Ireland ‘ the Emerald Isle ‘ so called for its extensive grasslands has some of the most amazing mixtures of landscapes and architecture throughout Western Europe. Since the dawn of the movie industry, many films have been recorded there, set there or otherwise utilised its vast areas as an influence. Some of this list might be surprising as they are not set in Ireland, but all of them had part of all of the recordings made there.
Despite being set primarily in Scotland and about the life of its national hero William Wallace, this film boosted the Scottish tourism industry but was actually filmed largely in Ireland. The crew took advantage of the rugged terrain and especially the unaltered nature of its national castles compared to a lot of examples in Scotland which are either in ruins or privately owned and still inhabited. Even the London scenes were filmed between a historic abbey and a famous castle in Ireland.
2. Far and Away
This period drama starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman is set in Ireland and in the USA; the couple leave Ireland due to a personal conflict during the potato famine seeking a new life in USA. The cinematography does justice to the Irish landscape and conveys the state of the economy during that time rather well. Even some of the scenes supposedly set in the USA were filmed in Ireland; over three quarters of the filming locations were in the Emerald Isle.
3. Saving Private Ryan
One of the most surprising on this list, the war film about the Normandy landing has a white knuckle ride of an opening set on the famous Omaha beach; this was where American soldiers came under fire from Nazi Germany leading to massive loss of life so the allies could establish a foothold and finally begin to push back. The actual battle was filmed on Ballinesker Beach in County Wexford. The Irish Defence Forces supplied thousands of men as extras.
4. Michael Collins
It is no surprise that this controversial biopic about the life of the man responsible for the foundation of the IRA and the creation of the Irish Free State was filmed entirely in Ireland. Understandably considering the subject matter, it should not have been any other way. Neeson played the titular role; Stephen Rea, Julia Roberts, Alan Rickman and Aidan Quinn also starred. The film opened to mixed reviews with Neeson praised for his performance and Roberts vilified for hers.
5. King Arthur
The most British of Roman films which was supposed to have been set around and near the Hadrian’s Wall border concerned a former Roman military commander and his knights fighting against hordes of Saxon invaders. However, it was not filmed in England or in Scotland at all but in Ireland, a country never conquered by the Romans. The ancient castles and landscape though were seen as ideal representations of the immediate post-empire period of mainland Britain. Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone and Clive Owen star.
Filmed and set in Ireland, this Pierce Brosnan film is a biopic about a very real court case from the 1950s. It confronts the controversial Irish laws on sending the children of broken homes to Church-run orphanages ‘ something that Desmond Doyle fought hard to prevent following the breakup of his marriage. He had boys and girls and both would have gone to separate orphanages if he had not won his case. The film was highly fictionalised, Doyle had six children but the film showed only three ‘ focussing on Evelyn as the only girl when in reality, she had two sisters.
7. Inside I’m Dancing (Rory O’Shea Was Here)
This comedy-drama set and filmed in Ireland was about the rather quiet and thoughtful Michael Connolly (who has Cerebral Palsy) whose life is shaken up by the arrival of maverick Rory O’Shea (who has muscular dystrophy) to the care home in which he lives. At O’Shea’s insistence, the two move out of the home and rope a local girl into being their carer. Connolly can barely speak but O’Shea is the only one who can understand what he says. The film courted controversy by putting two able-bodied men into the main roles.
8. My Left Foot
Arguably the most famous film ever to come out of Ireland, it is the biopic of Christy Brown who, despite having Cerebral Palsy and only being able to move his left foot, became a famous writer and artist during the 1950s. The film starred Daniel Day Lewis in what would win him his first Academy Award as a leading actor. The film follows his life and early struggles of growing up in a working class family, going through all the angst of his teenager years and how he came to develop an interest in art.
9. The (First) Great Train Robbery
Based on a book by Michael Crichton, it tells the story of a plot to steal a shipment of gold moving from London to Folkestone. The gold was to be sold to finance the on-going Crimean War. The gang intended to replace the gold with lead bars. Despite being set in southeast England, most of the filming took place in Ireland. The final scenes were recorded between various sites in Dublin and Cork; even the final scene at the railway station was filmed in Cork on a closed railway line.
10. The Crying Game
Starting as a conventional action thriller about the abduction of British soldier by the IRA, this film is best known for blindsiding the audience with its shocking twist. Stephen Rea (Fergus) becomes wracked with guilt for the execution of Forest Whittaker (who played the British squaddie – Jody). Fergus tracks down Jody’s girlfriend and falls in love with her ‘ only to discover that she was a man. The film ends with the bungled assassination attempt of a Judge. Most of the scenes were set and filmed in Ireland with the troubles of the 1970s and 1980s as its backdrop.
Ireland is and remains a popular destination for backpackers the world over. It holds a particular charm for Americans from the oldest states, particularly New England. It is also a very popular destination for the movie industry and will continue to be so for its ancient architecture and its varied landscape.