When The Banshees of Inisherin came to town, Achill’s islanders wasted no time getting cast as extras. They tell Michelle Fleming about burgers with Barry Keoghan, banter with Brendan Gleeson and sneaking contraband autographs out of scenes
The cat was finally let out of the bag the day a yellow A4 poster appeared in the window of Ted’s pub — and a white one (as Gaeilge) was Sellotaped to the noticeboard in Sweeney’s shop.
‘Extras Wanted’ screamed the posters, with news that acclaimed director Martin McDonagh was en route to Achill to start shooting The Banshees of Inisherin in September 2021.
As far back as early spring, the island rumour mill had been in overdrive with whispers of Hollywood coming to town.
Around the time the posters appeared, mother-of-four Louise McGinty received a call from a studio accommodation manager hoping to book Louise’s holiday home for the 37-day shoot — and asked if she had any others.
But graphic artist and printer Louise still had no idea who’d be sleeping in her bed.
So, Louise roped in six family and friends with holiday rentals, and offered them at a discount — €150 per night for the smaller homes and €260 per night for the larger properties.
Louise says: “We didn’t know until the last minute who was going to be in the house. It was under wraps until they literally arrived.”
The stars arrived for the six-week shoot in the third week of September.
Kerry Condon, who plays Siobhán, stayed at Louise’s holiday home, while Barry Keoghan, Colin Farrell, Martin McDonagh and costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh stayed nearby.
Brendan Gleeson bedded down in the neighbouring seaside village of Mulranny.
“I left them Achill Island Sea Salt and Live Simply Achill Candles and chocolates, wine and a splatty map of Achill I designed, in a frame,” says Louise.
“They were all so nice. My husband went over as the ice machine wasn’t working and he had the craic with Barry. Colin was so friendly, always saying ‘hi’ and out jogging. He blended in just like a local. Kerry stayed in my place and loved our donkeys, Winky and Betsy.
“All the kids were hanging out the window whenever Colin called to collect Kerry. It was still Covid, so we let them have their privacy. Colin hired a sauna. A woman came down two of the weekends to put up a wood-fired sauna and he invited Kerry and Brendan round.”
Unbeknown to locals, Eoin Holohan, the film’s location manager, had been mingling among them as he travelled up and down the west coast of Ireland on the lookout for a piece of unspoilt heaven to cast as Inisherin island.
Holohan was bewitched by the landscapes of Inis Mór and Achill Island — but Achill Tourism’s Chris McCarthy believes a push from locals and Mayo County Council sealed the deal.
They agreed to hand over Coláiste Acla to be used as the filming unit base HQ; negotiated the use of parcels of private and common land and agreed to shut down the island’s iconic Keem Beach so the old shark-fisherman’s cottage could be revamped and used as Colm Doherty’s (played by Brendan Gleeson) home.
In mid-July, the colossal convoy of articulated trucks carrying construction crew and tonnes of building materials rolled across the Michael Davitt Bridge at Achill Sound and on to the island. As this moving village — which would swell to 250 cast and crew — trundled into town, hopeful locals sent off their headshots to central casting.
The buzz was heightened by the fact islanders — like the rest of the country — were just emerging from the social isolation of Covid-19, so the chance to dress up and hang out with pals and A-listers like Colin Farrell was beyond thrilling.
“From being locked up for over a year to come into a situation like this, with Hollywood arriving at your door, it was pure magical,” says landscaper-turned-extra, John Sweeney, who lives at Achill Sound.
In no time, Coláiste Acla was transformed into a mini-Hollywood and JJ Devine’s pub had been magicked into existence at Beal na Glaise in Cloughmore — the most dramatic and remote stretch of the Atlantic coastal drive, with sweeping views to Achillbeg and Clare Island.
Any locals who wanted a job, got one — mucking in with everything from helping with locations to sourcing props and managing security and traffic to bussing extras around.
John Sweeney’s son, Graham, spotted the notice in Sweeney’s, snapped a headshot of his dad and sent it in.
“I was in the middle of a funeral when casting rang me,” says John, who is in his 60s. “I hadn’t a notion what it was. Some people from the costume department were in the village, saying, ‘We’re looking for this fella.’ And one guy said, ‘that’s John Sweeney’ and knew my number. They liked my sallow-skinned look.”
Martin McDonagh superfan Chrissie Keane was visiting her sister on Achill Island when she spotted the ad in Lavelle’s.
“I pretended I lived on the island to get the part — I knew I had somewhere to stay and I just had to do it,’ says the mother of two and am-dram enthusiast.
“We put on some of Martin’s plays over the years. I’m such a huge fan — I couldn’t believe it when I got the call to be an extra.”
Chrissie has acted and directed in Athlone Little Theatre for 50 years — and plans to direct McDonagh’s play A Skull In Connemara once she finds a mould to cast the 50 skulls.
More than 140 extras were cast, with 50 or 60 on standby most days, while village scenes or church scenes at St Thomas’s Church, in Dugort, demanded 100 background artists.
John was picked for the famous boat scene where Kerry Condon’s Siobhán sets off for the mainland from the ‘village’ by Purteen Pier.
“I spent four days on a Galway Hooker, a classic Connemara boat adored by experts in that field,” enthuses John. “I got to go in it for nothing. I would have paid to do that scene.
“I spotted myself twice in the film. Filming on the boat went on for four days and it was whittled down to 30 seconds. It didn’t bother any of us whether we were in it. It was the whole magic of the experience. I never dreamt in my lifetime I’d be involved in such a magical production.”
Chrissie arrived on September 23 and was filming for her “unforgettable” birthday on September 27.
“After the Covid testing, we spent a day getting togged out into turn-of-the-century costumes. Eimer was so meticulous and authentic. The insult was we didn’t need any make-up — we were old and haggard enough.
“Once we togged out in the old clothes, the men went to one side and the women to the other. It was strange — the moment we got into costume, we behaved like the people of the period when women kept their own company.
“We were up at 4.30am, on set at 5.30am and as soon as daybreak came, we were at Purteen Pier. I was in a couple of village scenes.”
Typically, extras waited to be called in a marquee 100 yards from set but Chrissie and her pals Siobhán Buckley and Celine Lavelle weren’t leaving their close-up to chance.
“We noticed we weren’t being called down so we sidled down to Purteen Pier hoping we’d be asked to step into a scene. We were mooching in and out of the sheds in the background when Colin was doing his retakes. Next thing, Colin turned around and gave me a big dirty wink.
“I winked back, then he winked back at me again and then at all of us and then the three of us winked back at him.
“At one point, he twirled around and came back to us and joked, saying he was playing hard to get.
“Such wonderful memories — and a great bunch of women.”
John tells a story about Barry Keoghan, nicknamed ‘The Crunchy Nut Kid’, since Farrell, in his Golden Globes award acceptance speech, exposed his housemate for eating all his cereal.
“Eight of us were on our way to do a late crowd scene in the pub — with the magic of mirrors and candles you’d swear there was 100 people. During the scene, I said to Barry, ‘I know you, you’re in the cat scene from Love/Hate’. And he said, ‘Feck sake, I don’t want people to remember me from that.’ Then he said, ‘Can you come down later on? My friend is coming to make us class burgers.’ His friend set up a mobile fast-food truck and Barry said. ‘don’t worry, we’ll sort you’, and two hours later all these luxury burgers came up. He paid for all the crew and the cast.
“He may be guilty of eating all the Cornflakes, but he fed us and will not be forgotten for it.
“He was so full of love and life and giddiness — everything in real life you’d expect.”
As filming moved from Devine’s pub to Purteen Pier and then on to Colm’s house on Keem Beach, Gielty’s Pub & Restaurant came alive as a second hub. Crew parked up and enjoyed ‘mates rates’ from owner Alan Gielty on hot teas, coffees and food.
Alan tells a story about Brendan Gleeson.
“The day he recorded the Chieftains’ song down at Keem Beach for the movie, Brendan came in for a coffee and I told him Paddy Moloney had just died. He said, ‘Isn’t that uncanny?’ He had just played his tune that afternoon. I told Brendan we had a mutual friend on the island, James Cosmo — who’d played his father in Braveheart. He hadn’t seen him in years. I knew James Cosmo’s PA so rang them and Brendan and James met up on a Sunday. Afterwards, Brendan came in and shook my hand.”
As it turned out, the Irish and Finnish film production My Sailor, My Love — directed by Finnish director Klaus Haro and starring James Cosmo — was shot on Achill island at the same time as Banshees.
After filming on Banshees wrapped, Alan’s wife Maeve suggested he ask about the green O’Riordan’s shopfront, the village centrepiece, where Mrs O’Riordan fishes for ‘news’ on Purteen Pier.
Maeve reasoned to her husband: “If the film does well, it might be worth having...”
When father-of-two Alan asked if he could buy it, a crew member named John refused.
But then Alan got a phone call.
“John said: ‘I’ve the shopfront for you. I’m giving you it.’ And, they reversed in with it in a pick-up truck. It’s the only prop left out of the film. Everything else was destroyed. There’s a broken window in it from when the policeman puts Colin Farrell out through the window.”
Alan — a seasoned heritage coach tour operator, who launches his official Banshees Tour in March — plans to rebuild the shopfront inside his pub so fans can take selfies. “People have to come in for a photo — it’s plywood so it won’t last outside on Achill.” He adds that he has had the pub on the market since last year, and hopes the shop front will prove a “sweetener” for potential buyers.
Alan also got his mitts on some scripts.
“In one of them, it says only one person is allowed upstairs in Colm’s house at one time; it has notes from Martin McDonagh. I have some notes for Colin, Sheila and Brendan.
“It’s the part of the script where Mrs O’Riordan is in the shop giving out about ‘no news’ and talking about the young fella killed by a bread van.”
Mother-of-two Madeline Condell (37) loves to show off her framed Colin Farrelll autograph, scribbled on the back of a Cornflakes box. She keeps it up on top of a press in her kitchen, as she’s terrified someone will knock it off the wall.
Madeline was picked to sit next to Brendan Gleeson in a church scene.
“Jon Kenny and Pat Shortt sat in front of us with Colin in front of them. We weren’t allowed any phones or paper but I wanted to smuggle an autograph so when we broke for lunch, I ripped a Cornflakes box and shoved it into my boot and asked the bus driver for a biro for my other boot. On a break I pulled out a cereal packet and told Brendan I robbed it out of the canteen.
“Colin laughed and said he’d never signed a Cornflakes box before. I was excited and mortified at the same time. I put it into a frame in the kitchen and it gets taken out regularly. They were all so sound and blended in like proper locals, pottering around. Nobody bothered them — not like me!”
Banshees proved a serendipitous family affair for recently retired school principal Karl McCloskey, his wife Mary and their youngest daughter, Róisín, who celebrated her 22nd birthday on set.
The McCloskeys had recently relocated to Achill from London when Banshees came to town.
Karl explains: “My wife Mary’s late father Máirtín O’ Domhnaill came from Gort na gCapall on Inis Mór — the location of Pádraic Súilleabháin and Siobhán’s house — while Mary’s mother came from Shraheens on Achill. The level of familial connectivity meant we had to get involved.
“It’s more than coincidence the film, partially shot in the village where Máirtín grew up, would receive nominations at the 95th Academy Awards on the very day Máirtín would have celebrated his 95th birthday.
“The Banshees-esque serendipity was not wasted on us.”
He laughs: “There was a fair deal of polygamy going on, as extras were often partnered up with different people. Louise was my wife in Purteen but my Mary had a rake of husbands — Pat in the pub and Stephen by the pier. It was all great fun but it raises eyebrows when I walk into Sweeney’s supermarket with Mary and she calls across to Pat: ‘How are you, my on-screen husband?’”
Karl adds: “It was a wonderful opportunity for Mary and I to reinvent ourselves as recent retirees on a completely different venture. It was our best decision — it forged friendships and memories we will treasure for many years.”
As well as her role as Bean an Tí to the stars and fielding calls from Colin Farrell’s PA, Louise McGinty was also an in-demand extra.
Her hectic ‘Banshees Extras’ WhatsApp group still pings every few minutes with gossip from its 30 to 40 members.
There are plenty of giggling emojis at stories posted, including the one about Colin and a few extras, who, having been guzzling alcohol-free Guinness all day while doing retakes at JJ Devine’s “forming an orderly queue to answer nature’s call”.
Not long after the Banshees of Inisherin’s Dublin premiere, the extras were invited to a special screening party in Castlebar, where the stars and McDonagh sent them personal recorded video messages. Smitten costume designer Eimer even returned to Achill for New Year’s Eve.
At the Golden Globes, while accepting his Best Actor gong, Colin Farrell wasn’t merely being a luvvie when he thanked the islanders and told the star-studded audience: “...there was lines blurred between all of us.
“There was just one big family for the betterment of all of our souls on that experience.”
Extras like John Sweeney agree wholeheartedly.
“Without a doubt, I know most of the extras all my life but after six weeks together, we were absolutely bonded. It was so special and this is a common theme for the rest of our lives, wherever we go. We have this shared experience that will never be forgotten. It was the best thing I ever did in my life.”