There are plenty of things to set the pulses racing in The Banshees Of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh’s macabre black comedy set on an imaginary island off the west coast of Ireland during the Irish Civil War.
The superb acting and sweeping Irish scenery, for starters. The exquisite patchwork of green fields and drystone walls. The odd severed finger and drowned corpse. The joy of Jenny the donkey. Colin Farrell’s extraordinary eyebrows . . . the list goes on.
But despite winning a Bafta for best British Film and snagging nine Oscar nominations, for many people the most remarkable thing about this 114-minute masterpiece is the knitwear.
In particular, Colin Farrell’s dark red fisherman’s jumper with stockinette panels with moss stitch diamond and purl stitch criss-cross line motifs, separated by narrower columns of moss stitch — not forgetting the long, pointy collar. Brendan Gleeson’s thicker garter stitch blue knit with cross-rope cables. And Barry Keoghan’s purply collared pullover in fisherman’s rib stitch.
Esquire declared The Banshees the ‘next great knitwear film’ and Anthony Lane of The New Yorker remarks on the ‘suspiciously lovely’ jumpers.
Delia Barry, an 83-year-old widow from Greystones, County Wicklow, started knitting classes after her husband Paddy died suddenly back in 2010 after nearly 49 years of marriage
Colin Farrell’s jumper, sporting the flat, pointy collar that has attracted so much attention and knitted in Cushendale DK wool (from Kilkenny) on 4.5mm needles, was created by Delia
Meanwhile, social media has spun itself into a woolly frenzy.
‘Campaign for the [Oscar] Academy to include a knitwear category!’ cries one fan.
‘I thought about that red sweater for a week after seeing this incredible film,’ says another.
Some insist they’re now dashing to the cinema just to admire the magnificent jumpers — all of which were knitted by Delia Barry, an 83-year-old widow from Greystones, County Wicklow.
She threw herself into her local knitting groups when her husband Paddy died suddenly back in 2010 after nearly 49 years of marriage. ‘I had a serious chat with myself. “Just get out there, Delia!” I said. “You’ve got to, or you’ll just sit here and get depressed,” ’ she says in her quiet Irish lilt. ‘And it helped, big time. It stopped me from sitting here crying.’
Long an avid knitter, Delia knocked up these Hollywood jumpers at top speed — a sweater a week (as any knitter will know, an astonishing feat of speed and endurance) — from her grey velvet sofa as she watched TV and sipped her favourite Jameson, with ice and water.
And was rather surprised at all the hullaballoo.
‘There’s been such a lot of fuss, but they’re just jumpers, aren’t they?’ she says, herself sporting a very nice hand-knitted Aran cardie with tutti frutti flecks. ‘It’s all quite surprising. I even got a little mention on the red carpet from Colin at the Baftas on Sunday. That was very nice, wasn’t it?’
Barry Keoghan sporting one of Delia’s knits in the 2022 film Banshees of Inisherin
Farrell said how he’d ‘been wrapped around her work’ for so long.
He didn’t, however, ask to keep his jumper. Which didn’t surprise Delia. ‘His was in quite scratchy wool’ she says.
But Brendan liked his moss-green sweater — in a much softer yarn — so much, he asked her to knit him two more in different colours.
‘What a nice man,’ she says. ‘And he sent me such a lovely thank-you card.’
Quite right, too. Because these are not any old sweaters whipped up from a pattern.
All Delia had to go on was a couple of black and white photos of some Irish fishermen in 1921 provided by costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh and rough measurements of the stars. Quite a task for any knitter.
‘If I set my mind to something, then it has to be done,’ she says. ‘I don’t like anything beating me.’
That wasn’t likely. Because, rather like a musician playing by ear, Delia can replicate anything woolly she sees. A jumper. A beret. A cuddly hedgehog. Cat. Dog. Tea cosy, you name it.
If I sat in front of her in the world’s most complicated Aran sweater, festooned in bobbles and cables and twists, she could knit it from sight in a flash.
Delia first picked up a pair of needles aged seven and, two years later, came second in a knitting competition with a pair of scarlet socks
‘I always notice people’s jumpers before I notice them,’ she says. ‘In church, I’ll look around and think, “Ooh, that’s very impressive” and immediately start counting stitches. I can’t help it.’
This job, however, was rather more complex. The pictures were faded — some were just bits of photos — and the stitches barely visible, even with a magnifying glass.
So she jotted down a few notes, did a couple of sketches and just started knitting — ten hours a day in two or three-hour chunks.
The result was stupendous. Particularly Colin Farrell’s jumper, sporting the flat, pointy collar that has attracted so much attention and knitted in Cushendale DK wool (from Kilkenny) on 4.5mm needles.
‘I’d never done a collar like that before!’ she says. ‘It took two days to figure it out. But when I saw them close-up on the big screen, I could see all the stitches and I thought I did a good job. Though I wished Barry had stopped pulling his collar.’
Of course she did, because this was not her first celebrity knitting rodeo.
Colin and Brendan are the last in a long line of stars to wear her woollies.
The first was Meryl Streep, in 1998, who sported a lovely soft grey cardie and a pair of gloves in Dancing At Lughnasa. Then Christian Bale caused quite a stir in a dark knitted jumper in Reign Of Fire. ‘He did look lovely in it,’ says Delia.
Next came a jumper for Jude Law, in Rhythm Section, filmed in 2018.
Delia’s knits have been featured in the award winning film Banshees of Inisherin which came out in October 2022
Then, a couple of years ago, she was called in to teach Emily Watson how to knit with four needles for her part in Little Women.
‘I was quite nervous as I had to go on set. But we were in her caravan and had lunch together and she was lovely and turned out to be very good at knitting.’
But there’s one big Irish star she’d dearly love to knit for.
‘Pierce Brosnan!’ she glints. ‘Ooh, I’d be very happy to measure him up.’
Delia first picked up a pair of needles aged seven and, two years later, came second in a knitting competition with a pair of scarlet socks.
‘I can still see them in my mind,’ she says. ‘They sold for one shilling, and I got my name in the paper!’
By the time she was 12, she was whipping up cardies for herself.
On she knitted in her teens — the eldest of six children — in Tipperary. During her 49 years of marriage (and a lot of dancing) to her lovely Paddy — he never found it annoying, ‘he wound my wool for me’.
It helped her relax after long days working at the Phoenix telephone factory during the 15 years they lived in London and, later, after her shifts as a barmaid, back in Ireland.
Knitting comforted her when she and Paddy did not become parents and helped with the shock of her sister’s early death from cancer — Delia jumped in and helped raise her four children.
But when Paddy was struck down with pancreatic cancer in 2010, her local knitting group saved her.
‘I made new friends and a different life,’ she says.
She raised thousands through knitting for her local cancer charity, winning her ‘person of the year’ in the town of Greystones in 2016 for her contribution.
Hollywood came calling by chance. A lady for whom Delia had knitted recommended her to help with some knitwear on Dancing At Lughnasa. Delia whipped up Meryl Streep’s cardie and gloves and, ever since 1998, has been in demand.
‘It’s very nice at my age,’ she says. Though she looks nowhere near 83. As she knits, her fingers move fast, smoothly, steadily.
‘I had arthritis a few years ago in my thumbs, but the pain’s gone away,’ she says.
A few years ago, she had a triple heart bypass operation and asked her cardiologist if the knitting might be too stressful.
‘He said, “Delia, do not give up the knitting. It helps against the dementia. It keeps your brain going.” ’ Because there’s more to knitting than some might think.
‘I count in my head all the time while I’m watching my programmes — my brain is working overtime!’ she says.
When she’s finally ready to put down her wool (often after midnight after ‘just one more row, one more row . . .’) she winds down with Sudoku puzzles in bed.
But she’s very organised when on a Hollywood commission and sets herself a 100 gram daily knitting target — ‘anything extra is a bonus’ — and fits in her ten hours of knitting around her daily walk to the beach (‘you’ve got to get out of the house every day’), coffees, chats, and planning her annual cruise. This year it’s the Norwegian Fjords.
‘I go with a friend, and we work through the cocktail list — I love a Porn Star Martini — and all this is forgotten,’ she says, waving to her modest and very tidy sitting room.
Some things she actively wants to forget. Like the pickle she got into with Brendan Gleeson’s jumper. It was by far the easier project, but when she finished the cables and the front panel, there was a half-inch shortfall — garter stitch knits smaller.
‘So I had a quick swear and a glass of Jameson’s and unrowed it all and started again,’ she says. ‘If the fire’d been on, I’d probably have thrown it in!’
Other than Emily Watson, she’s never met any of the stars wearing her jumpers, but would love them to pop in if they were in the area.
The Banshees is the first film where she’s had her name in the credits.
‘I missed it because I’d left the cinema by then, but they sent me a photo — that was very nice.’
As a result, now everyone wants a Delia Barry. She’s gone viral on TikTok and there are endless social media posts asking how to contact her.
Knitting comforted Delia when she and Paddy did not become parents and helped with the shock of her sister’s early death from cancer. [File image]
‘Ooh no. I haven’t the time! I’m too busy. I’ve got community bingo on Wednesdays and Active Retirement bingo on Thursdays, where I’m one of the callers.’ And anyway, Delia doesn’t use patterns — it’s all in her head.
So, no commissions at all?
‘Only for friends and family. My niece is mad on a navy one. She’s hinting all right!’ she says.
Even if Delia had the time, they’d be pricey. The wool alone for Colin Farrell’s pully costs about £130 and that’s not counting the 70-odd hours she spent figuring out the pattern and knitting.
But she’s never been in it for the money. She does it for love — asking for donations to her local cancer support charity (‘Brendan made a very nice donation’) and taking a small cut each time to cover her lighting and heating costs because even she can’t knit in the dark.
Next on her Hollywood roll-call is a garment for Maggie Smith — ‘I can’t tell you what, because the film’s not out yet,’ she says.
And after that, she tells me, she’s been asked to knit something for a very big Irish star. Pierce Brosnan, finally? Sadly not.
‘But I’m a positive person and I’m planning on hanging around until at I’m at least 100. And he’s ageing very well . . . so maybe one day.’