A Geek’s Guide to St. Patrick’s Day

This is not an article about drinking. Sorry to disappoint.

I may bring up some drinking here or there, and maybe I’ll recommend a brew or two if it’s geeky enough. But no, this is an article all about celebrating the accomplishments of Irish artists and arts in geek culture.

This is a bit of a personal article for me, my great-grandparents came from Ireland which makes me a part of the Irish diaspora. It’s my hope that I can show you that Irish culture has contributed more to our passionate and geeky lives than simply a bottle of Guinness.

The Irish actors we all fell in love with

There’s a bunch here, all of them born in Ireland and yes, about 80% of them were in Harry Potter.

Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson as Master Qui-gon Jinn in Star Wars.

First up is Master Qui-gon Jinn himself, Liam Neeson, who was born in Ballymena in Northern Ireland. Perhaps best known now for the Taken movies, Neeson rose to stardom with his role in Schindler’s List but we know him best from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the voice of Father in Fallout 3, the voice of Fujimoto in Ponyo, and (this one’s a bit of a deep cut) his role in 1983’s Krull. The character’s name may have been Kegan, but everyone I know calls him “Hey, look, it’s Liam Neeson.”

Sarah Bolger

Sarah Bolger as Jade from Into the Badlands.

Dublin’s own Sarah Bolger is probably not an actress that you’ll immediately recognize, but she’s already racked up an impressive career. I know her best as Jade from Into the Badlands, but she’s also starred in Agent Carter, Once Upon a Time, Locke and Key (not the Netflix adaptation), BioShock 2, and The Spiderwick Chronicles (which I may have been the only person to see).

Richard Harris

Ricard Harris as the original Dumbledore.

That’s right, the original Dumbledore was an Irishman! Richard Harris was born in Limerick (and yes, the bawdy poems do take their name from the city) and went on to have 76 acting credits to his name on IMDB, and countless stage performances. In addition to being everyone’s favorite old wizard, he was also best known for his role in The Count of Monte Cristo and Camelot.

Brendan Gleeson

Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter.

Yet another Harry Potter veteran, Brendan Gleeson originally came from Dublin. In addition to his many appearances as “Mad-Eye” Moody he was also in The Secret of Kells, In Bruges, Song of the Sea, and Assassin’s Creed (the movie). He is the father of our next actor.

Domhnall Gleeson

Domnall Gleeson as General Hux.

This time we get a Weasley from the Harry Potter movies, but Domnall Gleeson (the son of Brendan Gleeson) has an impressive career outside of the wizarding world. He was also in About Time as the time-traveling Tim looking for a girlfriend, the intensely relatable Caleb in Ex Machina, and as everyone’s favorite punching bag, General Hux, in the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy.

Ciarán Hinds

Ciarán Hinds as Caesar in HBO's Rome.

The man who would be Caesar was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and is probably best known for his role as the Roman dictator in HBO’s Rome and King Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones. Ciarán Hinds was also in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, both Frozen movies, Hitman: Agent 47, John Carter (where he also starred with most of the cast of Rome), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

Kerry Condon

Kerry Nondon in HBO's Rome.

Kerry Condon is another veteran of HBO’s Rome. Originally from Tipperary, Kerry played Octavia of the Julii on the show she shared with Ciarán Hinds but you may know her more recently as the voice of F.R.I.D.A.Y. from the MCU. She’s been in a number of other tv shows and movies such as Better Call Saul and Ray Donovan but she’s also going to be in the upcoming movie The Banshees of Inisherin alongside Brendan Gleeson.

Katie McGrath

Kate McGrath as Morgana in Merlin.

Coming to us now from Ashford is the woman who you may remember as Morgana on the BBC production of Merlin, Katie McGrath (whose name, by the way, is pronounced “MacGra”). She’s also done a number of other geeky projects including King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Jurassic World, The Tudors, and Supergirl. Fun fact about her: in addition to being stunningly beautiful, she’s also a huge nerd and collects Star Wars figurines.

Colm Meaney

Colm Meaney in Star Trek.

There’s an old joke that you can’t make a movie without at least giving Colm Meaney a shot to be in it. It’s one of those jokes where it’s funny because it’s true. As of writing this article, the Dublin-born Meaney has 139 acting credits to his name with no sign of slowing down and has appeared in everything from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to The Simpsons. But us geeks know him best for his role as Chief Miles O’Brien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (and Next Gen, too), and (if you’re me) as the villainous Cowen on Stargate: Atlantis.

The “Real” Black Irish

So, there are too many actors for me to list here and other articles will do a better job of listing all of them, so I want to take a moment to highlight one more actress.

The term “black Irish” refers to people like me—dark-haired Irishmen and women with skin that tans more easily than our fair-haired cousins and usually with dark eyes. We are also often called “Spanish Irish” in the belief that we are descended from wrecked Spanish sailors who married the locals. That’s a load of Blarney, but I bring it up to talk about something that many people forget…

Much like with America and Great Britain, the term “Irish” is changing to include more people with different skin colors.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce Ruth Negga, a half-Ethiopian Irishwoman who was raised in Limerick. She is best known for her role in the movie Loving, but we nerds will recognize her best as Raina in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and as ultra-cool and ultra-violent Tulip O’Hare in Preacher.

Ruth Negga in Marvel Agents of Shield.

Irish mythology, culture and history in video games

Despite the fact that Ireland has an incredibly rich history, a vibrant culture, and a kick-ass mythology, it is incredibly underrepresented in video games.

Usually, when we get video games that feature Irish history or culture, it’s usually a background feature. Here’s a video game about Vikings, oh look, there’s Ireland. Here’s a videogame about samurai and ninjas… but the protagonist is Irish.

Some examples that break that mold are Crusader Kings III and Mount and Blade: Warband: Viking Conquest. These are actually some of the best I’ve ever seen and allow the player to play as Irish characters. Many other games just slap a fresh coat that says “Ireland” on it and call that a day, but those two games did an excellent job.

Wrath of the Druids, a DLC to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Wrath of the Druids

Then there is also Wrath of the Druids, a DLC to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla where the main character is invited to visit Ireland at the behest of their cousin, the Viking king of Dublin. While there, you’re able to visit Dublin, the Giant’s Causeway, the Hill of Tara, and more. A stunning visual representation of early medieval Ireland.

There are other video games out there inspired by Irish folklore but most of them are either A) super old, B) not very good, or C) not the least bit geeky.

Six geeky movies to watch on St. Paddy’s Day

I’ve told you about a bunch of actors to look out for, and a couple of video games, but now I’d like to introduce you to three geeky movies that are at least related to the Emerald Isle.

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

Don’t go away! I promise this is worth it. This classic Disney live-action film follows the misadventures of Darby O’Gill, a likable layabout, who gets it into his head to try and steal the Faery King’s pot of gold.

This movie features a very young Sean Connery, who is doing his best not to sound Scottish. This is a goofy film, but it also has one of the most accurate depictions of the fairies in Irish folklore, including going so far as to have the incredible detail of showing the frightening banshee combing her hair as she screams for the dead.

Ondine (2009)

Ondine (2009)

This movie, starring Dublin’s own Colin Farrell, is about a down on his luck fisherman who one day pulls an unconscious woman named Ondine out of the ocean with his nets. She speaks with a strange accent, gets along great with the fisherman’s incredibly precocious daughter, and can make fish jump into the man’s nets when she sings.

The daughter is the first to ask the question: is this woman with a French name really a regular woman or is she a selkie—a seal woman out of folklore who can change into and out of her seal skin.

The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

And speaking of selkies, we have this movie about a young girl who goes to stay with her grandparents on the western coast of Ireland, where she uncovers a mystery surrounding her abducted baby brother and the connection her family has to the island home they abandoned.

Based off of the book by Rosalie K. Fry, this is actually one of my favorite movies of all time and as much as it is about the story of young Fiona and her search for her baby brother Jamie, it is also about the Irish people’s love of storytelling as there are multiple stories within stories in this beautiful film.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Ok, I’m cheating on this one, but it is the best representation of the old Irish concept of the faeries. The original Irish faeries were called the Tuatha de Dannan, the Tribes of the Goddess Danu, who were ferocious warriors and more like Tolkien’s elves than the little people with butterfly wings we think of today.

Guillermo del Toro’s movie follows Hellboy as he tries to stop Prince Nuada (the name of the Dannan high king in Irish mythology) from taking control of the unstoppable Golden Army. It is heavily based on Irish mythology (including the heavy usage of a spear instead of a sword).

The animated movies of Tomm Moore

The Secret of Kells (2009)
The Secret of Kells

I know, I’m cheating by listing this one too. Or at least by only listing these three movies in one section.

Tomm Moore is an Irish animator known for the award-winning movies The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea (2014), and Wolfwalkers (2020). These movies are beautiful windows into Irish culture and the love of magic and stories. They also have a Studio Ghibli level of excellence and heart within their storytelling.

The Secret of Kells tells the story of a young monk during the Viking invasions who, with the help of a fairy named Aisling, uses his skill as an artist to create beauty in a time of war and brutality. Song of the Sea is the story of two siblings, one a normal boy and the other a selkie girl who can don her coat and turn into a seal, who try to flee the city in order to free the fairy creatures who have become trapped in the modern world.

And finally, there’s Wolfwalkers, set during the reign of Oliver Cromwell (who, in trying to put down Irish rebels, decided the best way to achieve peace was to eradicate the Irish people and replace them with English settlers) where the daughter of a wolf hunter tasked with exterminating the “evil” wolves befriends a girl from a tribe of people who can turn into wolves.

Geeky beers to drink during St. Pats

Ok, fine. You made it this far, so here are some beers you might like. None of them are from Ireland, but I figure you might like them.

St.Patty's Day beers.

Conan the Barbeerian

This one from 8 Bit Brewing just makes me smile. It’s named after Conan the Barbarian, but it’s very obviously a picture of He-Man with a Skyrim helmet. This is an Imperial IPA with a rich, opaque hop. And don’t forget to check out 8 Bit’s other beers, all of which are chock full of geeky references.

Brooklyn Brewery Defender

This is the official beer of New York Comic Con that regularly changes the superhero featured on the label. This is also a golden-hued IPA with tropical fruit hops.

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster

This beer from Short’s Brew features a deep-cut Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference that is, thankfully, much tastier than a towel. Which is good, because this Belgian style double India pale ale features Australian Galaxy hops for a unique taste.

Geeky Irish books to read

I’m a big fan of books (if you haven’t guessed), so I’m going to give you a few great books and series of books to read if you’d like to take a magical walk down an Irish rabbit hole.

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

Really, this section could be labeled “Anything by Eoin Colfer” (whose first name, by the way, is pronounced just like “Owen”), but I figured I’d take you all back down memory lane with the “Irish Moriarty,” Artemis Fowl.

The series of children’s stories follow the adventures of Artemis Fowl, the twelve-year-old criminal mastermind, whose adventures gradually become less and less criminal as Artemis is forced to work with Holly Short, the first female fairy to join the prestigious LEPRecon force (that joke makes me laugh every time).

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

Fun fact: I’ve met Eoin Colfer two or three times in person now and I have to admit that he is one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I’ve never cried so hard from laughing as when he told the story about when his wife told him to jump out of an airplane (don’t make that face, she bought him tickets to go skydiving).

Only the Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn

The Artemis Fowl books are written for children. Morgan Llywelyn’s book… is not. In fact, this book needs to come with a trigger warning. While it’s no The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, Only the Stones Survive does depict a genocide (albeit not an intentional one).

The story is about the coming of humans into Ireland and is told through the eyes of Joss, a young man of the Tuatha de Dannan, who manages to survive his people’s slaughter and lead what remains of them underground into the fairy hills that will be their new realm. At the same time, it tells the story of Amergin, the poet who helps lead the Gaels to their new home only to abandon it to be with Shinan, the Dannan maid he’s fallen in love with.

Only the Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn

This beautiful book is written by Morgan Llywelyn, the author of many books about Irish mythology and history. This book is actually a retelling and reimagining of her first book, Bard, which was all about the tragic love story of Amergin and Shinan.

Finally, I would like to say that this book reminds me of nothing less than The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss in tone, pacing, and scope. Any fans of Rothfuss should definitely give this book a try.

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill

What’s a history book doing here? Is that a mistake?

Nope, this book is here for a reason. Born of Irish-American parents, Thomas Cahill’s book from 1995 (part of the Hinges of History series) tells the story of the part that Ireland played in shaping what would become modern civilization.

If you’re curious about what the ancient Irish would have thought about Batman, how medieval monks used to make doodles and sex jokes and poems about their cat in sacred texts, how ancient Irish law allowed for one-night stands, or how a mild-mannered foreigner became more Irish than the natives and changed the world by being nice, then this is a book for you!

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill

In my humble opinion, it is also the best book that describes the complicated and often contradictory nature of the Irish people and the love that the people of Irish descent (like myself) still have for a country they haven’t seen in generations.

If you read this article and wondered why anyone would be so galvanized to write an article about Irish culture with only a begrudging acknowledgment to alcohol, then this is the book to show you why.

But I’m not Irish! Why should I celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day?

Ok, kudos to you if you made it this far in this article while thinking this question. Really, I’m very impressed. Hopefully, I have an answer for you, and an answer for anyone else who have their own friends asking this question.

So, you’re not Irish. Do you know who else isn’t Irish? Saint Patrick.

The man who would later become St. Patrick was born in what is now Wales, where he was imprisoned and sold into slavery in Ireland around the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. He escaped from slavery and fled back to his home, where he eventually became a priest.

Then he did something spectacular: he went back to Ireland. He had fallen in love with his captors and wanted to help them. Now, this is a secular article and so I’m not going to get all religious on you, but introducing Christianity was not the only impressive thing he did.

St. Patrick who ended slavery is Ireland.

As a former slave, he outlawed slavery and turned one of the biggest exporters of slaves into a slave-free state. All of this at a time when slavery was still widely practiced all over Europe. And he was the first person to put down into writing that slavery was wrong.

This is why we celebrate St. Patrick. To celebrate the life of a man who conquered a nation without any bloodshed (there never were any snakes for him to banish), and to celebrate the culture and language of a people who were the victims of imperialism. A people whose language and culture were almost erased, but who ultimately survived.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Geeks!

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