Saturday 1 October 2016

'Game of Thrones saved my farm' - Irish farmer

Rare animals snapped up as TV and movie extras

Sara Neill

Published 22/04/2015 | 18:28

Kenny Gracey with two of his pigs Hilda and Mable
Kenny Gracey with two of his pigs Hilda and Mable

A farmer whose star animals have been seen by millions alongside the stars of Game of Thrones has revealed how Northern Ireland's burgeoning film industry is helping his farm survive and his rare breeds thrive.

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Kenny Gracey, from Co Armagh, has reared many of the pigs, sheep, chickens and horses seen on the HBO blockbuster filmed in Northern Ireland.

It might be thousands of miles from the glitz of Hollywood and the red carpet of the Academy Awards, but the fields of Forthill Farm are churning out four-legged stars as fast as any LA casting agency.

"Farming has taken a downturn. Costs are too high and we're not getting enough for our produce. It's a difficult time. Where I would be today if it hadn't been for the filming I just don't know," he said.

"This has been a godsend to me. Rare breeds don't fund themselves, they're not profitable and there is an expense with keeping these animals. But this has helped saved them."

Talking to Kenny, it is not hard to see why he has become invaluable to the directors who come here. As the 57-year-old walks across his fields in Tandragee, he is followed by a menagerie of two Irish wolfhounds, two Jack Russells, a lamb, a goat, and a tame deer.

Forthill Farm started as a pig and beef farm and has been in the Gracey family for hundreds of years - but a chance phone call meant Kenny's passion became a lifeline for the cash-strapped farmer.

His name came up when producers of fantasy comedy Your Highness were looking for traditional animals in 2010, and the link continued when Game of Thrones arrived in the region.

"When things started to get harder we opened our own shop to market our meat.

"It's fairly successful, moreso a few years ago when there was more money around, but the recession's hit that on the head," he said. "Meanwhile, the film industry's taken off in Northern Ireland and what I have is unusual. If I haven't got it, I will get it for them."

For Game of Thrones, Kenny specially bred Iron Age pigs, which have long, dark, bristly hair, to fit in with the period setting of the drama series.

As well as the goats, Joey the donkey, Susie the goat, and Yana the deer have appeared in the TV adaptation of George RR Martin's novel that has garnered a massive worldwide following.

"I have to confess I haven't watched it all," he said. "I was pre-empting what was going to happen because I'd seen it made, but I'm enthralled by the way they can bring the whole thing together."

More of Kenny's animals have appeared in BBC comedy Blandings, CBBC show The Spartacle Mystery and sci-fi movie Robot Overlords - but one 14-minute, homegrown, short film stands out.

"Game of Thrones is big, but we made a film with two chickens, Boogaloo and Graham. We worked intensively for four days at the film and look what happened."

It won a BAFTA and was nominated for an Oscar.

Belfast Telegraph

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