From Hollywood blockbusters to captivating screen romances, and – most recently – a journey to a galaxy far, far away, the spectacular panoramas of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way have provided the backdrop for some of cinema’s most iconic and enduring moments. So let your imagination fly, grab some popcorn and discover more about the films of the Wild Atlantic Way.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It was one of the most eagerly awaited films in recent movie history, and the Skellig Michael island off the coast of County Kerry is a key location. The strange, isolated landscape lends itself perfectly to the mind-bending galactic universe of the iconic Star Wars series. Visitors can admire its unique silhouette from land on the Ring of Kerry route or from Bray Head, and the island itself can take a small amount of visitors from passenger boats. Once there, you can walk the historic pathways to the island’s standout beehive monastery structures. To find out more about this otherworldly place, check out this piece on the Skelligs.
Climbing the steps to the peak on Skellig Michael, County Kerry
2. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
The towering Cliffs of Moher on the Wild Atlantic Way coastline are now Ireland’s most visited natural attraction. But their impressive scale and size were also used for a pivotal scene featuring the boy wizard and Professor Dumbledore in the penultimate Harry Potter film.
Harry and Dumbledore soul searching at the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
3. Marley and Me
Audiences loved this warm and fuzzy movie about a family’s relationship with their loyal dog. When the main characters, played by Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson go on a belated honeymoon, they visit the gorgeous Connemara landscape on the Wild Atlantic Way, including the scenic village of Roundstone.
Jennifer Aniston on set in Connemara with Joe Joyce of Joyce Country Sheepdogs, image via Pól Ó Conghaile
4. The Field
Adapted from John B. Keane’s acclaimed play, directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) and starring the legendary Richard Harris, this Oscar-nominated film is a stark and powerful portrayal of conflict and pride. The coveted land featured in the film can be found in Leenane and Ashleigh in County Galway, and is an enthralling character in itself.
Richard Harris as Bull McCabe in The Field, image via Film Ireland
5. The Guard
Critics and audiences alike loved this film. Starring Brendan Gleeson as a crooked cop in the west of Ireland, it earned plaudits for its hilarious Irish wit and attractive setting across numerous locations in the charming County Galway countryside. The film was shot across various parts of the area known as the Bay Coast, including Leenane, Spiddal and Barna.
Brendan Gleeson on patrol in The Guard
6. The Quiet Man
A true cinematic classic beloved by audiences around the world, The Quiet Man portrays one of the most iconic and enduring screen romances of all time – between John Wayne’s Irish-born American and the late Maureen O’Hara’s feisty Irish cailín (girl). Scooping an Oscar for Best Director, John Ford’s depiction of County Mayo’s lush countryside and rolling hills have drawn movie lovers to Ireland since its release in 1952.
Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne in The Quiet Man, image via Irish Central
7. Ryan’s Daughter
An Oscar-winning romance, this David Lean-directed epic starred Robert Mitchum and was filmed in Ireland on the stunning coastline of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, including an epic opening scene on Inch Strand. Villagers from the town of Dunquin were hired as extras in the film and visitors later flocked to see where iconic scenes were shot. The same idyllic locations were also used over thirty years later for the Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman film Far and Away.
Sarah Miles and Christopher Jones in the sweeping tragic romance Ryan's Daughter, image via Mubi
8. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
This historical drama from Ken Loach tells the story of the Irish Civil War, and was the winner of the hugely prestigious Palme D’Or at the annual Cannes Film Festival following its release in 2006. Filmed in Ireland across much of County Cork including Bandon and Timoleague, the region’s lush hills and rolling countryside provide a scenic backdrop to the action portrayed on screen.
Stunning Cork scenery and Cillian Murphy in The Wind that Shakes the Barley, image via Volta
Filmed entirely in Ireland, including Derrynane in County Kerry, this 1981 Oscar-nominated fantasy action movie was a hit with both critics and audiences alike. A cult classic today, the film also featured many iconic actors, including Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson.
Lush greens surround the Arthurian legend of Excalibur, image via Time Out
10. The Princess Bride
A true family favourite and fantasy comedy cult classic, The Princess Bride has delighted audiences of all ages for almost thirty years, and is regularly voted as one of the greatest films of all time. However, what fans might not know is that the film’s Cliffs of Insanity, which feature in one of the film’s most famous moments, were actually the Cliffs of Moher along the Wild Atlantic Way!
Westley scales the ‘Cliffs of Insanity’, image via IFI
But it’s not just breathtaking landscapes that draw in filmmakers; stories do too. In 2015, the animated feature film Song of the Sea, inspired by traditional folk tales of the Wild Atlantic Way and the islands of County Kerry, was nominated for an Academy Award.
If you’ve already seen Star Wars VII and are keen to see more Skelligs, rumours are afoot that the remote island is set to appear in episode VIII too, so you won’t have to wait too long! Or if you’re passionate about film and visiting the Wild Atlantic Way, why not time your trip to coincide with one of the route’s thriving film festivals? Check out Galway Film Fleadh, Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival and Dingle Film Festival to get started, or start exploring the route.