You’ve been hearing a lot about Ireland over the past few weeks.  It happens every year around this time. It is a given that the people are most warm and friendly, with a gentle sense of humour, that the landscape is lush and green, contrasting against the deep orange of the gorse in spring , that little white dots of sheep scatter across rolling hills.

You have probably heard about all the well known spots, Blarney, Killarney, The Ring of Kerry. There has been the usual overkill on the Guinness and whiskey. But do you know of the little villages and areas that don’t often make the headlines? The ones so incredibly beautiful that the filmmakers search out?

I was around six years old when I first visited the country my mother was born in.  I remember it very well. Dublin and O’Connell Street, with the horse drawn carriages lined up outside The Gresham Hotel, to the delight of the American visitors staying there. Co. Wicklow and Glendalough, where my uncle took me and told me his version of the story of St Kevin and the cave in the rocks where Kevin lived – “He was escaping from the blathering chatter of all the women bothering him!”

It was also then that I first stayed in a castle, Cliff Castle Hotel in Dalkey. It was originally one of the “Seven Castles of Dalkey” built hundreds of years ago when it defended the main trade route in and out of Ireland. Over the years it has had numerous owners.  On arrival, I was introduced to Mrs Murphy, whom I promptly asked if there was a princess in the castle. “There is now” she responded, smiling down on me. I remember the hot bricks in the bed, and waking in the morning looking out the window down to the water crashing up against the rocks. I vividly remember being taken down to a ‘dungeon’ (probably where they kept the wine, but humouring me, they called it the ‘dungeon’.) The castle was recently restored to its original glory and is a real treat to stay in.

Memories of those first years have lived in my soul. At the age of six, I was more interested in horses than in the wonderful poetic minds that have been the backbone of Ireland, especially through its turbulent political times. As years past, and I visited more often, the theatre, the authors, playwrights and actors who grew from that rich cultural backdrop became much more prevalent in my mind. So did the glorious landscape. It is “such stuff as dreams are made of”. And movies.

Ireland with its stunningly beautiful scenery and its tiny villages has been a popular place for movie shoots for many years. And many are still living off the visits of North Americans, who want to see for themselves if ‘White O’ Morn’ really exists.

I suppose that’s the first film that most people think of, The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. In the early 1950’s, the village of Cong, a beautiful place nestled on the shores of Lough Corrib, in Co. Mayo, saw itself deluged with a film crew from Hollywood. Most of the cast and crew were put up in Ashford Castle, now one of the most expensive places to stay in Ireland.

Posh surroundings, yes, and well worth the money…with trips in jaunting carts along the river and around the village, a stop at a thatched roof cafe for tea and scones, and the scenic areas of Cong. The surrounding countryside is outrageously beautiful. Nearly everyone living there has a memory from the year that the village was taken over by Hollywood. The first time I visited, we came upon Cong by accident. Approaching the main square with a broken Celtic Cross in it, I noticed a small shop, a hair salon. And there they were, a little tired and worn: two black and white headshots, one of Wayne the other O’Hara sitting in the centre of the window. Signed. I knew I had arrived.

The bridge that Michleen (Barry Fitzgerald) stops on after picking up Sean (John Wayne) from the train sits in quiet glory, a rough stone, well-travelled archway over a small river. Leaning against it, a simple board saying “The Quiet Man Bridge”.

Cohan’s Bar is still there but it’s actually a shop. The sign ‘Cohan’s Bar’ that is seen throughout the film, was put on the exterior of the shop for filming and there it remains. All interiors of the bar were filmed on a Hollywood soundstage.

Anyone who has seen the film wants to see ‘White O’ Morn’ – the quaint little thatched cottage that Sean moves into.

The original is near Maam Bridge but remains a ruin, pulled apart by visiting North Americans wanting a piece to take home. Recognizing the importance of the cottage to tourism, a reproduction has been built in nearby Maam Cross.

Over now to an area of Ireland that is definitely well travelled by tourists. The Dingle Peninsula. On the peninsula lies a small, very small village called Inch. In fact, if you blink, you might miss it.  Playboy of the Western World was filmed here, and it’s here that David Lean directed John Mills in his Oscar Award winning performance as Michael in Ryan’s Daughter. You have to be a cinephile to know this is where it was filmed – unless you hit the beach, a long stretch of sand and rocks rising out of the sea. So recognizable. Shut your eyes and it’s easy to imagine Sarah Miles and Robert Mitchum walking along the strand of sand. The last time I visited the peninsula, it was drizzling by the time I reached Inch. That, however, did not stop me from running along the beach barefoot, in abandon. (Others sat in their cars questioning my sanity.) Inch – a place to walk, bike, ride and…dream.

Inistioge – the very sound is lilting, is it not?  Inistioge is a paradise, a haven away from the stress of the outside world. It’s so easy here to imagine you are in another world, another time or era. Am I partial? Yes. My grandmother, Mary Smith, was born in Inistioge. My family still lives there. It is one of the most idyllic spots in Ireland. It boasts a growing tourism. Ever since Widow’s Peak with Mia Farrow, Natasha Richardson and Joan Plowright, followed by Maeve Binchey’s Circle of Friends with Minnie Driver, were filmed there.

Nestled by the River Nore, among rolling hills, the little village is a favoured romantic hideaway for many Irish people and tourists. Those who discover this special place tend to be drawn back again and again. It’s a small place, somewhat off the beaten track, where little has changed for generations and the modern world seems very far away indeed. St. Mary’s Church sits in the centre of the village, parts of which date back to the 13th century. (There is a wonderful scene in ‘Widows Peak’ taken in the graveyard here – with the inimitable Joan Plowright on her observations of men!!) The ruins of a 14th century merchant’s house overlook the tree lined village square and there is a nice little garden there where you can sit and watch the world go by – have a picnic with the kids. One of the scenes repeated throughout both movies, taken from across the bridge, is that of the row of old white houses, one of which was a one room schoolhouse, now a cafe.

A place I like to hide away in is Cullintra House, surrounded by hills, dales…and the requisite sheep. It may not be to everyone’s liking because it is, indeed, quaint, somewhat dark, but oh, so full of the past. Imagine small parlours lit with big crackling fires at night. Great to sit with all the other guests from around the world, chatting over a tea (or something stronger!). And for an extra fee, the owner will do you a meal you will never forget – five courses! The only problem is, she serves when it suits her, sometimes quite late. Nevertheless…I love it there.

I love most everything in Ireland. I haven’t mentioned the filming sites of Dublin and its surroundings but chose to concentrate on the little places, many undiscovered or rarely visited by the public because most like to go to the more familiar areas.  Nothing wrong with that because wherever your path takes you in Ireland, you will be sure to meet people who will entertain you with stories, discover scenery in which you can dream your own adventures and, around each corner come upon natural beauty unlike anything you have seen before, just waiting for the next filmdom’s camera crew to arrive.

Ireland Tourism: www.discoverireland.com
Cliff Castle Hotel: To let as Full House – Tel: 01 2989384

Ashford Castle: www.ashford.ie
Cullintra House, The Rower, Inistioge, Co Kilkenny: Tel:051 423614

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