Carmel Tutty remembers the day Meryl Streep came to Hollywood.
“She walked around, chatted to villagers in the main street and posed for a picture with my husband Jim, who ran the pub,” she says.
Villagers? Pub? The main street? This doesn’t sound like Tinseltown.
That’s right. This Hollywood is in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin. And Wicklow is Ireland’s movie capital. Hundreds of films, television series and commercials have been shot in the county that calls itself the “Garden of Ireland.’’
It began in 1958 when Ardmore Studios opened in Bray, as Ireland’s answer to Pinewood Studios in England. Recently a second studio has opened in Ashford, 35 km south of Dublin.
The studios and the marvellous location scenery — mountains, lakes, villages, rolling meadows, castles, beaches, waterfalls — have made Wicklow a stand-in for Scotland, England, France, Germany and even America, as well as dozens of Irish-set productions. Some recent productions filmed entirely or partly in Wicklow include the hit TV show The Tudors, and films such as Leap Year, Ella Enchanted, Becoming Jane, and P.S. I Love You.
Oscar-winner Streep was in Hollywood in 1997 filming Dancing At Lughnasa, the screen version of Brian Friel’s award-winning play about five sisters growing up in rural Donegal in the 1930s.
“The interior of our pub was made over as a grocer’s shop, where Miss Streep did her shopping and heard local gossip,’’ Carmel Tutty says.
Two years earlier the cameras had been in the pub for a scene in Michael Collins, where Irish rebel Collins (played by Liam Neeson) has his last drink before he is gunned down.
“The assassination scene was shot in Corrigan’s Glen, just outside Hollywood,’’ Tully says.
Other stars who have walked the streets of Wicklow include Mel Gibson, Julie Andrews, Matthew McConaughey, Richard Burton, Katharine Hepburn, Pierce Brosnan, Peter O’Toole, Nicole Kidman, Robert Mitchum — the list runs into the hundreds.
As a tourist promotion, the county has designated three self-drive tours, called Braveheart, Excalibur and Michael Collins, taking in locations associated with those movies.
County Wicklow on film
Movie and television series shot in Wicklow:
- Powerscourt House and Gardens. One of the stately mansions of Ireland, this was a prime location for The Tudors, the TV costume drama starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry VIII.
- Lough Tay. The hand that holds the titular sword in Excalibur (1981) belongs to director John Boorman’s daughter Telsche, lying underwater in the lake.
- Ballymore Eustace. Remember that scene in Braveheart (1995) where William Wallace’s (Mel Gibson) Highlanders show their bare backsides to taunt the English army? It was filmed here, with Irish Army reservists standing in for both armies. (In other words, cheap extras, one of the lures that brought Gibson to Ireland.)
- Avoca. The picturesque hamlet became the village of Ballykissangel for the much-loved TV series of that name (1996-2001). The Fountain Bar’s name was changed to Fitzgerald’s for the series and the name remains to this day, to the delight of the tourists.
- How did Ireland’s Hollywood get its name? It is said St. Kevin prayed in a wood here in the 6th century and the place became known as the Holy Wood. This evolved into the present name.
- Local legend says Matthew Guirke, a famine-era (1845-’50) immigrant, ended up in Los Angeles and gave the name of his home village to the suburb that became the movie capital. But historians scoff at this; they say the name came much later.
- The sign on the hill above the village says, in capital letters, HOLLYWOOD. But at 1.8-metres high and 1.2-metres wide, it’s a lot smaller than the famed sign on the Hollywood Hills.