18 September 2023

Straight from the screen – top set-jetting locations in Ireland and NI

18 September 2023

Camera technology is capable of conjuring up magical landscapes, but nothing can ever beat what nature has created.

Often, producers and researchers search high and low for epic filming locations, ultimately bringing them to the attention of a global audience eager to see the spots for themselves – a trend known as ‘set-jetting’.

According to research conducted by Expedia, streamed movies and TV shows are now the top sources of travel inspiration. In the UK, 46% of travellers considered visiting a destination after seeing it on a show or movie on a streaming platform, and 36% have already booked trips to destinations after seeing them on screen.

Testimony to the beauty and diversity of its landscapes, Ireland and Northern Ireland has set the scene for numerous films and hit TV shows. Here are a few of the top spots that have found A-list fame…

Guaranteed drama

Where: Achill Island, County MayoFeatured in: The Banshees Of Inisherin

Fans of the Martin McDonagh Oscar-nominated movie starring Colin Farrell will be spoilt for choice on this windswept west coast island, where multiple scenes were filmed. Blue Flag Keem beach, which also provided inspiration to author Graham Greene, was the location of Colin Doherty’s cottage and the setting for the final scene of the film.

Corrymore Lake, a glacial lake formed during the last ice age, was the site of Mrs McCormick’s cottage, while the 170-year-old St Thomas’s church also featured in some scenes. Don’t expect to find Jonjo’s pub though; this was constructed purely for the film and dismantled, although it’s possible to visit the cliffside setting in Cloughmore with views across Clew Bay.

How: Book an Achill Island private tour with local guide Patricia. Along with visiting key locations from the film, she delves into the island’s history and heads to Wild Nephin National Park in search of basking sharks and peregrine falcons. From £440 for up to three people. Visit toursbylocals.com

Fantasy lands

Where: All over!Featured in: Game Of Thrones

Dozens of locations across both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland featured throughout eight seasons of the cult series. Since the show first aired in 2011, thousands of tourists have come in search of real life settings used as fantasy lands and fan sites claim to have identified between 25-50 different spots.

Some of the most famous destinations include Castle Ward, 40 minutes outside of Belfast, which doubled as Winterfell; Cushendun Caves in County Antrim, where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow baby that ultimately slaughtered Renly Baratheon; and Tollymore Forest, the first state park in Northern Ireland, used for Winterfell Forest and the land surrounding The Wall in the far north of Westeros.

Although the stretch itself is only short, an avenue of beech trees known as the Dark Hedges is a popular stop for Instagram photos – you’ll recognise it as the road to King’s Landing.

How: Hardcore fans can combine a trip to Ireland with Iceland (another popular GOT filming destination) on Black Tomato’s tailor-made eight-night tour. From £8,300pp, including B&B accommodation, activities and transfers. Flights extra. Visit blacktomato.com

Better than fiction

Where: Great SkelligFeatured in: Star Wars

Isolation has attracted numerous visitors to this rocky island, west of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry: a monastery was founded on its steep slopes in the 6th century AD, thousands of seabirds regularly come to nest, and – more recently – Luke Skywalker found sanctuary here.

Producers were so impressed by the otherworldly beauty of the pyramid rock and its little sister Small Skellig, they thought it would provide the perfect setting for the planet Ahch-To. But although the UNESCO World Heritage Site features in both Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, risky access meant other destinations such as Inishowen Peninsula, Ceann Sibeal in Dingle, and Crookhaven in Cork were often used as stand-ins.

Boat tours to the islands run between mid-May and early October, giving visitors around two-and-a-half hours to explore the island – but only 180 tourists are allowed per day. Crossing rough seas and high swells, there’s a heart-pumping climb of more than 600 steps to reach the summit – although the scenery is worth it. Eagle-eyed viewers will also recognise neighbouring Lemon Rock from Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince.

How: See the Skelligs as part of HF Holidays’ escorted five-night Wild and Wonderful Western Ireland itinerary covering the two counties of Kerry and Cork. From £1,174 per person, including half-board accommodation. Various departures from June to September 2024. Flights extra. Visit hfholidays.co.uk

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