Small and Far Away

Father Ted filming locations

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Photo of a lovely horse by P.J. McKenna

July the 19th. Why does that strike me as important?

— Father Ted

As all Father Ted fans know, today is a very special day. On the 19th of July, the Ice Age ended, Marathon bars became Snickers, and most importantly of all, its time for holidays!

Three series of Father Ted were aired between 1995 and 1998. But 20 years later, fans are still enjoying the surreal and manic antics of Father Ted Crilly (“That money was just resting in my account”), Father Dougal Maguire (“That’s mad, Ted!”), Father Jack Hackett (“DRINK!”), and their housekeeper Mrs. Doyle (“Ah go on, go on, go on, go on, GO ON!”).

Most of it was filmed in the west of Ireland, near to the Wild Atlantic Way (most of the links below go to YouTube snippets from the series).

County Galway

Inisheer, Aran Islands — Opening shots of Craggy Island. Inisheer still runs TedFest every year.

County Clare

Glanquin Farmhouse — The house where the three priests lived and Mrs Doyle served many cups of tea.

Doolin ferry offices — John and Mary’s shop.

Fanore Caravan Park — Where Ted and Dougal went on holidays on that fateful 19th of July, and Ted tried to explain the difference between small and far away.

Ailwee Caves — The Very Dark Caves.

Fall’s Hotel, Ennistymon — My Lovely Horse, running through the fields.

County Wicklow

OK, so at least one key scene was filmed in the east of the country.

Ormonde Cinema, Greystones — The cinema where “The Passion of Saint Tibulus” was shown. Careful now!

 

The Cliffs of Insanity

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

 Photo of Cliffs of Moher by P.J. McKenna

Vizzini: He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
– The Princess Bride, 1987

Actor Wally Shawn was terrified of heights. He sat into the bicycle seat, which was attached to a forklift, which was on the side of a rubber-faced mountain. Each of the other actors — Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, and André the Giant — took their own seats beside him.

The 2.24 metre (7ft 4) André was supposed to be carrying the others, but he was due to have back surgery and in constant pain throughout the filming. He self-medicated with alcohol, carrying around a beer pitcher that looked like a regular glass in his huge hands. All the scenes where he carried other crew members were done with ramps and harnesses, or occasionally a body double.

Before the actors were a few inches off the ground, Wally was about to pass out. André petted him on the head like a child and said “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you”, and his gentle voice relaxed Wally so that the take went without further problem.

There had been several attempts to adapt William Goldman’s 1973 novel, The Princess Bride, to the big screen. Early casting choices would have seen Arnold Schwartzenegger as Fezzik, Danny de Vito as Vizzini, and Carrie Fisher as Buttercup — parts that eventually went to André the Giant, Wally Shawn, and Robin Wright when the book was finally brought to screen in 1987.

In the film, Vizzini and his sidekicks Fezzik and Inigo Montoya (played by Mandy Patinkin), kidnap Buttercup and sail away with her, pursued by a mysterious man in a mask. Ahead of them loom the terrifying “Cliffs of Insanity”, which are in fact the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland. The scenes are a mix of matte paintings and the actual cliffs.

As the quartet scale the cliffs, they are followed by the masked man (Westley, played by Cary Elwes). Stuntmen dangled on harnesses over the cliffs to get these dramatic shots. When they finally reached the top, Vizzini cuts the rope, but the masked man hangs on and continues to climb.

The ruins at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity are quite different from the green landscape atop the Cliffs of Moher; this part was filmed in studio. Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes trained for several months so they could fence both left and right-handed, their sword fight has gone down as one of the most famous in film history.

Mandy had been offered his choice of parts, but he chose that of Inigo Montoya for a personal reason. The “six-fingered man” who killed Inigo’s father became the cancer that had killed Mandy’s father 15 years earlier.

I’ll become the greatest sword fighter, and my reward will not be to be in this movie that ended up being what it’s become to all these people; my reward will be that my father will come back.

– Mandy Paninkin, interviewed by Cary Elwes for his book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride had only modest success at the box office, but when it was later released on home video it became a cult classic and is one of the most frequently-quoted films of all time.

My name is Inigo Montoya... oh, you know the rest!

Links

 

A Long Time Ago in a Monastery Far, Far Away

Skellig Michael, County Kerry

Photo of Skellig Michael by styrovor, licensed under Creative Commons

Contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

***

The spaceship landed on the planet and the girl stepped out onto the surface. She looked up at the jagged rock and the alien creatures swirling around. To this place at the edge of the known universe, she had come to learn the ways of the Force.

Her sandals climbed the stone steps that wound upwards. The way was unforgiving as it grew steeper; one slip and she could fall to her death. She touched the mossy rocks to steady herself. At the top, the Jedi Master pulled back his hood as he turned to greet her.

***

As they watched the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, viewers had many questions. What is Luke Skywalker’s relationship to Rey? Why is he hiding in such an out-of-the-way place? And what is that place anyway? A CGI backdrop, surely.

In fact, that rocky island exists about 12km off the shore of Ireland. Those stone steps and beehive huts were not built by 21st century set designers, but by medieval monks over a thousand years ago.

The era between the 5th and 9th centuries A.D. is considered the “Dark Ages” in most of Europe. In Ireland it was a golden age of “saints and scholars”, when monks formed thriving communities such as Glendalough, and preserved their learning in beautiful manuscripts such as the Book of Kells.

Some monks eschewed the relatively cozy world of the regular monastery to live in more out of the way places, all the better to commune with God. They were following the example of the “desert fathers”, early Christian hermits who retreated to the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. Ireland did not have deserts, but it did have islands that were just as remote and forbidding, although a good deal wetter.

The monastery at Skellig Michael was founded some time in the 6th to 8th centuries, reportedly by Saint Fionán. Even by the standards of the day, it was a harsh life. Food came from their own vegetable gardens, or from the surrounding sea, or from the cliff faces which the most agile would climb down to retrieve wild eggs. No more than 12 monks lived here at any one time.

***

The boat anchored at shore and the boy stepped out onto the island. He looked up at the jagged rock and the seabirds swirling around. To this place at the edge of the known world, he had come to learn the ways of God.

His sandals climbed the stone steps that wound upwards. The way was unforgiving as it grew steeper; one slip and he could fall to his death. He touched the mossy rocks to steady himself. At the top, the abbot pulled back his hood as he turned to greet him.

***

Vikings attacked the settlement in 823, but it was a change in the weather that finally did for the community. In the 12th century, the climate became colder and the ocean more prone to storms, and the monks retreated to Ballinskelligs on the mainland.

Skellig Michael remained a place apart, occasionally visited by pilgrims and, from the 19th century on, by tourists.

I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.
– George Bernard Shaw, from a 1910 letter following a visit to the Skelligs

The monastery was made a World Heritage Site in 1996. Then in 2015, it hit the world stage as millions viewed Episode 7 of the Star Wars saga.

The decision to film on Skellig Michael was not without controversy. Some believed that the priceless monuments would be damaged by filmmakers, or by the tourists that such a high-profile film was likely to bring. Pressure might be placed to expand the season when boats travel to the island, or to increase the numbers allowed there. This would be a bad idea for many reasons, not least of which is safety. Tourists have died from falling on Skellig Michael.

It was decided not to film Episode 8 on the island but instead to build a replica in Pinewood Studios. However, in 2016 the crew came back to Ireland to film in Kerry and Donegal. It seems the Western Irish seaboard will once again be playing a starring role on the big screen.

Links