These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

As Game of Thrones returns to our screens, Vicki Notaro goes on a cinematic tour of Ireland, taking in everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars.

WITH our green, lush and striking countryside, not to mention welcoming tourist boards, it’s perhaps no surprise that some of the world’s biggest movie and television productions have taken place, at least in some small part, on these here shores. 

Rugged coastlines, ancient castles, vibrant green fields and abundant natural beauty spots mean that Ireland has an undeniably cinematic landscape — one that location scouts are clamouring to visit.

Perhaps one of the most well known sites to be featured in a modern production is that of the scenic north, featured often on the hit HBO and Sky Atlantic show Game Of Thrones. 

The Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, featured in Game of Thrones
The Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, featured in Game of Thrones

The series is back this week, with extensive scenes filmed in and around Derry, Antrim, Down and Fermanagh. 

Castle Ward in Co Down is better know to Thrones fans as Winterfell, the old home of the Stark family that’s now been taken over by the horrid Boltons. 

The King’s Road that leads to the Nights Watch is an avenue of beech trees in Antrim, while Tollymore Forest Park in Down doubles as The Haunted Forest, where Wildlings roamed and Whitewalkers stalked their prey.

Northern Ireland’s tourism industry has been boosted by Game Of Thrones presence; various tour and experience packages have sprung up, and enthusiasts are coming from far and wide to see the locations of their favourite show in real life. 

Tollymore Forest in Co Down which is The Haunted Forest in ‘Game of Thrones’.
Tollymore Forest in Co Down which is The Haunted Forest in ‘Game of Thrones’.

But it’s not just the north that’s a favourite with the screen industry — there are spots countrywide known for providing a back drop to Hollywood’s greatest stories, and perhaps none so much as County Clare.

When it came to deciding on a popular film location to escape to for a minibreak, my fiancé Joe and I were spoilt for choice. 

We could’ve travelled up to Co Down, down to the Skelligs, south to Wexford’s beaches or indeed stayed in our native Dublin. 

But we decided to go west, to that most striking of coastlines.

Arriving at Dromoland Castle ( www.dromolandcastle.ie ) was like something out of a film itself; the ancestral home of the descendants of Brian Boru, it’s a dramatic location. 

The castle as it stands now has been there since the early 19th century, and is undeniably visibly striking as you drive up. Going inside, the opulence continues. 

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

It’s been extended several times, but the heart of the castle is where guests dine, drink and relax.

We decided on Co Clare due to the sheer amount of productions that have taken place there in the last half a century. 

The Cliffs of Moher have attracted many filmmakers, and have featured prominently in films like Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, The Princess Bride and Ryan’s Daughter. 

Upon visiting the Cliffs that afternoon, we discovered that many more smaller films have been made there, and that 1973 Paul Newman flick The Mackintosh Man even featured a white Mercedes going off the side of one of the cliffs. 

Apparently the filmmakers really did drive the car over the edge, something that would never happen in these health and safety conscious times.

Looking down on the Atlantic from the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, which has featured in ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ as well as ‘Father Ted’.
Looking down on the Atlantic from the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, which has featured in ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ as well as ‘Father Ted’.

The Harry Potter crew were keen to shoot an entire scene featuring the boy wizard and Hogwarts principal Dumbledore in one of the caves down by the crashing waves in 2009, but by that time proper measures were in order to protect talent and equipment from the unpredictable Atlantic surf. 

Still, they managed to film the interior of the cave, and the actors on a rock at the foot of the cliffs. 

The cliffs themselves even feature in the opening scene of the film’s trailer, and are so eerily spectacular, they look like CGI.

In The Princess Bride, the cliffs double as The Cliffs Of Insanity, climbed by Wesley in pursuit of Buttercup’s kidnappers. 

The actor Cary Elwes even fights a duel at the summit, and filming in 1986 involved a stunt man dangling on a harness over the first headland for several days while the sequences were filmed.

Now the site of an impressive visitor centre, production companies are still inundating the cliffs with requests to shoot there, so watch this space.

Looking down on the Atlantic from the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare
Looking down on the Atlantic from the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare

After our visit to the Cliffs, two exhiliarated movie buffs returned to Dromoland for a fancy dinner, feeling like characters from Downtown Abbey. 

The combination of the fabulous hotel and the interesting activities made for an ideal minibreak, and we both agreed that the food at Dromoland was the best either of us had ever had in an Irish hotel – high praise indeed ( www.dromoland.ie ).

Before we left, we decided to visit another famous site, although more of a local favourite than an international production. 

Both huge Father Ted fans, when we heard the infamous parochial house was mere miles away from our base, we hopped in the car in search of Ted, Dougal, Jack and Mrs Doyle’s not-so-humble abode.

The storms that battered Clare in the early weeks of the year still made their presence felt — two roads we attempted to drive up towards the house were badly flooded still and closed off, so getting there was more arduous than anticipated. 

Eerily, just as we were pulling up to the house after taking the long (long) way around, we heard the news that Frank Kelly had died. 

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

The actor who portrayed Father Jack on the hit Channel 4 show passed away on the same day as Ted himself, Dermot Morgan, 18 years later. 

Seeing the house after hearing that news made it even more emotional.

In the summer months, the owners throw open their doors on certain days so visitors can have tea at Ted’s ( www.fathertedshouse.com ) but we settled for a view from the gate. 

We’d learned at the Cliffs that though the Aran Islands are often credited with being the setting for most of the external shots of Craggy Island, in reality, the Cliffs of Moher was the place a lot of filming was done – remember the Holy Stone of Clonrichert, and Dougal and Jack walking along the coast? All filmed in Co Clare.

However, the wild west coast isn’t the only other major location attraction. 

There are plenty of others on the Emerald Isle too…

SKELLIG MICHAEL

The ancient island stole the show at the end of the latest Star Wars escapade, and is set to feature heavily in Episode VIII, too.

It’s where Luke Skywalker has been hiding out for the last few decades, a double for the fictional Ahch-To, and director JJ Abrams couldn’t believe his luck at being allowed to shoot there.

The island is UNESCO protected and only a limited amount of tourists are allowed visit and climb the rock each year.

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

While filming, the cast and crew were holed up in Portamagee, on the Ring of Kerry. 

An ideal place for a minibreak, tourists can stay anywhere along the scenic route and visit the rest of it in a day. 

A great spot in Killarney is Muckross Park Hotel ( www.muckrosspark.com ).

Kerry makes an appearance in several other big productions, including The Field, Far and Away and Excalibur, not to mention Ryan’s Daughter which used lots of local extras from Dunquin.

Recently, Colin Farrell flick The Lobster was shot in the Parknasilla Resort ( www.parknasillaresort.com ).

EAST COAST

Saoirse Ronan’s star turn in Brooklyn was shot in Enniscorthy, but the most famous film shot in Wexford has to be Saving Private Ryan.

In 1997, Steven Spielberg and his crew descended on Ballinesker Beach, Curracloe, to film epic scenes of the Normandy landings on D-Day. 

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

Hundreds of members of the reserves of the FCA played soldier extras, and the production went down in Irish movie history as being one of the biggest and best. 

The film, of course, went on to win five Academy Awards, including the Oscars for Best Director and Best Cinematography.

Those looking for a staycation nearby can’t go far wrong with Duncannon or the Hook Peninsula. 

Dunbrody House, Kevin Dundon’s stunning country house hotel, won a major international accolade earlier this year and is a perfect base for exploring the region ( www.dunbrodyhouse.com ).

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

Another multi-Oscar winning film was also shot in the East — Mel Gibson’s 1995 epic Braveheart. 

Some scenes were shot in Scotland, but most of it took place in and around Ardmore Studios, with all the soundstage scenes shot there too.

Trim Castle stood in for the English town of York, with the Co Meath spot also playing a London square. 

Blessington Lakes, Ballymore Eustace and the Curragh all featured too, in famous battle scenes that are sure to go down in movie history.

Bellinter House is a good base to travel to these locations ( www.bellinterhouse.com ), and they’re also easily reached from Dublin if you’re driving.

CORK

John Huston shot The Mackintosh Man in Co Clare, but the Hollywood director and screenwriter also shot an adaptation of Moby Dick in Youghal in 1956.

Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley was filmed around West Cork, taking in locations like Bandon, Coolea and Timoleague. 

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

Colin Farrell’s Ondine was set on the Beara Peninsula, while War of the Buttons filmed in Castletownsend.

Skibbereen is a popular destination to get away from it all while taking in the famous locations nearby, while Inchydoney Island in Clonakilty has a reputation for great food and a fabulous spa ( www.inchydoneyisland.com ).

MAYO

One of the most famous films shot in Ireland has to be The Quiet Man. 

Famous Hollywood director John Ford decamped to Cong, Co Mayo, for months to film the Irish-centric story starring John Wayne and our very own Maureen O’Hara. 

Showing Ireland in glorious technicolour with strong stereotyping, the film was a massive hit in the States and is still a big reason American tourists visit here today.

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

The best-known nearby hotel is the stunning Ashford Castle ( www.ashfordcastle.com), recently voted the best hotel in the world by a network of leading travel industry executives. 

It underwent a renovation in 2014 and is now one of the most luxurious destinations in Europe, never mind the world.

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

If Ashford is a little rich for your blood though, the nearby lodge is a stunning option that’s much better value ( www.thelodgeac.com ).

DUBLIN

From Michael Collins to Intermission, lots of Irish films have been shot in and around Dublin. 

These beauty spots in Ireland have provided spectacular backdrops for TV and film’s most famous scenes

Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy of The Snapper, The Commitments and The Van were set in the city’s north suburbs, while John Carney’s Once and Sing Street take place in the environs of Dublin 8.

One of the most famous films shot in the capital though, is Educating Rita – perhaps because it’s not meant to be set in Dublin’s fairy city at all. 

Trinity College doubles for a Liverpool university where Julie Walters and Michael Caine meet, but it’s not the only location used. 

The Stag’s Head pub, the airport and UCD all feature too, to the delight of Irish audiences at the time.

The Westin Hotel on Westmoreland Street is the closest hotel to both Trinity and the Stag’s Head ( www.thewestindublin.com ).

See more about the Atlantic Film Trail and other local cinema tours at www.discoverireland.ie 


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