The Banshees of Inisherin: Black Humour and Metaphors in Ireland

The Banshees of Inisherin

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin launched in 2022 to critical acclaim. It stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Kerry Condon.

Set during the Irish Civil War, it’s an unusual story of two best friends. One of whom decides he doesn’t want to speak to the other one anymore.

Nihilistic Trials of Friendship on The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin is set in 1923 during the Irish Civil War. It’s a black tradicomedy affair, with great big heaping doses of existential despair, nihilism, and general absurdity.

All to the backdrop of some astonishing Irish countryside.

The similarities to classic sitcom Father Ted are apparent, with a meandering sense of small town isolation and meaninglessness. And, ahoy there, there be spoilers ahead

To be clear, the film is set towards the tail end of the war. And events take place on the fictional Irish isle of Inisherin. On the island, there’s the folk musician Colm Doherty (Gleeson) and his best mate Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell).

One day, Colm decides he doesn’t want to be Pádraic’s friend. And he informs the man to stop talking to him.

Pádraic has trouble comprehending this and confides with his sister Siobhán (Condon) over his issues with Colm.

This reveals the various trials and tribulations between these three characters.

Colm tells Siobhán he finds her brother “dull” and he wants to spend the rest of his life composing music. Siobhán, unmarried and single, is super sharp and likes reading. She lives with her brother in a small shack, but she’s prone to acerbic outburst.

They’re unhappy with their unfulfilling lives.

Except for Pádraic, who’s a simple natured man and enjoys the relative peace and quiet of life on the island. But Colm’s rejection of him leads to increasing moodiness and a more confrontational attitude.

Fed up by Pádraic’s refusal to leave him be, Colm threatens to start cutting his fingers off with sheep shears if he’s not left alone to compose.

Pádraic doesn’t accept this and continues to annoy Colm, who then begins to hack his fingers off with sheep shears. He throws the fingers at Pádraic’s door as a reminder to follow his orders.

Whilst that plays out, local lad Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan) lingers around the family. He’s beaten by his father, but maintains an upbeat attitude.

He even makes a pass on Siobhán.

Siobhán tires of life on the island, so moves to central Ireland. She encourages Pádraic to join her, sending him letters telling him to move. But he stubbornly refuses.

Then one day his donkey chokes to death on one of Colm’s fingers.

This leads to the final confrontation between the pair, with Pádraic threatening to burn down Colm’s home. This he duly does, as Colm remains emotionless about these developments.

And the film plays out with the pair acknowledging each other on a beach, an uncertain future ahead for them.

Yeah. That’s the film! Certainly it’s packed out with Biblical metaphors and, like films such as The Shining (1980), its unclear ending will have film buffs making theories long into the night on this one.

Death and ageing are other themes addressed, with the concept of leaving a legacy in the aftermath of your demise. And whether it’s worth being a prick to achieve some semblance of fame for 100 years after you die (before everyone starts forgetting about you anyway).

Lots of existential considerations there, then, (see Being and Nothingness).

First, we must address the quality of the acting.

The cast is terrific. Gleeson, Farrell, and the brilliant Kerry Condon make the film what it is. With some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see in a film.

Complementing that is a witty script that’s dialogue heavy, darkly humourous, and with a fair few laugh-out-loud moments. These are all massive positives and reasons to watch the film.

It’s just… the plot, man.

We enjoyed the film. We won’t be watching it again, but we have to say the narrative arc of lost fingers and feuding friends didn’t really have much of a profound impact on us.

Fan theories already exist, suggesting the much older Colm’s behaviour is an attempt to force his younger friend Pádraic into a more fulfilling life.

But the film is strangely uneventful, even with the house burning scene at its conclusion. It’s just packed out with metaphors and left us feeling a bit flat.

We’re delighted to say loads of people love the film. Great for them! But for us this was an enjoyable film to take in, largely due to its endearing performances.

The Banshees of Inisherin’s Production

Off its $20 million budget, The Banshees of Inisherin was a moderate hit. It’s gone on to make back $45.3 million.

But it’s a critical darling and received nine Oscar nominations (the winners of which will be decided late in March 2023).

British-Irish director and playwright Martin McDonagh previously worked with Farrell and Gleeson on the 2008 black comedy-drama In Bruges (2008), which also starred Ralph Fiennes.

The involvement of Farrell and Gleeson again suggested Banshees of Inisherin was something of a sequel (or prequel). But it isn’t.

Now, we must also doff our caps to Kerry Condon, too, who’s probably most famous for her role in Better Call Saul. But she’s now Golden Globe nominated for this performance. Rightly feckin’ so!

The film was shot in and around Inishmore (Inis Mór), a complex of islands in Galyway Bay (west coast of Ireland). Other locations included Achill Island and Country Mayo. After this, we expect an increase in tourists wanting to see that stunning countryside for themselves.

The shoot began in August 2021 and wrapped in October.

Production crew took great extremes to match the wardrobe with its contemporary setting. Irish costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh was integral to that process, using cloth that was homespun by an elderly lady in the local community.

Mhaoldomhnaigh told Filmaker Magazine in December 2022:

“I can imagine Siobhán thinking, ‘Oh my God, the winter’s going to be very cold. I’m going to knit him a jumper,’ then making the little collar as a kind of personal touch… there’s a beautiful naiveté to the way he dresses, but it’s very tender as well, that idea that she adds this little touch to it. I think it says so much about him and his relationship with Siobhán, and his relationship with where he lives and his Irishness.”

Irish folk music is ever-present, too, headed by Colm and his desire to pen memorable ditties. Brendan Gleeson performed all this work himself, as he plays the fiddle.

Reminding us of Nic Cage’s outstanding performance in Pig (2021), where he was bitten by the film’s pig actor, Farrell also suffered issues on Banshees. He was kicked by Jenny the miniature donkey, bitten by the dog actor who is Colm’s pet, and almost driven into the Irish ocean by a horse on a cart.

Perhaps appropriately, based on those mishaps, Banshees uses “feck” with wild abandon, which did have us thinking about Father Ted constantly. Not since that sitcom has the word enjoyed so much airtime.

Despite the copious amounts of beer characters in the film consume, no one bellows “DRINK!” (unfortunately).


  1. I appreciated the script, the location, the acting… but boy did I feel like s@*! when I left the theater. The donkey was a wrenching kick in the gut but the mood continued to career downhill from there. Can’t recommend it to friends but possibly to enemies with whom I need plausible deniability.

    Liked by 1 person

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