Achill islander Seán Molloy has revealed how his superb drone footage helped woo Hollywood - and in doing so has transformed his beloved island's fortunes.
Mr Molloy got wind that The Banshees of Inisherin’s location manager Eoin Holohan was on the hunt for a horseshoe-shaped beach to fit director Martin McDonagh’s vision for Colm Doherty’s cottage in early 2020.
The drone enthusiast was determined to get his beloved island cast in the starring role as Inisherin.
Mr Molloy, who grew up in the village of Dooagh, had recently left his job as manager of Achill Tourism to set up his own social media company.
"We had zero marketing budget at Achill Tourism so I'd to come up with ways to get attention for the island so I bought a drone, did courses, got my license and sent it up.
“My biggest success was in 2017 when the vanishing beach came back to Dooagh.
“When that drone footage snowballed, I had calls from everywhere from the USA to Norway to New Zealand and did 37 live interviews on TV and radio that day from my holidays in Ayia Napa. That footage of Dooagh Beach got 1.2 billion views around the world - crazy.
“I just love Achill so much – it's a very special place - I knew that it had everything they needed,” said Mr Molloy (53).
Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands, had already been locked in as the location for Pádraic Súilleabháin and Siobhán's house, but McDonagh was still trying to find the beach where Brendan Gleeson's character Colm lived.
“He wanted a contrasting landscape to Pádraic’s home on the Aran Islands so wanted an epic beach and big cliffs for Colm’s home,” explained MR Molloy.
Achill’s Keem Beach was one of five horseshoe beach contenders that made McDonagh’s shortlist.
The others were all in Donegal, including Silver Strand Beach in Malin Beg and Trá na Rosann, on the Rossguill Peninsula.
Although Holohan, Martin McDonagh and the film’s director of photography planned to visit all the shortlisted beaches, their plans were put on ice when the first Covid lockdown was announced, just a week before they were due to land in Ireland.
Mr Molloy felt it was all to play for.
“Nobody knew it but we were in a battle against four other locations in Donegal and I knew those locations and beaches well. I knew what the competition had or hadn't got and I knew our strengths.”
During lockdown, MMr Molloy sent Holohan his best drone footage and photographs of Keem Beach. It helped having tourism in his blood.
As a boy, he helped out his aunt Annie Lynch, stacking bottles in the morning in the since-closed Atlantic Hotel before he’d it bus it down to The Slievemore Hotel, to pack his other aunt Bridgie McNultie’s shelves.
“I helped on a film made on Achill in 1997 with Daniel Craig called ‘Love and Rage’ so I sent Eoin the clips of that - they used a lot of the same locations.
“I gave them drone footage of Keem Beach, photographs – all my footage.”
Next, Holohan inquired if Mr Molloy had any other locations that might match McDonagh’s wishlist for key scenes.
Holohan has said: “The logistics of film-making are that you might move once but you definitely don’t want to move twice.”
Molloy continued: “Once I knew what the movie was about, I researched and Eoin sent me an email with artist's impressions of what all the sites should look like and I went through my footage to see what matched up.
“He sent me a list of all the locations they were looking for – a lake, a church, a pub, a pier. I know every nook and cranny of Achill. I knew it had it all. I sent up the drones and got the footage. I went out and got all those locations.”
Once restrictions eased, H
"olohan told Molloy he was en route to Achill with McDonagh and production designer Mark Tildesley and he arranged to meet them at St Thomas's Church in Dugort, on September 25, 2020.
Revd Canon Jen McWhirter also joined them to discuss filming and building a confession box in her chapel.
“It was a very low-key visit on a Tuesday or Wednesday and the weather was amazing on the day,” said Mr Molloy.
“A bright, crisp and warm day - Achill was looking its best for them. We couldn't go anywhere to eat or shake hands and we were all in masks and socially-distanced but I met them at St Thomas's and we spoke for an hour.
"I brought them up to Corrymore Lake and got them in touch with people like Sweeneys who own the house in Keem Beach and the vicar Maebh O’Herlihy who put them in touch with Jen, who’s the head of all of Mayo.
" I gave them the names of commonage owners around JJ Devine's pub and Gerry Hassett, who leads the Purteen Fishermen’s Group, about using Purteen Pier."
A few days after the tour, Holohan rang Mr Molloy to say: “Martin was blown away by that”.
“I was getting really good vibes - Eoin said to me it was 'almost certain' Achill would be the location. He said it was exactly the vision McDonagh was looking for. I don't even know if they went to the other locations after that. I don't think they did.”
A month later, the results were in; Achill got the job.
“I couldn’t believe it but I couldn't say anything about it to anyone at the time - it was completely hush hush what was happening.
“For the first six months, I told nobody at all. I had to keep it under my hat for maybe a year from the first contact in March. The only ones who knew were the people whose sites they wanted to use.:
“I'm very proud of the fact there was a lot of competition at that stage. The thing about Achill, the beach was there, yes, but all the locations had horseshoe beaches, it was when they saw all the other locations that it all came together.
" I knew it would suit them to be able to just work on Inis Mór and then come on Achill and do it all in the one hit instead of moving the entire operation.”
As well as running his social media business, Mr Molloy runs his hugely popular What’s On In Achill page, where recent Oscar fever posts have clocked up a whopping 250,000 views.
These days he splits his time between Achill and Cyprus – but there’s only one place he will ever call home.