It was the summer of 1969. All the post-production houses in London were unavailable. We moved the editing of Leo the Last to Ardmore studios in Co Wicklow.
It was a beautiful summer and we walked the Wicklow Mountains. We fell in love. We started to look around for a cottage that we could come back to for holidays. We were shown an old rectory that sat in a small valley with a river running through it. It was a Sunday and we could not look inside it, furthermore it was being auctioned on the next day. No time to have it inspected and assessed. I put it out of my mind.
I happened to be in Dublin the next day and passed Adam's auctioneers, and there was a picture of the house in the window. I wandered in. The auction had already begun. I had a strange experience, I was floating up to the ceiling, and there below, two people were bidding for the house, and one of them appeared to be me. Then I was down there amongst the mortals being congratulated. I had bought the old rectory in Annamoe. What was I going to tell my wife? We had been living in Los Angeles for four years. I had sold my house in London for £10,000 and I just bought this Irish house for £21,000.
We moved to Ireland. This rash decision had solved the problem. I did not want our four young children to go to school in Los Angeles, nor did I want to go back to England. America had been wonderfully positive after the negativity of England, but LA was draining the spirit. My subconscious had made the decision for me, we were to live in Ireland.
My wife, Christel, took it in her stride and set about making a home. We built extensions, put in central heating, a new roof. We built a pool in which I taught all the village kids to swim, and constructed a conservatory. It swallowed all our money. There were 70 acres and many mature trees, and the beautiful Avonmore river ran through it. The river was mostly shallow, but I discovered a deep pool, a swimming hole. We put in a diving board and a bench. It became my favourite place in the whole world.
There was a telephone. You had to lift the receiver, and wind a handle to get the attention of the operator. I would give her a number in Los Angeles I wished to call. She would say: "Don't give it to me, I will connect you with the overseas operator." After a while the overseas operator came on the line. I gave her a number in Los Angeles I wished to call, it was a Monday. The overseas operator said that she could make the call for me on Wednesday at 6pm. Coming from the city of the telephone, it was a welcome change. It suited me just fine. I did not want to spend half my life on the phone.
The dominant figure in Annamoe was Robert Barton, then in his 90s. He owned a large estate and had employed many men and women during the bad years. He was a signatory to the Treaty of 1921. I bugged him with questions. What was Michael Collins really like and what is the best thing to grow up here? Trees, he said, and I have planted many thousands over the years.
His horror at the damage alcohol has done to Ireland is the reason Annamoe has no pub. This is compensated for by next-door Roundwood having five. Another anomaly is that the Bartons have one of the great Premier Crus, Léoville Barton. The tradition was that the elder son cared for the estate in Annamoe, while the younger went to France to look after the vineyards. I visited them once and met Anthony Barton. He seemed rather sceptical of wine connoisseurs. He said: "What is wine after all? A brief interlude between grape juice and vinegar."
Whenever I was invited to lunch by the Bartons, their cellar was well stocked with the family wine, but later on they had a butler who drank the cellar dry. Robert and his wife sat side by side at the end of a long dining table. "We had our suspicions," said Robert, "when instead of placing our plates before us, he shied them down the length of the table."
Erskine Childers the elder spent his boyhood summers in Annamoe with Robert Barton, who was his cousin. Erskine was a British army officer. He famously filled his yacht with arms and sailed to join the cause of Irish freedom. He was never quite trusted and eventually executed as a spy. On the eve of his execution, his young son, also called Erskine, visited him in his cell.
"If people ask you how your father died, tell them that he died for Ireland."
Young Erskine was deeply affected by this and devoted himself to politics and rose to the rank of Tánaiste. He was having dinner at my house and refused another glass of wine saying: "I'd better not have another one, Jack Lynch is away and I'm in charge of the country." He was thought to be pompous, but I found him rather innocent and touching.
Eventually he became President and suffered a fatal heart attack whilst addressing the Royal College of Surgeons. Is there a doctor in the house? Yes, about 200.
Robert Barton was too frail to attend the funeral in Dublin, so I was deputed to bring him to the burial ground. From high up we watched the cortège approaching with a military band playing and people lining the street. "Extraordinary," I said, "this outpouring of affection for Erskine."
"All the more surprising since there was no evidence of it whilst he was alive," said Barton, drily. During these 50 years I made many films in Ireland, and others around the world, but always brought them back home for the post-production.
We raised seven children in that house. Most of them were back for last Christmas. The house blacked out. I called the ESB. I was astonished that 20 minutes later, a man in his 60s turned up and fixed it. I thanked him and he said: "You don't remember me." I did not. "You taught me to swim."
'Conclusions', a memoir by John Boorman, is out on February 20 (Faber and Faber)