• Film

The Lore of “The Banshees of Inisherin” – A Distinctly Irish Tale on Film

If you were a fan of 2008’s In Bruges, you may be pleased to learn that The Banshees of Inisherin provides the same amount of black humor, chaos, and general shenanigans between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

Once again, under the writing and directing tutelage of Martin McDonagh – who grew his teeth as a playwright – the exchanges between Farrell, who plays the dimwitted yet loyal Pádraic, and Gleeson, playing the intent yet fickle Colm, are dramatic and brutal, biting and tender, and often terrifying.

The story is set in the fictional island of Inisherin but filming took place on the very real island of Inishmore, part of the fabled but real Aron Islands. This is the very same island where Man of Aran, a 1934 fictional documentary/ethnofiction was filmed. Man of Aran has since been criticized for portraying a very unsophisticated Ireland of old, with its romantic notions of a simple and non-existent Irish lifestyle. Contrastingly, The Banshees of Inisherin embraces real Irish history and folklore.

The film centers around two lifelong friends, Pádraic and Colm, who are in the midst of a breakup. Colm would have much preferred to make an “Irish goodbye” (unceremoniously sneaking away or, as they say now, ghosting). Pádraic demands a long, drawn-out explanation of why this is happening from his brother, so to speak.


The Banshees of Inisherin is set in 1923 and foils as a cutting metaphor for the Irish Civil War. Conflict was everywhere. Even Michael Collins, a hero of the Irish War of Independence (see also the film adaptation of his story), found himself at odds with many of his countrymen during the subsequent Civil War.

Colm serves as a similar metaphoric vehicle. He has much to lose by chopping-off the very fingers that, he hopes, will play him into musical immortality – as opposed to maintaining the status quo and wasting away his life in a pub, with Pádraic.

Then there’s the infamous female spirit in Irish folklore, the Banshee, who is usually identified by her screaming, wailing, or shrieking. She is said to sing when a family member dies or is about to die. This is what makes her screech so creepy and uninvited. In The Banshees of Inisherin the role of Mrs. McCormick, the pipe-dirty old woman who the entire town avoids, would be this character. And her dark forebodings did seem to predict when death was on the horizon.

The pets both men own and prize also serve as metaphors. Pádraig becomes inconsolable when he loses Jenny, his miniature donkey (it’s no coincidence that the donkey is known as the literal butt joke of the animal world). Colm, on the other hand, owns a Border Collie, widely considered to be the most intelligent dog breed but, also, a dog that strictly abides by the doctrine of its master. In this case, Colm could be seen as a symbol of individualism (a colonial or English ideal). Such doctrine doesn’t quite gel with Pádraig nor with the rest of the folk in Inisherin.

In the end The Banshees of Inisherin is way more than a twisted buddy flick and/or a dark comedy. It’s also an astute take on Irish history and folklore.