Did you ever sit down to watch a movie or a TV show and noticed something in the background thinking to yourself “That looks a bit familiar”? You may find that after taking one of our tours you’ll experience a lot more of these moments or may be inspired to go back and watch some of your favourites again focussing more on the surroundings rather than the actual happenings on screen.
Alternatively, you may have never visited Ireland as of yet, but we are pretty sure some of the corners of our beautiful island are more than a little familiar to you without you even realising it. The movie and TV industry worldwide appreciates the stunning views found in all four corners of the Emerald Isle, not to mention all the places in between.
Every Harry Potter fan surely remembers the scene in the movie Half-Blood Prince where Harry stands on top of a massive sea stack, having appeared there with Dumbledore, looking into a vast, dark cave hiding a horcrux. The cave is tucked in at the bottom of a sheer cliff drop, battered by the swelling sea. This stunning set is not to be found in a studio nor was it created with CGI (well, some of it was), what you see on the screen there is the breath taking view that is the Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare.
As a film maker, if you want a dramatic natural set that is guaranteed to impress, you cannot go wrong with these magnificent cliffs. Visitors from around the world have been wowed by the fact that the location is so instantly recognisable. Walk up to O’Brien’s tower and look over to the headlands rolling into the distance; it’s there. Just climb aboard our Burren & Cliffs of Moher tour and see it with your own eyes.
The landscape around the West of Ireland can indeed be rugged and stark. Oscar Wilde summarised the vistas of Connemara in two words: “savage beauty”. And that it indeed is. The stark contrast between the mountains is offset by green valleys and clear rivers running into the loughs reflecting the skies above. It can be peaceful and tranquil, but also wild and in the middle of a winter storm, seem even inhospitable.
Jaw dropping views around this island aren’t just limited to the West. HBO’s location scouts struck gold when searching for nature’s own film sets for Game of Thrones. Everything from the Haunted Forest, Winterfell; home of the Stark family and Kingsroad, to the Dothraki grasslands, Iron Islands and many more can be found in Northern Ireland. You can walk along the Kingsroad in Co. Antrim and wander through the Haunted Forest in Co. Down (look out for the White Walkers!), the Iron Islands can be found in Co. Antrim while Dragonstone is hiding in plain sight in Derry.
But it’s not just mythical characters that wander and fight in Irish locations on screens both small and large. As you may already know, Ireland’s history has a very strong influences from the men of the northlands, Vikings. Makes perfect sense that the History Channel TV-series bearing the same name was also filmed here. Should you wish to launch a long ship to discover new lands or maybe just raise a toast from the skull of your slain enemy, you could always visit the locations seen on screen in Co. Wicklow.
There’s also something for those of you looking for something a bit less brutal and a bit more romantic. Come over to the West, where there’s romance aplenty on the Atlantic side of the island! What to do when looking for love? Leave it in the hands of a professional match maker, of course! That’s just what people have been coming to the village of Lisdoonvarna in Co. Clare to do for a couple of hundred years. Janeane Garofalo ended up somewhere quite like Lisdoonvarna in her movie imaginatively titled “Matchmaker” (it was the 1990s, don’t judge). The fictional village in the movie was called Ballinagra from the Irish “Baile na Grá” which translates to “Town of Love”. See what they did there? Clever Hollywood folk!
While the Town of Love sadly is only the work of fiction, the village of Roundstone, which was the main location for filming of the movie is very much real. Sitting on the edge of the Atlantic in western Co. Galway, it is on the Wild Atlantic Way. Our leading lady can also be seen exploring the ancient fort of Dún Aonghasa on the island of Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands. She was too busy falling in love with an Irishman called Sean to care about the ancient history surrounding her, but you can take a ferry over from Rossaveal and see for yourself what the island has to offer.
Boys, don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you either. Do you remember Sean Thornton? (It’s ok if you don’t as this movie was released in 1952) He was the character played by John Wayne in the movie Quiet Man. The crew for this movie found themselves filming in the West of Ireland in the summer of 1951. The village of Cong in Co. Mayo was the setting for most of the outside scenes of the movie, and the famous horse racing scene was filmed in the neighbouring county of Galway on Lettergesh Beach. So, poor Sean ran into some difficulty with his love life while there, but then again you cannot expect everything to run smoothly. In the movie all differences were laid to rest after a rousing fist fight through the village, a quick pint at the pub and you were home in time for supper.
A lot of the filming was done on the grounds of Ashford Castle as well as around the village itself. You can say you have walked in the footsteps of The Duke should you decide to take our Connemara & Cong day tour. No fighting allowed, and certainly no marrying fiery red heads until the tour is safely back in Galway!
The beach in Lettergesh you may recognise from Quiet Man, also features in a more recent movie about troublesome love. (Who knew romance was this much hassle?) Tristan & Isolde was released in 2006 starring James Franco and Sophia Myles. These two love birds nearly brought down an entire kingdom with them, but at least they got to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches along the Wild Atlantic Way, Glassilaun Beach in Lettergesh.
This may not be the best example of Anglo-Irish relations but it does showcase some of the stunning beauty of the Irish coastline. The film crew and actors raised a few eye brows turning up at the local shop for ice creams dressed up as medieval warriors. Some of the locals were featuring as extras, and a few houses near the beach spent a couple of months covered in camouflage netting to accommodate the filming. If Ridley Scott knocks on your door and asks to cover up your house for a few months, you’re hardly going to say “no”, are you?
But that’s quite enough with the doomed and troublesome love stories, how about a cute little puppy instead? And a honeymoon in an Irish castle? Look no further than Marley & Me, which saw Jennifer Aniston spending some time in the West of Ireland. The stunning Ballinahinch Castle in Co. Galway, just off the Wild Atlantic Way near Roundstone provided the setting for the honeymoon scenes in this movie, and Jennifer popped into one of the pubs in Tullycross, Paddy Coyne’s, where she now hangs immortalised in a photograph on the wall.
It’s hard not to get swept away with romantic notions when surrounded by forests, lakes, mountains and castles. Kylemore Abbey, for example, was originally a castle built as a wedding present by a wealthy English businessman for his young bride. They visited Connemara on their honeymoon and fell in love with its beauty and decided to set up a home there. No love story seems to be without tragedy around here, but we’ll let you find that bit out for yourself. Kylemore Abbey is one of the stops on our Connemara & Cong Day Tour, and you can find out all about this particular love story in the castle where it’s set. And this one is a true story.
Let’s finish off with some comic relief, shall we? Father Ted is about as Irish as a comedy can get. We have three priests, living on a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland. Their housekeeper is a lady obsessed with making tea and will not take “no” for an answer. It may not sound like much when you put it like that but you’d do well to have a look, it really works. The fictional Craggy Island as seen on aerial shots in the beginning of each episode, is actually the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inis Oírr, while the parochial house our three priests live in, is in Glanquin in Co. Clare, right in the middle of the Burren. The family that owns the house periodically open their doors to the fans of the show and offer them a cup of tea in true Mrs. Doyle style.
So here we are, all done for now. The next time you’re watching one of these movies or TV shows, don’t be surprised if the background starts to grab your attention more than the action on screen. It’s not a reflection on the calibre of actors on screen but merely a testament to your ability to spot some familiar sights even if they are slightly out of focus. And remember this: if it all gets a bit much for you and you just want to sit down and have some peace and quiet, we hear there’s a nice quiet spot on the island of Skellig Michael on the coast of Co. Kerry. You may have to share it with someone named Skywalker, though…