Ireland on the Big Screen


Ireland on the big screen

When Ireland gets some screen time, it makes a lasting impression. And these 10 films, all featuring iconic scenes shot in Ireland, will make you want to pack your bags and hop on the next available flight.

Ireland’s film history is rich.

Although the island is most well known for its classic literary works – the likes of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and C.S. Lewis – the Emerald Isle has also served as the backdrop for some of the silver screen’s most iconic moments. Enhanced by a diverse set of landscapes, from stunning cliffs to rugged coastlines, cozy villages to vibrant, bustling city centers, films shot in Ireland capture a certain essence that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

It’s hard to really need a reason to pack your bags and go explore Ireland, but the following films may serve as some pretty compelling inspiration. With representation in several genres – and including a handful of box-office behemoths – these 10 films feature some of the most distinct and awe-inspiring locations. Take a look:

The view of picturesque Enniscorthy from the banks of the River Slaney.
Credit: Creative Commons.

1. Brooklyn

From its leading lady, Saoirse Ronan, to source material from Colm Tóibín, to scenes from the homeland, Brooklyn is as Irish of a story as they come. The meat of the plot unfolds in the film’s eponymous New York borough, but injects plenty of Irish context with scenes filmed in Counties Wexford, Wicklow, and Dublin as audiences watch Eilis navigate the immigration process and wrestle with homesickness. Of particular significance for your Ireland vacation, the picturesque town of Enniscorthy and the stunning vistas of Curracloe Beach – both located in County Wexford – played huge roles in production.

County Meath's legendary Trim Castle.
Credit: William Murphy, Flickr.

2. Braveheart

It may be hard to believe that Mel Gibson’s Oscar juggernaut was filmed anywhere other than Scotland, but several scenes from Braveheart were actually captured inIreland. The most notable landmark from the William Wallace saga is Trim Castle in County Meath, which is 841 years-old and the largest Anglo-Norman fortress in Ireland. In addition to County Meath, Counties Dublin, Wicklow, and Kildare all received location credits.

It’s also worth noting that Gibson’s taste in locale paid off – Braveheart earned five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography.

The stunning Cliffs of Moher, County Clare.
Credit: Bob Familiar, Flickr.

3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The Harry Potter franchise is filled with whimsical, immersive settings, but many are brought to life by Hollywood magic. However, that is not the case for the Harry and Dumbledore’s horcrux hunt, which takes them to the misty Cliffs of Moher. It goes without saying that the gems of County Clare were a must-see attraction long before The Half Blood Prince cast its magic on them, but their inclusion in the film was an undeniable asset.

The colorful waterfront of Killyleagh, County Down.
Credit: Tony Hisgett, Flickr.

4. Philomena

Although the plot of Philomena eventually takes the film away from Ireland, the charm of Emerald Isle remains in spirit. In its early moments, Philomena resides in Northern Ireland, specifically the beautifully scenic County Down, where we first meet Judy Dench’s titular character – and it’s in those moments that Ireland makes a lasting impression.

The Wicklow Mountains are what romantic getaways are made of.
Credit: Creative Commons.

5. P.S. I Love You

After losing the love of her life (Gerard Butler doing his best Irish accent), it takes a trip to the rolling hills of Ireland for Hillary Swank's character to fully recover. Considered the highlight of P.S. I Love You by many rom-com fans, the scenes from the Wicklow Mountains – where Butler and Swank first meet, and where she later returns – are truly what romantic dreams are made of.

County Mayo's Ashford Castle and grounds.
Credit: Bob Familiar, Flickr.

6. The Quiet Man

Filmmaking in Ireland was put on the map when John Wayne came to the Emerald Isle for The Quiet Man, in which he plays an Irish-American who returns to his native land to claim his father’s farmland. The Academy darling features classic Irish scenes in Counties Galway and Mayo, with stops at major landmarks like Ashford Castle – the award-winning castle hotel, set on a gorgeous 350 acre estate which was once home to the famous Guinness family. Other notable filming locations were Thoor Ballylee (also known as Yeats' Tower, as it was once owned by the poet William Butler Yeats) and the Quiet Man bridge which spans the Owenriff River.

Not filmed in France! County Wexford's Curracloe Beach where Spielberg staged his iconic Omaha Beach scene.
Credit: Vasiok1, Flickr.

7. Saving Private Ryan

The gold standard in cinematic portrayals of war belongs to Steven Spielberg. While it could be debated that Saving Private Ryan is the best war film of all time in its own right, there’s no doubt that Spielberg’s recreation of D-Day in the film’s opening scene is without equal. The famous stage for Ryan’s opener is Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, however, despite Spielberg’s masterful reimagining of the events, the scene wasn’t capture on Omaha Beach or anywhere in France, for that matter – it was in Ireland, on Curracloe Beach in County Wexford.

Curracloe is one of many gorgeous beaches on Ireland’s southeastern coast, and when it’s not the war-torn setting of Spielberg’s WWII epic, it’s actually a beautiful place for a stroll. As noted earlier, Curracloe was also used to film moments from 2016 Best Picture nominee, Brooklyn.

The charming streets of Dalkey, just outside of Dublin city.
Credit: Tourism Ireland.

8. Sing Street

Not since The Commitments have a music and comedy brought audiences to Ireland like Sing Street. Set in Dublin, the quirky comedy follows a young boy who, after reluctantly transferring to a school in the dodgy part of town, starts a band with some friends in order to win the heart of a girl. The film’s title is inspired by the real-life Synge Street, a half-mile stretch in Dublin’s Portobello neighborhood that provided the bulk of the film’s locations. Another key location for the film was Dalkey, a charming coastal village just a quick 30 minute drive or train ride from Dublin city.

Skellig Michael was the perfect choice for the Star Wars Universe.
Credit: ash_crow, Flickr.

9. Star Wars:
The Force Awakens

After delivering the galaxy from certain doom, it was up to Rey – the heroine of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars story – to trigger one of the most anticipated scenes in the franchise’s storied history: the reintroduction of the legendary and reclusive Jedi, Luke Skywalker. Of course, such a dramatic scene called for an equally dramatic location, and that’s what led production designer Rick Carter to Skellig Michael.

Located off the coast of County Kerry, Skellig Michael is a remote and breathtaking island that perfectly fits the Star Wars aesthetic, offering otherworldly beauty while maintaining a sense of reality. “We wanted to make sure that wherever we went in this movie, you always felt that you were really there,” says Carter. In Star Wars, what’s so great is places matter: they actually are really related to who the characters are.”

Sweeping aerial shots of Rey scaling the ancient steps of a ruined monastery on Skellig Michael showcased the stunning landscape of the island and added the perfect dramatic flair to the film’s closing moments. The scene will certainly go down as one of the most significant in Star Wars history, and also serves as an impressive feather in Ireland’s cinematic cap.

Mizen Head, the southern-most point of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way.
Credit: Greg Clarke, Flickr.

10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Building off of the iconic conclusion to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the second chapter of new trilogy returns to Skellig Michael and the meeting between Skywalker and Rey. Not much is known about the The Last Jedi – which, at the time of this writing, doesn’t even have a trailer – however, according to IMDB, the remote island isn’t Ireland’s only screen time: Counties Donegal and Cork also received credit as filming locations, thanks to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, a dramatic 1,500-mile coastal touring route stretching down the island's Western seaboard. The impending blockbuster is slated for a December 15, 2017 release, and all eyes will be on the Emerald Isle.

Inch Abbey, County Down.
Credit: cinnamonster, Flickr.

Bonus: Game of Thrones

No, Game of Thrones is not a film, but the HBO smash hit technically isn’t television either. Westoros features a variety of climates and landscapes, and a sizable portion them are captured in parts of Northern Ireland. County Down plays a large role – home to iconic Thrones fortresses like Winterfell – along with Counties Fermanagh and Antrim, which contribute castles, coastlines, and wooded areas that help populate the fantastical medieval universe.

Lead photo credit: Caspar Diederik @storytravelers

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