Ferocious Mel Columbkille Gerard Gibson, bedecked in a bit of tartan kilt and his face painted blue, led the charge across the Curragh Racecourse into ancient battle.
The blue ‘woad plant’ dye on Gibson’s face was his war paint and he was playing the role of the legendary 13th century Scottish hero William Wallace. Rubber arrows flew through the air and plastic swords clashed as extra warriors from the Irish Army Reserve on mechanical horses recreated the historical battles of Wallace with the English at Stirling and Falkirk.
No local seemed to mind the director’s use of poetic license when the Irish switched sides to fight with their Scottish cousins at Falkirk even though they were, in fact, historically, somewhere else. The movie was Braveheart and most of it was filmed on location in Ireland on the plains of Kildare, and in the scenic hills and valleys of Wicklow.
Trim Castle, the largest Anglo-Norman castle on the island, and the nearby medieval Cistercian Bective Abbey in Co. Meath, also feature in many scenes. Braveheart won five Oscars and made it for heartthrob Mel and those knees that made grown women swoon in the aisles.
The highland desert of Wicklow has captured the imagination and been inspirational for many a film director. There are driving tours and a map that takes you round the sites of three major films that were made in Wicklow (Braveheart, Excalibur and Michael Collins).
The film sites are dotted around the county and you will experience some amazing vistas of barren stark landscapes and verdant valleys, which have been used as backdrops for many fine epics on the silver screen.
The Arthurian landscape of Sally Gap was the setting for the filming of Excalibur, and King Arthur himself tossed the famous sword into the dark and serene lake at Loch Tay. Ireland’s largest waterfall at Powerscourt near Enniskerry also appears in John Boorman’s Excalibur.
For the recent futuristic movie Reign of Fire, a mock medieval fortress popped up overnight at the site of an old lead mine at Wicklow Gap. Fire breathing dragons roamed through the misty heather only to disappear with the castle overnight without a trace when filming was done.
The real Hollywood is not far away in the west of Wicklow (the Hollywood of California was named after this small rural town). The Hollywood Inn has been a popular haunt for filmstars waiting for low mountain fog to lift, and for wannabes waiting for a role as an extra. Some scenes of Dancing at Lughnasa, starring Meryl Streep, were shot in the town.
Wicklow’s towns have also made frequent appearances on film. Bray was used for scenes in MyLeft Foot, Michael Collins and The Commitments. A house on the main street in Greystones was used in Angela’s Ashes. The Railway Bar in Rathdrum is in the background when Liam Neeson as Michael Collins gives one of his great orations.
In 1956, Youghal in Co. Cork was the setting for John Huston’s film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck. You can view some film memorabilia and pictures from the set in the Moby Dick pub in the town centre.
The opening sequences of Saving Private Ryan are perhaps the most famous scenes filmed in Ireland. Lauded as the most accurate depiction of the horrors of war ever, the film was showered with awards at the Oscars.
Director Steven Spielberg chose the golden sands of Curracloe Beach in Co. Wexford to set the Normandy landing at Omaha Beach early in the morning of D-Day. The bathers were banished from the beach and it was littered with the trappings of war. During filming Spielberg and Tom Hanks regularly enjoyed a drink and a game of pool in the Furlong Village Bar near the beach.
Depictions of Irish rural life on film haven’t always been flattering, but the scenery depicted has certainly been true to life. The Quiet Man, directed by John Ford in the 1950s, depicted a rather idyllic and stereotypic view of rural Ireland, but the film was very much a classic of its genre.
John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara were the leading actors and it was filmed in Cong in Co. Mayo. Some cast members were lucky enough to stay at the majestic Ashford Castle Hotel, and some of the scenes were shot in the castle grounds.
Much of the surrounding dramatic scenery depicted in the film is still the same today as it was then. There is a Quiet Man Tour of some film sites in the town, and you can visit a replica of Thornton’s traditional thatched cottage a few miles down the road.
Bull McCabe, played by Richard Harris, was perhaps the most extreme caricature of the rural Irish male farmer. His pride and his passion for the scrap of land he owned in The Field led to his ultimate downfall. The unique landscape around Leenane, Co. Galway, at the mouth of Killary Harbour (Ireland’s only fjord) is where Jim Sheridan’s film was located. The lovely Renvyle House Hotel nearby is where Harris and his co-stars stayed.
The Dingle Peninsula was the setting for two romantic epics from different eras. David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter was filmed near Dunquin in the 1970s. The beautiful and contrasting Inch Strand and Coumeenole Strand feature prominently in the action. Two decades later Ron Howard’s film Far and Away, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, was made in a landscape that hadn’t changed much since then.