Oscars nominations show we are in a golden era for Irish talent on screen

There’s one man everyone is talking about today, and that’s Paul Mescal. At age 26, after a much-deserved breakout from the BBC’s 2020 adaptation of Normal People, he has been nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in Aftersun, Charlotte Hall’s indie drama about a father-daughter relationship. The actor’s name is trending on Twitter, where the singer-songwriter Orla Gartland has deemed today “Paul Mescal day”.

Mescal, who has become something of a cult figure (not least for his now rumouredly called-off engagement to the musician Phoebe Bridgers) and a lot of a sex symbol (the dating columnist Annie Lord wrote an entire article for VICE in 2020 on the appeal of his Normal People character, Connell’s, “little neck chain”), has drawn praise and congratulations on an individual level, but his nomination is also part of a broader trend.

He is one of five Irish actors, all first-time nominees, to be shortlisted for an Oscar this year: Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan for Best Supporting Actor, Kerry Condon for Best Supporting Actress, and Colin Farrell for Best Actor – all in Martin McDonagh’s brooding dark comedy The Banshees of Inisherin.

Altogether, Ireland has bagged 14 Oscar nominations – perhaps most notable of all is Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl, up for Best International Feature, the first Irish-language film ever to be nominated. Joe Duffy, a radio host for Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE, joked that the ceremony should be relocated from LA to Dublin.

Brendan Gleeson, left, and Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin. (Photo: Searchlight Pictures via AP)
Brendan Gleeson, left, and Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin. (Photo: Searchlight Pictures via AP)

Gleeson is not a stranger to awards ceremonies, having received numerous nominations and several wins over his long career, but has never been nominated for an Oscar.

In Banshees he is perfect: both grouchy and serene; spiritually involved yet infuriatingly petty. Keoghan is a crucial presence in the film, cutting through other characters’ baleful wallowing with a fresh face and unexpected insights. And Condon shines as Siobhan, Pádraic’s sister: the only character to be able to see beyond the minute daily occurrences of their tiny island.

Banshees is itself up for five more Oscars: Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing and – the big one – Best Picture, overtaking In The Name of the Father, which has held the Irish record for most nominations (seven) since 1994.

This is not unexpected, since Banshees also cleaned up at the Golden Globes earlier this month, taking Best Comedy or Musical, Best Screenplay and Best Comedy Actor (Colin Farrell).

It’s not only the 2023 Oscars where Irish talent is getting official recognition. Many of the heavily decorated TV shows of the past few years have been Irish, too. Northern Irish Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls, widely considered to be one of the greatest sitcoms in recent memory, won multiple awards during its run between 2018 and 2022 from the Royal Television Society to the British Comedy Guide, and has been nominated for two Baftas.

Today, it has been nominated for four top awards at the National Comedy Awards: Best Scripted Comedy, Outstanding Comedy Actress (for its lead part, Erin, played by Saiorse-Monica Jackson) and Outstanding Supporting Role (one each for Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, who plays Erin’s boisterous friend Michelle, and Siobhán McSweeney, the gloriously cynical Sister Michael).

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Banshees, Derry Girls and the two Sally Rooney TV adaptations – Normal People and Conversations with Friends – have Irishness, and Irish politics, at their core. Derry Girls has provided many young viewers with a preliminary education on the Troubles; the fraught relationships in The Banshees of Inisherin reflect deep national fractures following the Irish civil war; and Rooney’s novels – as is often discussed voraciously on social media – are underscored by musings on class and wealth in contemporary Ireland. Sean O’Neill wrote in Gawker in 2021, when Rooney’s latest book, Beautiful World, Where Are You, was released, that her Irishness was not necessarily the sidenote that most critics considered it to be, but the work’s definitive quality.

Irish writers and actors are enjoying success in broader contexts, too. Sharon Horgan won a Bafta last year for the middle-class mum sitcom Motherland, and has scooped multiple nominations and wins for her work on Catastrophe.

Aisling Bea won the Best TV Actor at the NME Awards in 2022 for her role in This Way Up, an outstanding dramedy about a young woman rebuilding her life after a breakdown (Bea also wrote the show, and her co-star was Horgan).

I’d be surprised if Mescal won Best Actor – but only because it seems more likely to go to Farrell. This is a huge moment for Irish artists everywhere.

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