Want Colin Farrell’s ‘Banshees of Inisherin’ Sweaters? You’ll Need to Find an Octogenarian Knitter

Costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh tells IndieWire that she issued a warning to the woman responsible for the film's knitwear: "When you see these sweaters next, they might look a little different.”
Colin Farrell in "The Banshees of Inisherin"
"The Banshees of Inisherin"
Jonathan Hession / courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” tells a bittersweet tale of a longtime friendship turned sour, using the Irish Civil War both as a backdrop and a metaphor for its main theme of fading amities. It’s an allegory that supplied versatile costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh the perfect context to create a distinctive look, one that seamlessly marries accurate period details with the subtle liberties taken by Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh’s designs.

“It’s a small story set on an island off the coast of another island,” Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh told IndieWire. “That really gives you an opportunity.” The intimate nature of the film — centered on the psyche of the two dueling friends, naïve and decent Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and hard-nosed and pained Colm (Brendan Gleeson) — was her starting point, alongside McDonagh’s overarching vision. “Martin wanted it to be cinematic,” she said of the director’s wishes for the costumes. Together, they aimed to create a heightened reality akin to the magic realism of author Gabriel García Márquez.

In that spirit, Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh maintained a particular look throughout “The Banshees of Inisherin”: ensembles consisting of waistcoats, jackets, and trousers for men, and red petticoats and black shawls for women, embracing the traditional outfit of the era in the West of Ireland. “That whole period is hugely important,” she said. “The Republic of Ireland came into being between 1916 and 1923. So everything is true to time. The silhouettes are all correct — we wanted those shapes on the little roads by the sea, on the way to church.” Since the interiors were mostly dark, she played with patterns and creative pops of color, synchronizing them with the shades of the locale’s lush nature and wild landscapes.

Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh mostly stuck with timeless Irish fabrics for her garments, all custom built out of materials like Irish linen and Donegal tweed with gray and cream used as base tones. For the film’s rich collection of cozy sweaters — reds, purples, blues and charcoals — she worked with costume supervisor Judith Devlin’s neighbor Delia Barry, a uniquely skilled octogenarian knitter Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh calls “an amazing woman.” The requirements of the film prompted a warning to Barry: “‘Okay Delia, when you see these sweaters next, they might look a little different.’”

Indeed they did, thanks to the meticulous efforts of a gifted team of breakdown artists, who imbued the costumes with the details of the characters’ daily lives. “They are being battered by the sea,” Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh said. “They are working on land, cutting turf. Brendan and Colin really, really, really understand the importance of what a costume can bring to the character. They were engaged with the whole process,” which entailed dipping the costumes into a variety of “crazy products,” putting stones in pockets, tying garments up with twine, hanging them up, and in some cases, even burning them for a lived-in appearance. “Colin had a sweater that was a bit too zingy, too poppy. So we dipped it to knock the color back. We hand-dyed all of Brendan’s shirts. It’s all about getting the levels right.”

Brendan Gleeson and Martin McDonagh on set of the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
Brendan Gleeson and Martin McDonagh on set of “The Banshees of Inisherin”Jonathan Hession / courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Another complexity Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh faced was distinguishing the looks of Pádraic and Colm. “They’re living on this tiny island, so there are a lot of similarities in what they wear,” she said. “It’s really when they put on the outer layers that they become different.” One of the most distinct pieces of outerwear Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh created was worn by Gleeson: a long overcoat made of wool and lined with linen, paired with a substantial hat. The idea was to make the coat lightweight enough so that it could flap and have movement on a windy beach or boreen — an image Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh called, “Byron-esque.”

“People often talk about getting movement in women’s clothes,” she said. “We wanted to get that movement with him as well. Brendan is tall, he’s got great presence. So you get this silhouette: a romantic notion in the West of Ireland with a bit of a cowboy element. And we made the hat with quite a high crown. I can still see Brendan looking in the mirror and going, ‘Is this too much?’”

Elsewhere, Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh accentuated Pádraic’s boyish qualities with a newsboy cap, a common sight at the time from Ireland to New York. “Directors and DoPs can be very afraid of a hat because it’s throwing shadow onto the face and if the actor’s done that, their expression is being hidden. But I wanted him to have the hat on — everybody wore one to protect themselves from the elements.”

Kerry Condon in "The Banshees of Inisherin"
“The Banshees of Inisherin”Jonathan Hession / courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

For Siobhan (Kerry Condon), Pádraic’s worldly, intelligent sister who dreams of a better life, Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh preferred pieces with an up-to-date edge. For her wardrobe of distinct patterns, elegant ankle skirts and two-piece sets, she drew inspiration from archival photographs.

“There’s a huge history of immigration in Ireland,” Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh said. “There are fantastic photos. I even remember it from when I was a child. I had cousins in America; they would send parcels from there. And that goes right back to that idea of somebody leaving. Maybe Siobhan has been to the mainland, got some education and wanted to become a teacher. She is kind of like the feminist of Inisherin. She is thinking of, ‘How do I become independent?’”

Still, Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh incorporated understated nods to the Western Ireland traditions into Siobhan’s wardrobe. “We did a red coat and put black stripes on it, that recalls the customary red petticoats with the black stripes on the hem.” But then she also added a lovely yellow coat to the mix. “The yellow coat is her going away coat,” Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh said. “She’s stepping into a brave new world.”

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