Hollywood on the Irish Sea

Hollywood on the Irish Sea
Ballintoy Harbour transformed in Game of Thrones

As international TV hit Penny Dreadful returns Fiona O’Brien looks at why shows like it and Game of Thrones chose Ireland

From Victorian gothic sets to Viking-era and medieval fantasy series, many of your favourite TV programmes, and their spectacular backdrops, were actually shot in Ireland.

Hollywood has been using Ireland as a backdrop for many a blockbuster for some years now now and the country’s television industry is really booming. Following in the footsteps of Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, and more recently Star Wars, are many hit TV shows that use either Irish outdoor locations or its studios to shoot.

Hollywood on the Irish Sea
Ballintoy Harbour before transformation in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones, American channel HBO’s biggest export, is probably the most famous example, with Northern Ireland’s delighted tourism bosses doing all they can to capitalise on its popularity to drive fans of the show to visit the real-life locations.

Hollywood on the Irish Sea
Vikings set in Ashford Studios

Tourists can sample all the other-worldly sights in real life right down to the castles and rugged seasides, gothic looking ruins and roadsides, hilltops, mountains and terrain. And it’s not just the landscapes that attract programe makers.

BBC drama Ripper Street, set in London’s poverty-stricken East End in 1889, was shot entirely in Dublin.

Filming took place in several locations including Clancy Barracks, Trinity College, Dublin, Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol and the tunnels under Connolly Station.

Hollywood on the Irish Sea
Ballinesker Beach in Co. Wexford was the backdrop for Saving Private Ryan’s opening scene

Similarly, Penny Dreadful may have the authentic the feel of Victorian London but it was all shot at Wicklow’s Ardmore Studios. The History Channel’s authentically gory drama Vikings was filmed at nearby Ashford Studios and in Luggala, both in County Wicklow.

In 2010 part of the third series of US biker drama Sons of Anarchy was filmed in Northern Ireland, but it was integral to the plotline of one of the main characters so Belfast, unusually, got to appear as itself.

Belfast also starred in the internationally successful serial killer drama The Fall which starred Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan.

It’s not just Irish locales and studios standing in for other fictional geographical locations: Eastenders’ new spin-off show, Redwater, will be set in County Waterford when Kat and Alfie Moon travel there in a new plot twist.

You may also be interested in our article: Penny Dreadful: Gothic Goes West

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