The magic of Ireland
By: Sharman Yarnell – mtltimes.ca
Just when you think you’ve heard enough about Ireland…there’s more! Actually, that beautiful little haven of tranquility can never be touted enough. It’s a travel mecca for all ages whether you are looking for theatre, culinary events, horseback riding, or walking and hiking tours.
In the past, North Americans have visited to search out their roots and that still remains true but Ireland has long been recognized as one of the best spots for filming movies and television series. Many of these well recognized sites are now featured in tours. Just recently, at a Tourism Ireland event, Game of Thrones was highly promoted, along with other tours for visitors to the country, adding a little something extra to the views of lush, green fields and meeting just about the friendliest people ever.
Winterfell, where the head of House Stark rules over his people, is actually Stangford Castle Ward Estate in County Down, Northern Ireland, and the beautiful archway of beech trees known as the Kings Road, is the Dark Hedges to locals near Stanocum, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Two of the most glorious stretches of land in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula, are hot spots for Hollywood. If you are visiting Ireland, neither should be missed. Charlie Chaplin often spent his summer in The Butler Arms Hotel in Waterville, on the Ring of Kerry. The hotel is full of memorabilia from his stays there. Near the hotel is a life sized bronze statue of the man who was probably one of the greatest comedians of all time.
On the Dingle Peninsula, Inch lies tucked away in the southern foothills of the Slieve Mish mountains. Inch Beach was used for the filming of David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter. It starred Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Trevor Howard and the wonderful Sir John Mills in the role of ‘Michael’, the “village idiot” which earned him an Academy award for Best Supporting Actor. I remember seeing the film many years ago and didn’t realize it was Mills in the role.
The film exposed the natural beauty of the area – the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Shot in 1970, Ryan’s Daughter is set in 1916, and tells the story of a married Irish woman who has an affair with a British officer during World War I. The film is a very loose adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary.
Other films shot in the area are Playboy of the Western World (1963) and, more recently, Far and Away. (The school house used for Ryan’s Daughter can also be seen in shots of Far and Away – if you watch closely enough!)
“A little bit of heaven” truly did fall from the sky one day. Inistioge, in Co. Kilkenny, is that little spot, nestled by a river, in rolling hills, the little town is off the beaten track, where little has changed for generations and the modern world seems very far away. The River Nore winds through the village and the surrounding countryside. A paradise, a haven away from the stress of the outside world. It is one of the most idyllic spots in Ireland. And since the filming of Widow’s Peak, with Mia Farrow, Natasha Richardson and Joan Plowright, followed by Maeve Binchey’s Circle of Friends staring Minnie Driver, it boasts a growth in tourism.
St. Mary’s is a pretty church in the centre of the village, parts of which date back to the 13th century. (There is a scene in Widows Peak taken here, with the wonderful Joan Plowright talking about men!) The ruins of a 14th century merchant’s house overlook the tree lined village square and there is a nice little garden there where you can sit and watch the world go by. On a rock, above the river, are the remains of a Norman motte and castle. This is a wonderful place to wander and take pictures.
No other Irish film has inspired such affection for its characters, or for the Emerald Isle, than The Quiet Man. In 1951, Hollywood descended on the little Irish village of Cong, to film a movie with John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald. Probably the most popular of all location spots over the years is the ‘Quiet Man Cottage’ or ‘White O’ Morn’ as it is known in the film. It remains a ruin now (Tiernakill South, Maam, County Galway), pulled apart by visiting North Americans wanting a piece to take home. An American has owned the property for 22 years and remains unmoved by requests to sell, so the cottage can be restored. Thanks to the late Maureen O’Hara and Liam Neeson, and others in the film community, it has just become a “protected structure” and renovations will soon be underway.
The bridge that Barry Fitzgerald stops on with John Wayne in the pony and cart at the start of the film is still there, quiet, solid and unassuming, like all the other stone bridges across the beautiful isle. But it does have this one claim to fame – a plaque proclaiming it ‘The Quiet Man Bridge’. Still visible is Cohan’s Bar (actually a shop), the outside of which is seen in many scenes. The interior scenes of the bar were shot on a Hollywood sound stage. A sign reading “Cohan’s Bar” was put on the exterior of the shop for filming and it sits there still.
All the actors were put up in Ashford Castle which is now a very posh place to ‘put yourself up’ in. Jaunting cart rides are offered from the hotel that will take you around Cong to show you points of interest. It’s not uncommon to go into the shops and find notes, pictures and such of O’Hara and Wayne.
In Dublin, you’ll find over 40 locations where the Commitments, Alan Parker’s brilliant comedy-drama about “the world’s hardest-working band” was shot. Most famous for its soundtrack, the film offers an excellent overview of Dublin. Remember the pool hall where the band rehearsed? That is the Camden Deluxe Hotel, and has been renovated since the filming. A wander along Sheriff Street is a must as it is there that the movie opens, with Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) trying to sell cassette tapes to disinterested passersby.
Even if you didn’t want to visit any of the filming locations of Irish films, the scenery throughout the country is breathtakingly beautiful. There is cycling, walking, horseback riding. So many different places to stay from exclusive hotels to B&Bs. And then… there’s the people!
Everyone should visit Ireland at least once – do that and you will want to return again and again. It is a magical land.