When you drive north in Ireland, Malin Head topped by Banba’s Crown is the end of the road. This was the set for several parts of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, due for release in December. A crashed Millennium Falcon was built on the northern shore and a beach in front of The Curiosity Shop was featured in another crucial scene.
The local bar has the image of Yoda on its outside wall and a sign in the doorway forbids the use of “The Force” inside. A local told me that there were some 300 film crew here for three weeks, just to film for three days.
“What they wanted was scenery — that they got — plus waves and rain. Day after day, they had windless, sunny days so they had to import a wind machine and a rain machine. A rain machine needed in Ireland — fancy that!”
The dramatic scenery up here is worthy of filming, but the history is poignant, too. In the nineteenth century, emigrating families would come and light bonfires at Banba’s Crown so their relatives could catch once last glimpse of Ireland as they sailed for the new world.
The narrow, winding two-lane rural road passes whitewashed thatched cottages and black-faced sheep chewing on some of the greenest grass imaginable. Known as the R242, some true Star Wars fans have suggested it should be renamed the R2D2.
Game of Thrones
Titanic Studios in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast is home to the production of Game of Thrones and there are several places in Northern Ireland where you’ll be thinking, “This looks familiar”.
Once you've seen it, it's clear how the Giant's Causeway got its name
A backroad to the World Heritage landmark the Giant’s Causeway and the world’s oldest whiskey distillers at Old Bushmills (1608) is one such spot. You come over a rise and find yourself under a long colonnade of ancient, twisted beech trees known as the Dark Hedges. This featured in a young prince’s escape in GoT but should be on the itinerary of anyone seeking astounding natural beauty. But get there very early — before the tourist coaches arrive.
There is a free Game of Thrones Locations app available that can guide you around scenes featured in the series. Alternatively, you can simply follow the doors: one of the beech trees fell in a storm, and — opportunistically — it was made into a series of ten highly decorated doors that can be found across Northern Ireland. Fortuitously, most of them are in pubs.
Around the Giant’s Causeway, take a look at the ruins of Dunluce Castle (better known to GoT fans as House of Greyjoy), and on the Causeway Coastal Route, detour down into Carnlough Harbour which has also appeared in GoT.
You may recognise Dunluce Castle as the crumbling Iron Islands fortress from Game of Thrones
Blandings and beyond
Fans of P. G. Wodehouse may recall the 2013 comedy series Blandings with Jennifer Saunders, featuring the exploits of British aristocracy in a very grand castle. The cast may be archetypal English but Blandings was in fact Crom Castle in the southern corner of Fermanagh.
Crom is very impressive and you can even rent the exclusive, self-contained West Wing — with the option of a private chef. As an innovative alternative, the Earl of Erne will welcome you as his guest to stay in his private halls, and show you the sights himself. It’s not cheap but it does come with butler service and the chance to spend time with the very affable John Creighton, the seventh Earl of Erne.
Crom lies to the south of the town of Enniskillen, which is rapidly gathering renown for its fresh food industry. When the G8 summit was held at Lough Erne Resort in 2013, executive head chef Noel McMeel managed to convince the notoriously picky heads of state to accept local products over their chosen imported ones — and all were impressed.
Crom Castle is the perfect accommodation for the aspiring aristocrat
It’s worth a trip to Enniskillen just to visit Pat O’Doherty of O’Doherty’s Fine Meats and buy some of his black bacon. Pat, an environmental scientist, believes his pigs should have rights if they are to provide us with bacon, so he bought them an island where they can run free. He also developed a way to cure bacon without the use of nitrites and it is delicious.
Mel Gibson’s movie Braveheart about William Wallace is regarded by some as the peon to Scottish independence. Some of it was filmed in Northern Ireland.
Currently filming its sixth season, Vikings is a very gritty History Channel series that is completely cast and filmed in Northern Ireland.
The Wild Atlantic Way is an excellent self-drive touring route along the west coast of Ireland and following its signs will lead you to sights you’d certainly miss by yourself. It will take you to the Cliffs of Moher, featured in the Princess Bride as well as Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince.
Tourism to Ireland is booming because many travellers to Europe are looking beyond the cities to experience country life in idyllic rural settings. The Wild Atlantic Way and, in Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coastal Route make it easier to explore than ever before. I was also greatly aided by Lonely’s Planet’s Best of Ireland that detailed a few places I may otherwise have missed as well as some great walks.
The Causeway Coastal Route is a fantastically scenic road trip through Ireland
Australians will need to reassess their pace of travel when planning an Irish itinerary. You’ll often be sharing the road with tractor-trailers, hedge-cutters and free-ranging sheep, making an average of 50 km/h a reasonable speed.
One thing you don’t have to worry about is crossing the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The only way you’ll know you’ve done it is when speed limits switch from miles to kilometres. Brexit may change that — and that’s being negotiated right now.
Ireland has never been easier to reach from Australia. Etihad Airways offers services from across Australia into Abu Dhabi from where there are twice-daily direct flights to Dublin.
For more information, visit Tourism Ireland.
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