The Irish film industry is booming and continues to draw international movie and TV talent for large scale productions both north and south of the country. Kim Kardashian has tweeted about the allure of the “calm of Ireland” and, as newlyweds, she and Kanye West honeymooned at the mega luxe Ballyfin Hotel, where surprised locals spotted them popping to the cinema for a date. Other regulars to these shores include Sarah Jessica Parker who enjoys cottage-dwelling in Donegal, Mad Men’s John Slattery and Julia Roberts, a Hollywood star who had a real-life Notting Hill-esque moment when she met and befriended a local taxi driver during a stay in Dublin.
In addition to spectacular landscape, an abundance of castles and alluring tax breaks for filmmakers, it’s the warmth of the Irish, who believe that a stranger is simply a friend you haven’t met yet, that’s played the biggest part in the country’s on-screen success. Star Wars, HBO’s Game of Thrones, The Frankenstein Chronicles, Harry Potter and TV crime drama, The Fall have all been filmed here and numerous country pubs have borne witness to local communities mingling with A-list cast and crew, coming together at the end of a day. Sounds like Ahlan!’s kind of place, so we went to discover the secrets of our favourite sets!
WHERE TO STAY
The Cuan Licensed Guest Inn
This traditional hostelry describes itself as a restaurant with rooms and proudly hosted key members of the GOT cast during filming – to be more precise, Sean Bean (Ned Stark) stayed in room three, Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) stayed in room two, and Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark) stayed in room six.
A candle-lit GOT breakfast, based on a description of a meal eaten by Catelyn Stark, is served on request on specially commissioned Downpatrick pottery – eggs, bacon, cheese, honey and jam are eaten by hand from slate platters, medieval-style, with the GOT soundtrack playing in the background. INFO: Double rooms with breakfast from £90 (Dhs402), Strangford Village, County Down, Northern Ireland, +44(0)28 4488 1222, thecuan.com
WHAT TO SEE
Castle Ward – as seen as Winterfell in Game of Thrones
The Emmy award-wining Game of Thrones franchise has spawned a new form of tourism, with fans of the series donning period attire and fur-collared capes for re-enactments on visits to key locations seen on screen. Ahlan! fully embraced all things costume when we visited Winterfell for our immersive GOT experience and tried our hand at long bow archery (it’s harder than it looks) in the grounds of the Castle Ward estate and its 17th century farmyard – the site of Winterfell and the Stark family home. We also got clued up on CGI insets, which appear seamless on screen and are used to enhance existing structures and provide form where none on the historical building exists. INFO: Strangford, Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland
WHERE TO STAY
This four-star stopover has the dubious distinction of being the most bombed hotel in the world, a legacy from its time in the Troubles, when politicians often stayed here and it was subjected to 28 attacks. Today, the hotel, like the city, has put its difficult past behind it and reflects the vibrant culinary and cultural scene, which is the face of modern Belfast. The piano bar is an after-work hub for top earners. INFO: Double room from £85 (Dhs379), Great Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, +44 (0)28 9027 1066, hastingshotels.com/europa-belfast
WHAT TO SEE
The Dark Hedges – as seen as The King’s Road in Game of Thrones
Ireland’s most photographed road was planted in the 18th Century and this haunting avenue of beach trees appears in Season two as Arya Stark, played by Maisie Williams, makes her escape from King’s Landing by disguising herself as a boy as she travels along the King’s Road to join the Night Watch. INFO: Bregagh Road, near Gracehill Golf club, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
This world-class multi-story visitor attraction houses an exhibition telling the story of the most ill-fated cruise liner in history, made even more famous by Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio’s award-winning performances in the Hollywood retelling. The multimedia, CGI-enhanced journey reveals how the luxury Titanic was constructed in the shipyards of Belfast, and how its voyage tragically ended, with an impressive large-screen live screening from the wreck, currently resting on the ocean floor. INFO: Entry costs £17.50 (Dhs78) adults, £7.25 (Dhs32) children, Titanic Belfast, Olympic Queens Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast, +44 (0) 28 9076 6386, titanicbelfast.com
Malin Head – as seen in Star Wars Episode VIII
Ireland’s most northerly point is the wind-whipped start of the 2,500km Wild Atlantic Way, an undulating coastal drive covering the west coast. In May 2016, Malin Head hosted a major Star Wars shoot and, despite the production team’s best efforts to keep filming under wrap, fans found out and brought their light sabres en masse to keep a vigil at nearby Farren’s Bar.
Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), brought his dog on location and came across a local on a walk who, of course, made him a nice cup of tea. INFO: Malin Head, Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal, Northern Ireland
WHERE TO STAY
The Merrion Hotel
The guest list of this heritage hotel reads like a who’s who of Dublin society and the global stage. The main Georgian building of the property was the former family home of the first Duke of Wellington; Obama used it as his base in Dublin; and Ahlan! spotted the striking figure of former Game of Thrones actor, Jason Mamoa, sitting in a corner at breakfast.
The hotel boasts the largest private art collection in Ireland and its paintings provide inspiration for the in-house pastry chefs and their popular afternoon tea. An optional 40-minute audio tour voiced by Irish philanthropist Lochlann Quinn, owner of the paintings and a shareholder in the hotel, is included in the price of the tea (€45/Dhs174 per person). INFO: Double room from €295 (1,140Dhs) including breakfast, Upper Merrion Street, Dublin 2, Republic of Ireland, +353 (0)1 603 0600, merrionhotel.com
WHAT TO SEE
The Long Room at the Old Library, Trinity College – as seen in Harry Potter
Home to the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript written by Columban monks in 800, this library receives a free copy of any book published in Ireland or the UK. It also features as Hogwarts library in the Harry Potter series. Alumni include the creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker, author and playwright Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels. INFO: Adults €11 (Dhs42.50) Concessions €9 (Dhs35), College Green, Dublin 2 , +353 (0)1 896 2320 tcd.ie
Walton’s Music Shop – as seen in the movie, Once
The music shop in which the movie and stage musical, Once by John Carney is set, draws fans who like to play its piano. The stage show is currently touring after a recent run in Dublin. INFO: 69 Great Georges Street, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
GETTING THERE: Etihad fly direct from Abu Dhabi to Dublin daily (coach transfers to airport available from Dubai), return economy fares from Dhs3,575, 02 599 0000, ethihad.com
CURRENCY: € for Republic of Ireland and £ for Northern Ireland (although many shops accept both either side of the border)
TOUR GUIDES: Northern Ireland, touringaround belfast.com, Republic of Ireland, gantours.ae
TIME DIFFERENCE: Ireland is four hours behind the UAE