Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash
Ireland, located just off the coast of the United Kingdom, is a popular tourist destination for many reasons. Attracting almost seven million visitors in 2022, the country is well-known for its rich culture and easy-going attitude.
Apart from the residents, the country is famous for its incredible landscapes. From rolling hills and valleys to shimmering shorelines that feature dramatic cliffs dropping into the ocean, the greenery of the countryside has gained it the nickname the Emerald Isle.
With such stunning natural beauty, the country often attracts the attention and cameras of film directors worldwide. Some locations in the region hold such appeal that they have appeared on the big and small screen numerous times. Let’s look at the most filmed locations in the Land of Saints.
The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most striking natural attractions in the region. Spanning a distance of almost 14 kilometres (approximately nine miles), the cliffs range from 120 metres (or 390 feet) to 214 metres (702 feet).
Aside from being recognized by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) for their incredible beauty, numerous filmmakers have made the cliffs the perfect addition to their works.
The most notable appearance of the cliffs was in the 1987 blockbuster titled The Princess Bride, in which they were called the Cliffs of Insanity. Large portions of the movie showcased the vertical drops’ majestic façade.
The cliffs have more recently appeared in the 2009 movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the 2010 film Leap Year. They have also been featured in numerous music video productions, including songs like “Runaway” by Maroon 5 and “My Love” by Westlife.
Powerscourt Estate, County Wicklow
Powerscourt Estate, whose construction began in 1731, is a formidable castle-life home located on 19 hectares (47 acres) of land in Enniskerry. Sitting among manicured lawns and landscaped gardens, the house has been through a number of renovations and was even reduced to a shell after a fire gutted it in 1974.
Despite its rough history, which includes a murder to secure ownership of it, the imposing façade of the house and its ornate gardens have appealed to moviemakers since the mid-1900s.
In 1944, the location was used for the filming of Henry V. Following this, movies such as Black Beauty (1970), The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), King Arthur (2004), and Ella Enchanted (2004) have used the location as a backdrop.
The estate has also been featured in multiple made-for-TV movies and TV shows, including The Tudors (2007), David Copperfield (2000), and Battle at Big Rock (2019).
Skellig Michael, County Kerry
Located off the Iveragh Peninsula, Skellig Michael (also called Great Skellig) derives its name from the archangel Michael and a native word for a splinter of stone. The island features a recognizable twin spire or rock covered in greenery sitting independently in the Atlantic Ocean.
The island is home to a monastery and a hermitage and features multiple stairways that lead to the top of the crag. It is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, which limits the number of tourists visiting it daily.
The site was first used as a backdrop in the German film Heart of Glass (1976) and featured in the 2012 movie Byzantium. The real reason for its fame, however, is its appearance in multiple Star Wars movies as the film location for planet Ahch-To.
Appearances in this popular franchise include Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), and, to a lesser extent, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
Kilmainham Gaol, County Dublin
Built in 1796, Kilmainham Goal was commissioned as a replacement for the existing prison in Dublin County—located just a short way away from the new building. The prison has gone down in Irish history as having terrible conditions for inmates and as the place where leaders of the Easter Rebellion in 1916 were imprisoned and executed.
Home to prisoners serving time for every crime under the sun—from stealing to operating illegal casinos—the prison was decommissioned in 1924 after the country gained independence. Today, the prison is a national museum and a reminder of the country’s past. As such, it not only attracts an endless stream of tourists but also the cameras of multiple movie makers.
The prison has been a filming location for over 12 titles since 1962. Among these have been The Italian Job (1969), The Whistle Blower (1987), In the Name of the Father (1993), and Michael Collins (1996). The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) and Paddington 2 (2017) are the most recent films shot on location at the prison.
Trim Castle, County Meath
Listed as one of the national monuments in the county of Meath, Trim Castle sits proudly on the edge of the River Boyne. Occupying over 30,000 square metres, the castle took over 30 years to construct and once even included a mint for new currency.
In 1993, the castle became the official property of the state, and a massive €4.5 million restoration of the existing buildings and surrounding walls began. Public access was granted only in the year 2000.
Before this, however, the castle was the setting for two blockbusters: The Big Red One (1980) and Braveheart (1995). In the latter film, the expansive area of the castle and boundary walls made it the perfect setting to portray York as a walled city.
Aside from the famous Irish sites listed above, numerous others on the Emerald Isle have served as iconic settings for various movies or TV shows. Here are just a few:
- Achill Island – The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) and My Sailor, My Love (2022)
- Inis Mór – The Banshees of Inisherin (2012), The Matchmaker (1997), and Leap Year (2010)
- The Dark Hedges – Game of Thrones (2011) and Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
- Curracloe Beach – Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Brooklyn (2015)
- Youghal – Moby Dick (1956)
- Trinity College – Star Trek: Voyager (1995), Michael Collins (1996), The First Great Train Robbery (1978), Ek Tha Tiger (2012), and Educating Rita (1983)
- Lough Tay – Vikings (2013)