In 1943, Britain was at war, and the government of the day decided that a morale boosting film harking back to previous battles and glorious victories would raise morale among the population. As Ireland was neutral, it was decided to shoot Henry V, starring Sir Laurence Olivier on the Powerscourt Estate, about half an hour from Dublin, today. This was a huge production involving scores of extras for the many battle scenes.
My Grandfather got the contract to supply oats for all the horses needed for the battle scenes, and when delivering the load, he brought my father, then six years old, with him. They watched one of the battle scenes being filmed that day, and my father, accustomed to grim news reports coming in over the “wireless”, was convinced he was watching a scene from the World War raging in Europe at that time!
Ireland has played host to many productions since the beginning of the film industry and County Wicklow, now boasting two impressive film studios, has hosted over 300 films and counting… This is partly because this county, just south of the capital city of Dublin, has stunning scenery and great areas of wilderness within a short drive, and coupled with generous tax incentives, has attracted many productions here over the years. Such epics as Braveheart, Excalibur, The Tudors, and Michael Collins were all filmed here.
On my tours I bring visitors through Wicklow Mountains National Park to show them the locations used for many well known films. The best known and best loved area has to be Lugala, known to visitors as the “Guinness Lake”. Lough Tay is a wonderful corrie lake, under the granite cliffs of Lugala Mountain, and the dark peaty waters, capped with the white sands of the beach, looks like a pint of Guinness on its side. By coincidence, the estate is owned by a member of the Guinness family, though it has just gone on the market for a cool €28 million. At present this estate is hosting a village beside the lake, home to hoards of wild men and women, better known to fans as “Vikings”. This series, which is broadcast on the History Channel and many others, has been highly successful and lots of hairy men in Co Wicklow have enjoyed work as extras in the many battle scenes!
Another popular film location, close to Lugala is the “PS I Love You” bridge. This is a romantic movie, or “chick flick” starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, and a romantic moment took place beside an old stone bridge over one of the many peaty streams coming off the mountains. Every day buses disgorge visitors who delight in taking “selfies” at this hitherto unremarkable little bridge, much to the amusement of locals!
This year, my parent’s farm was chosen as the location for a TV drama series and it was fascinating to see the work that goes into any production. Their three hundred year old farmhouse was painted from top to bottom and a fibreglass porch added to the stone front, looking completely realistic. An actor, playing a corpse, spent three days lying on my parent’s bed, before being carried out of the house for the funeral. The farm rooster had the unfortunate habit of crowing at inopportune times, and had to be exiled to a neighbouring farm!
I often bring visitors to the family farm as part of a tour of Wicklow, and my father, the six year old who watched Sir Laurence Olivier play Henry V, is now eighty years of age, and loves to meet visitors. He shows them over the old farmyard with his collection of antique machinery, and down to my brother’s modern sheep and cattle sheds. Last time I visited with my tour group, the farmhouse kitchen was being used for filming so my visitors and I had to dine with the cast and crew, from the film canteen, and eat our lunch in the top deck of a double decker bus, used as a mobile dining room! This was great fun and the food was delicious….
Heading to Dublin? Don’t miss a day out with Dairene in County Wicklow. You can learn more about her, and start a conversation with Dairene here: Dairene in Wicklow.