Netflix series Vikings: Valhalla brings the stunning scenery of the county to a new worldwide audience
Visitors have flocked to Wicklow for its peace and tranquillity for generations – but the newest wave of tourists might be expecting more by way of blood-curdling battle cries and longboats cutting their way up through the lakes.
With the Netflix series Vikings: Valhalla bringing the stunning scenery of the county to a worldwide audience, local businesses are bracing themselves for a whole new wave of tourism, which they believe will leave Ballykissangel of the 1990s in the ha’penny place.
Even on a bitterly cold day which sees a dusting of snow on the hilltops overlooking the monastic Round Tower, Glendalough sees a steady stream of visitors.
Three tour buses have dropped off young people from all nationalities, who take to the woodland paths with gusto.
Glendalough was not used as a location for shooting Vikings – but this is an unmissable destination for anyone on the trail of the Norsemen, given the Irish annals mention repeated raids on the monastic site.
“Vikings figure heavily in the history so they always get covered,” said Martin Swords who does guided walking tours. “There were a good many raids on the site because monasteries were extremely wealthy places. And it wasn’t just money they were after – it was also slaves. It was fairly rough back in those days.”
He thinks younger visitors to Glendalough may perhaps be even more interested in the Vikings element and is curious to see if the Netflix show is going to bring “Viking-oriented tourism with everyone dressing up and going mad”, adding: “I wouldn’t mind.”
“Increasingly people are interested in ancestors and genealogy – they’re all doing their DNA tests and they’re absolutely delighted to discover an element of the Scandinavian in their DNA, it’s like a badge of honour.”
Joan Powers, head guide in Glendalough with the Office of Public Works (OPW) said Vikings and the fact that it was filmed nearby does generate a certain amount of interest, especially from younger visitors.
“Even if they mightn’t know about the Vikings when they arrive, they get very excited when we tell them about the raids that took place here,” she said.
Among the visitors this day were Cillene O’Riordan and Isabel Hevey, both from Ballymore Eustace in Co Kildare, home on a visit from the Maldives, where they are working on super-yachts.
It was Isabel’s first visit to Glendalough, and they were off to climb the Spinc ridge, which Cillene says would take them “three or four hours”.
Both are fans of the first Vikings series on the History Channel, with Cillene revealing that one of his friends is a cast member. Spotting the local scenery is another reason for watching. “Last season they shot at the Blessington lakes and you could see the longboats.”
An even greater reason for being interested in the Vikings series is the fact that his grandfather, distinguished archaeologist Brendán Ó Ríordáin, was involved in the excavation of Wood Quay between 1974 and 1981.
Thanks to these excavations, researchers now know more about 10th- and 11th-century Dublin than any town north of the Alps.
Linda Healy of the Wicklow Film Commission office – which is set to be rebranded in the coming weeks as Screen Wicklow – told the Irish Independent it is in contact with Netflix in the hope of getting permission to use images of the Vikings series online.
“We would expect to see a big bounce as a result of this,” she said.
Linda said they would love if the Vikings series ultimately gives them the opportunity in the future to develop an attraction like the Game of Thrones studio tour in Belfast. “That is something we’d love to be part of,” she added.
Meanwhile, filming applications for the county have “exploded”, with around 90 applications for filming in 2021 compared with 30 in 2020, not including filming on private lands or studios.
“People want more content and even though there may have been a downturn for the first part of Covid, the screen industry is thriving.”
Wicklow County Council will shortly launch its Screen Sector Development Strategy for the next five years, setting out how to maximise the potential of screen tourism in the county, as well as attract foreign direct investment and explore opportunities to develop training within the film sector locally.
The biggest production that took place in the county last year was Disney film Disenchanted in Enniskerry. This is due to be released at Christmas, while two major films shot on the Wicklow film campus last year were Elizabeth Banks’s comedy-thriller Cocaine Bear and Provision starring Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor which tells the story of a Nigerian woman trapped in the direct provision system in Ireland.
Local business owners in Wicklow say they have noticed an increase in tourists mentioning Vikings as part of their reason for coming.
At the Wicklow Heather restaurant on the Glendalough Road in Laragh, Betty Kenny, who owns the business with her husband, John, said tourism was beginning to pick up.
Having seen the boost that Ballykissangel gave to the area, she believes the Vikings series is bound to make a tangible difference. “We used to get coachloads of English visitors - and Ballykissangel didn’t even go worldwide,” she said.
“The new generation will be watching this on Netflix and it’s going to create a real curiosity about Ireland and an interest in our history.
“To have this type of showcase for our county is amazing – we expect it to have a massive effect. What more could we ask for?”