Gabriel Byrne is Papa Riley, a Traveller King who has renounced his nomadic roots to settle with his two young children, Ossie and Tito (Fitzgerald and Cpnroy), in the grim tower blocks of contemporary Dublin. While he pours whiskey down his neck in an attempt to salve guilt and grief over the death of his wife during the birth of their last child, salvation for his long-suffering sons appears in the guise of a mysterious white horse which their Traveller Grandpa discovers on the road.
At first keeping their four-legged friend in their top floor flat, the boys then lose it to a wily horse breeder, only to steal it back and set off on an adventure across the Irish countryside with the police, their father and his old traveller chums (Colm Meaney and Barkin) in increasingly frantic pursuit.
Nipping niftily back and forth between Papa's story and that of his kids, director Mike Newell weaves a pleasingly old-fashioned tale, packed with strange and surprising images of Ireland and its travelling people, all teased out with heart-warming performances from Byrne and a first-rate ensemble of Ireland's finest, in particular pint-sized newcomers Fitzgerald and Conroy. Though Newell's film tries to strike a balance between a children's adventure romp and something more grown-up, its heady mix of Irish myth and gritty realism will effortlessly capture the imaginations of all ages.