Movie Reviews

What Are The Banshees of Inisherin? (It’s Complicated)

Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Banshees of Inisherin (2022).Martin McDonagh’s latest movie The Banshees of Inisherin is earning stellar reviews and won the Golden Globe for best comedy motion picture, but the secret meaning behind its title is not necessarily clear on first viewing — so what are the banshees of Inisherin? The movie reunites In Bruges co-stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson with the screenwriter and director of that cult hit, Martin McDonagh. Like In Bruges, the movie is a dark comedy that ends up taking a violent turn in its closing stretch.

The Banshees of Inisherin tells the story of an escalating feud between Farrell’s sweet Pádraic and his former friend, Gleeson’s Colm when the latter suddenly decides he doesn’t want to talk to the former. The Batman’s new Joker Barry Keoghan plays Dominic, a local boy who helps Pádraic attempt to work out why Colm isn’t his friend anymore, while Kerry Condon plays Pádraic’s exasperated sister Siobhán. Despite the title of the comedy-drama, there are no literal banshees on Inisherin in McDonagh’s movie. However, Colm does compose a song by that name, and a local old woman, Mrs. McCormack, acts as a harbinger of death and plays the role of a non-supernatural banshee equivalent. But what are the banshees of Inisherin? Here’s The Banshees of Inisherin title meaning explained.

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In The Banshees of Inisherin, Pádraic briefly reconciles with Colm when he asks his former friend, an accomplished musician, about the new song he is working on. Colm tells him the song is called “The Banshees of Inisherin” and muses that banshees (Irish mythological figures whose unbearable howl warned of impending death) might be real. However, Colm says that if banshees are real, they may not even bother howling to warn of deaths anymore, and might simply stand by to watch people pass away. Pádraic doesn’t grasp what Colm is talking about, but it is the reason that the song “The Banshees of Inisherin” isn’t played in the Martin McDonagh movie in its entirety. Therefore, this is the best answer to “what are the banshees of Inisherin?”.

While the movie is set on the small island of Inisherin during the Irish Civil War, it should be noted that Inisherin isn’t an actual place. Rather, the movie was filmed in two separate places. First, Martin McDonagh’s movie was filmed on the Inis Mor, the largest island of the Aran Islands archipelago off the west coast of Ireland. The area is known for religious sited, coastal views, and monuments, and the location often acts as the backdrop for Pádraic and Colm’s conversations. The second location Achill, Ireland, which is also off the west coast, though it’s connected to a mainland through the bridge. These two locations make up the setting of where The Banshees of Inisherin was filmed.

Despite Colm ostensibly wanting distance from Pádraic so that he can work on his music and cement his legacy as a fiddle player, viewers never hear The Banshees of Inisherin in its entirety during the movie. This allows The Banshees of Inisherin’s story to refute Colm’s belief that isolation, leaning into despair, and navel-gazing are the root of meaningful art and self-expression. Early on in their feud, Colin Farrell’s character points out to Colm that acting less friendly and more aloof isn’t a conduit to making better, or more impactful, music. The Banshees of Inisherin proves Pádraic right by not showcasing Colm’s song.

Instead, The Banshees of Inisherin focuses on Colm’s gruesome acts of self-mutilation, with the character cutting off a finger every time Pádraic tries to talk to him. This unhinged act ironically means that possible Joker 2 Jim Gordon Brendan Gleeson’s Colm is left unable to play his instrument by the end of the comedy-drama movie, while Pádraic is committed to continuing their feud until his former friend is dead. In The Banshees of Inisherin, Colm’s music has no staying power, but his decision to end a friendship has a dramatic, eventually fatal knock-on effect.

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The elderly Mrs. McCormack is depicted as a nosy old woman in The Banshees of Inisherin opening. However, as things progress, her character takes on a more sinister significance. She warns Pádraic that there will be a death or two on the island before the month is out, sadistically implying that Pádraic or Siobhán (or both) might die. While Pádraic and Siobhán survive, the fact that Dominic and Pádraic’s pet pony Jenny die means Mrs. McCormack was ultimately right. However, this doesn’t make the old woman the eponymous banshee of Inisherin – nor does the creepy sight of her summoning Siobhán from across the lake.

Mrs. McCormack is another example of The Banshees of Inisherin‘s story depicting self-fulfilling prophecies. Her prediction is vague enough that it was almost guaranteed to come true (particularly if animal deaths are included). Meanwhile, the way she taunts Pádraic worsens his paranoia and drives him deeper into his feud with Colm, which results in the confrontation that indirectly leads to Jenny’s death. Thus, the title of The Banshees of Inisherin title doesn’t refer to a creepy supporting character or Colm’s song, but rather to the way that the island’s insular, parochial culture brings about distrust, violence, and eventual tragedy.

While the answer to “what are the banshees of Inisherin?” may remain elusive, many are curious whether the film is based on a true story. Turns out the Golden Globe winner is a complete work of fiction, however, Martin McDonagh did draw from a lot of real-life history to craft its setting. The Banshees of Inisherin is set during the backdrop of the Irish civil war, and explosions can often be heard from the island and are even commented on by characters on occasion. The 1923 setting shows that the conflict had been going on for about a year at that point. The war itself is cleverly reflected in the war between Pádraic and Colm, who were once as close as brothers and turned into violent foes. It’s a telling thing that The Banshees of Inisherin is set during a real-life civil war, as the events that unfold between the two friends mirror that setting on a much smaller scale.

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