How the fate of ‘The Quiet Girl’ landed on an 11-year-old newbie’s shoulders

A girl stands near a car and is greeted by a woman who hunkers down to the girl's eye level.
Catherine Clinch, left, plays young Cáit, a girl unused to getting attention as she does by a distant relative played by Carrie Crowley in “The Quiet Girl.”
(Super LTD)

An Oscar nomination is going to mean the world to almost every nominee, but for Colm Bairéad it has even more significance. His directorial feature debut, “The Quiet Girl,” is Ireland’s first international film nomination and the first time an Irish-language film has been nominated for an Academy Award. It also happens to be in the only language his father has ever spoken to him.

“It’s literally my father tongue, and it’s on UNESCO’s endangered languages list,” Bairéad says. “Most Irish people can’t really speak Irish; there’s only 2% of the population that speaks Irish on a daily basis. So, when a film like this or when a kind of cultural artifact like this in our own language achieves this level of success, it’s really important in terms of this movement to preserve the language and encourage Irish people to engage with it in a new way.”

The film’s recognition is part of, and apologies in advance, a pot of Oscar gold bestowed on Irish films and talent this year.


“It’s obviously been an incredible year, just the awards recognition,” Bairéad says. “Obviously, ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ is largely responsible for it but then it’s amazing to see [‘Aftersun’s’] Paul Mescal get a nod as well. There’s also an Irish short film that got nominated, ‘An Irish Goodbye.’ So, it feels like there’s a sort of an Irish wave this year for whatever reason.”

Adapted from Claire Keegan’s short story “Foster,” “The Quiet Girl” follows Cáit (newcomer Catherine Clinch), a young girl who spends an eye-opening summer with her very extended family in the Irish countryside. Over the course of a few months, Cáit, who has a handful of siblings and a father who barely tolerates their existence, experiences genuine affection and care for the first time in her life. Keegan’s novella (or “long short story” as she refers to it) was originally published in the New Yorker in 2010 and turned out to be totally up Bairéad’s alley when he discovered it eight years later.

Catherine Clinch sits at a table with a plate of food in front of her in 'The Quiet Girl'
Catherine Clinch was 11 and had never been in a film before she won the lead of ‘The Quiet Girl.’

“I love films that have a really strong sense of point of view and particularly first-person narratives,” Bairéad says. “I was immediately just in this young person’s shoes and soaking up every aspect of the environment that she was being exposed to, and just feeling everything she was feeling. It has that beautiful kind of mix of the way a child sees the world, often in that sort of binary sense that this person is unkind, and this person is kind, and the story becomes about how that becomes more complex over time.”

Looking to maximize their independent film-level budget, Bairéad and his producer (and wife) Cleona Ní Chrualaoí took a gamble and cast the movie themselves. They traveled across Ireland holding open auditions and met hundreds of young people hoping to find their Cáit. When COVID-19 hit, they were forced to detour to self-tape submissions. The resulting search was not an easy one.

“We had a few people that we thought were really interesting on our shortlist, but we never truly believed that they would [work] because it’s one thing being able to deliver the performance, but then it’s another thing being able to actually shoulder the sort of responsibility of the entire movie,” Bairéad says. “That literally everyone is showing up for work every day for you. You’re in every scene in the film. So, you need a certain sort of inner resolve as a young person to be able to handle that.”


That’s what they found in Clinch, a then 11-year-old first-time actor who coincidentally attended a school that taught in the Irish language.

“She was so attuned to the character, even before we ever met her, just when we saw that first audition tape,” Bairéad recalls. “It was just remarkable to us how fully she was inhabiting the character already and how beautifully open she seemed to be to allowing the camera to observe her and allowing herself to be sort of open, and yet guarded. I just found myself leaning into the tape the whole time. I was just transfixed. We knew almost from that tape, we were like, ‘Wow, I think we found our Cáit.’ This girl just had everything.”

Both Bairéad and Ní Chrualaoí knew they had hit the jackpot after they arranged a chemistry read shortly thereafter with Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett, who play Cáit’s foster parents.

“I always remember that day,” Bairéad says. “I was filming the auditions myself, and I was just getting so excited just looking through the viewfinder at everything that was happening between the three of them. We left the auditions that day, me and Cleona, we were driving home, and we were just so buzzed about it, we were like, ‘Wow, we have found our holy trinity for this movie.’”

From the film’s surprise selection at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival to an underdog awards campaign to the Academy Awards, Bairéad says the entire experience has been life-changing. And it will continue to be for everyone involved when they finally arrive at the Dolby Theater in March.

“This is a young girl who, before our film, had never acted in front of a camera before,” Bairéad says. “It’s her first film, and just the idea of her being there on the red carpet, it’s fairy tale stuff. So, we’re just really excited for that moment and for her to experience that.”