Wednesday 22 May 2019

On Location: Ireland's most famous film locations

The Field was shot in Galway and Mayo.
The Field was shot in Galway and Mayo.
Father Ted's house in Clare is a tourist attraction.
Liam Neeson as ' Michael Collins'
Glen and Marketa in a scene from the film 'Once'
Cillian Murphy in his role in Loach's film The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Eoin Butler

What are the key ingredients that make for a memorable Irish film? Well, a splash of drink, a smidgen of repression, at least one outburst of psychotic violence and a Hollywood actor with a cartoonishly bad accent are obvious prerequisites.

But more than anything else, we expect to feast our eyes on crashing waves, craggy bogland and rolling green hills. Here are 10 features, plucked from the past 80 years, whose best supporting performance came from the wild and untamed Irish countryside.

1 Man of Aran (1934)

Sometimes proclaimed as father of the modern documentary, American filmmaker Robert J Flaherty was accused of "trying to drown a boatload of wild Irishmen" in this groundbreaking feature film, which was a Grand Prix winner at the Venice Film Festival in 1935.

The native Aran islanders, who featured in the film's most dramatic sequence, are depicted hunting basking sharks with harpoons.

In truth, the islanders had abandoned that practice more than half a century before Flaherty's visit. But the women's shawls and the menfolk's bobbled berets are all more or less accurate for the era. In 1997, 'Man of Aran' gained newfound notoriety when Martin McDonagh ('In Bruges', 'Seven Psychopaths') set his play 'The Cripple of Inishmaan' on the Aran Islands during the period in which Flaherty was shooting his film.

Today, the village of Kilronan, on Inis Mor, is home to a selection of decent bars and restaurants. Bicycles are cheap to hire and readily available – and a ride out to the prehistoric fort at Dun Aengus is highly recommended.

2 & 3 Ryan's Daughter (1970) Far and Away (1992)

These are two very different movies. One is easily the most sprawling and ambitious historical epic ever filmed on Irish soil. The other, notable only for being perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious of that ilk. But 'Ryan's Daughter' and 'Far and Away' were both filmed on the same rugged coastline of the Dingle peninsula.

It was director David Lean who hit upon the idea of re-locating Gustave Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary' from 19th-century Normandy to rural Kerry on the cusp of the War of Independence. The 'Ryan's Daughter' scene in which IRA guns are smuggled ashore by local villagers was filmed at Dunquin Harbour on the peninsula's western tip.

Meanwhile, the family plot where Tom Cruise advises his father, played by Niall Toibin, to "lighten up" in 'Far and Away' is in Ventry Bay, a short walk from the late Paudie O Se's famous pub. (If they had wanted dialogue equally redolent of famine-era Ireland, the script writers could have had Cruise say "Chillax, dude".)

4 Excalibur (1981)

The myth of 'King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table' is one of England's most famous sagas. Yet John Boorman's 1981 film adaptation was shot entirely on location in Ireland, in counties Wicklow, Tipperary and Kerry. And its success boosted the careers of local actors Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Ciaran Hinds, as well as writer Neil Jordan.

Sightseeing-wise, the best bet for fans of this frankly weird fantasy drama is probably the Excalibur Drive, a 65km round trip starting and finishing in Roundwood, Co Wicklow. Highlights of the drive include the spectacular Powerscourt waterfall, where the fight scene between Arthur and Lancelot was set, and Lough Tay, where Excalibur is finally grasped by the rhinestone-encrusted hand of the Lady of the Lake.

5 The Field (1990)

Many years ago, this writer spent a miserable holiday season, homesick and unhappy in the United States. On Christmas night, when everyone else had gone to bed, I sat up late, poured myself a glass of Irish whiskey and channel surfed. To my enormous surprise and joy, I chanced upon an unlikely airing, on Channel 852, of Jim Sheridan's (very loose) film adaptation of this great John B Keane play.

Most of the movie was shot around Leenane in Co Galway. The pub scenes were shot in Gaynor's Bar, on the town's main street. 'The Field' itself is about five miles outside town on the road to Westport, at the foot of the Partry Mountains.

But the film's climax, in which Richard Harris's Bull McCabe, for reasons that escape me now, drives a herd of cattle off a cliff, was shot just over the border in Co Mayo. Any American watching that night probably regarded the deaths of Sean Bean's Tadhg and livestock with horror. All I remember thinking was, Jesus Christ, I'd give anything to be at home right now.

6 Father Ted (1995-98)

For fans of Ireland's greatest sitcom, Co Clare is a font of Ted-related landmarks. First and foremost, there's Craggy Island's "parochial house", which is actually located outside of the town of Kilfenora, home of the famous ceile band. Owner Cheryl McCormack is more than happy to welcome visitors to her Mrs Doyle-inspired tea room.

Of course, Kilfenora is also gateway to the Burren region where, in different episodes, Ted and Jack enjoy a memorable picnic, and the monosyllabic Fr Stone is struck by lightning while playing crazy golf.

Meanwhile, the caravan park where Ted, Dougal, Fr Noel Furlong and the St Luke's Youth Group endure a weekend from hell is 20km north in Fanore, Co Clare. The aerial views of Craggy Island, which feature in the opening credits of the show, were actually shot on Inis Oirr, is accessible by ferry from both Galway and Doolin.

7 Michael Collins (1996)

Surveying the breathtaking beauty of Beal na Blath, about 70km west of Cork city, it is sobering to reflect that two of the greatest calamities ever to befall modern Ireland occurred in this tranquil haven: the premature death of one of our most charismatic political leaders, and the premature birth of a career for one of our most irritating actors.

In truth, Jonathan Rhys Meyers's baby-faced assassin gunned down Liam Neeson about 260km north-east of here, in Hollywood, Co Wicklow. But admirers of "the Big Fella" will find plenty of interest in west Cork. Especially in Clonakilty, where a statue and a Michael Collins visitor centre are located.

8 The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

The highest-grossing Irish independent film ever made, and a winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Ken Loach's War of Independence drama was loosely based upon the history of Tom Barry and the 3rd (West) Cork Brigade of the IRA. On November 28, 1920, Barry's unit ambushed and killed a platoon of British Auxiliaries at Kilmichael, which is on the road between Macroom and Dunmanway.

Loach's film was mostly shot 20km northwest of Kilmichael in Ballyvourney. It was here that Padraic Delaney recreated Barry's deception, halting an Auxiliary convoy by posing as a British officer.

Meanwhile, the gut-wrenching scene in which Cillian Murphy executes "Gooch" Cooper-lookalike Chris – a young informer he's known since childhood – was also filmed in the area.

9 Once (2006)

In perhaps the most unforgettable extended sequence of John Carney's film, Marketa Irglova ventures out from her flat on Dublin's Mountjoy Square, down Fitzgibbon Street, to a corner shop to buy batteries for her CD discman. When she returns, she is singing from a sheet of lyrics Glen Hansard's Guy has written for her.

This isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, one of Dublin's lovelier neighbourhoods. But the magic of Carney's filmmaking makes it beautiful to us.

'Once' fans who do make the trek here can enjoy the GAA Museum and Etihad Skyline Tour, just a few minutes away from Croke Park.

10  PS I Love You  (2007)

One could spend a lifetime grumbling about bad Irish accents in Hollywood movies. But there is surely a special place in hell for Gerard Butler's ridiculous brogue in 'PS I Love You'. It's basically a bad impersonation of Daniel Day-Lewis from 'In The Name of the Father'.

But what comes out of Butler's mouth sounds, at points, more like anything from Tony Danza in 'Who's The Boss?' to 'The Simpsons'' Apu.

Worse still, Butler was born in Scotland, to an Irish family. So he must have heard at least one actual Irish person before this atrocious performance was committed to celluloid.

But that's wandering away from the issue at hand here.

If you're interested in visiting the picturesque spot where Butler meets, and charms the bejesus out of, Hillary Swank, that would be the Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains. As ever, the scenery, if not the film itself, is recommended wholeheartedly.

Discover these destinations for yourself at

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