For over 100 years the beautiful County Kerry has been attracting film crews and Hollywood.
In recent years County Kerry played a starring role in the new "Star Wars" films as the UNESCO world heritage site of Skellig Michael played host to Luke Skywalker and his buddies.
"Star Wars" joined a long list of blockbusters that have been filmed on location in the Kingdom such as "Ryan’s Daughter" and "Far and Away". In August 1991 "Far and Away" created a great buzz in West Kerry when the film, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, was shot there.
I was only four years old at the time so therefore I can only vaguely remember having a nose around the film set out on Slea Head. My family joined the hoards of people that thronged the film set, near the old set of "Ryans Daughter", on the wild coast of West Kerry. Those who were old enough talked of the same buzz from the "Ryans Daughter" shoot in 1969 and Kerry in those Autumn days of 1991 was once again the epicenter of film in Ireland. But Kerry has always been an attraction for Hollywood well before "Star Wars", "Far and Away "and "Ryans Daughter", in fact the first motion picture filmed in Ireland was filmed in, where else? Kerry of course!
'The Lad From Old Ireland" which was filmed in New York and Kerry in 1910 was the first film made by an American studio on location outside of the United States and that studio was the Kalem Company.
The Kalem Company was founded in 1907 and Sidney Olcott was the studio’s go-to director. When he was asked where in the world he would like to shoot a film his answer was the land of his mother’s birth: Ireland.
In August 1910 the Kalem Company boarded the S. S Baltic for Cobh or Queenstown as it was then known. From there they traveled on to Kerry where they set about making "The Old Lad From Ireland".
While touring in a jaunting car around South Kerry, Olcott came across the village of Beaufort and decided this picture postcard setting outside Killarney would suit as his studio headquarters while shooting his film in the kingdom.
The script was written by Gene Gauntier the Kansas city born pioneer of early film, while George K. Hollister was the cinematographer who shot the realistic setting.
Olcott not only directed the film but he also took on the leading role as the character of Terry O’Connor who emigrates to New York. Guantier starred as Terry’s love interest Eileen whom he left behind in Ireland but upon hearing of her family’s plight at the hands of the villainous landlord he takes himself back to the old sod to save her.
When it was released on Thanksgiving Day 1910, the seventeen minute long film was publicized as ‘Kalem’s great trans-Atlantic drama.’ Its authenticity drew large crowds to cinemas especially Irish emigrants who went back to see it over and over again just to catch a glimpse of what they left behind.
Due to the success of "The Lad From Old Ireland" the Kalem Company sent Olcott back to Beaufort a year later with bigger ambitions.
The film company traveled all over Kerry to shoot their films. One time the large cast and crew managed the long trip to Dingle over 50 miles away from their base only to discover when they got there that they had left the camera behind in Beaufort!
From 1910 to 1914 Olcott and his film crew made Kerry their place of work as the realism of its setting proved extremely appealing to cinema audiences. The films made by Olcott in County Kerry had two main themes: revolution and romance. Films such as Rory O’ Moore and Robert Emmet Irelands Martyr played to a nationalist sentiment, something the Irish audience in America relished. Romantic themes were to be found in films such as The Fishing Maid of Ballydavid and A Letter From Ireland.
Just like modern day film shoots in county Kerry, it brought a much welcome financial boost through transport hire and accommodation while many locals were hired as extras for five shillings a day.
In 1914 Olcott divulged plans of building a permanent film studio in Kerry but when World War I broke out his plans were cast aside and the Kalem company left Kerry never to come back again.
Over 100 years later Kerry is still attracting film crews and if a film studio had been successfully built all those years ago then who knows, perhaps the whole Star Wars saga could have been made there today!
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