic TV horror gets a look in, thanks to Dublin’s fabulously preserved Georgian architecture and cobblestone streets which have provided gorgeous backdrops to both Penny Dreadful and Ripper Street. Spot some of the sets at Dublin Castle, Henrietta Street and Rainsford Street.
Fans of The Tudors will want to head to impressively preserved Drimnagh Castle, the only castle left in Ireland with a water-filled moat, which served as several locations in the series, including the Tower of London and Hever Castle. Visitors to Christ Church Cathedral may recognise it as where Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ King Henry wedded Anne Boleyn in season two.
Grab your cinema tickets
If you simply need a cinematic fix while you’re here, there is often some themed film festival in the city, ranging from LGBT movies to international documentaries. The biggest is the Dublin International Film Festival in February, but if you miss that, the Irish Film Institute always runs a diverse range of programming which includes a focus on Irish film.
Old and new classics
You might not find the following films locations in Dublin itself, but the movies are still worth watching for a greater understanding of your destination.
Song of the Sea (2014) and the Secret of Kells (2009) are two beautiful animated films that introduce some lesser known elements of Irish mythology and culture and are critically-acclaimed homegrown productions.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) was mainly filmed in the wildest part of County Cork, and its detailed and sympathetic portrait of the Irish Civil War makes it essential viewing to understand the conflict that ripped Dublin – and the rest of the country – apart. It remains one of the more accurate historical dramas and is an excellent introduction to a painful episode in the country’s past.
And finally all-time classic sitcom Father Ted (1995-1998) may be 20 years old but will forever remain an essential introduction to the Irish sense of humour and key cultural reference – if you ever find yourself stuck for conversation with locals, you can’t go too wrong by throwing a Father Ted joke into the mix.