Location(s): Skellig Islands, Kerry coastlines, Malin Head – Donegal
Science fiction giants have also been inspired by Ireland’s remote corners. Long-standing sci-fi classic Star Wars have chosen to use some of the world’s most exotic locations as stand-ins for alien planets – and Ireland is no exception!
The 2015 and 2017 Star Wars films (The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, respectively) chose to use the iconic rock pinnacle islands, Skellig Michael and the Little Skellig, as Luke Skywalker’s secret hideout. Today a recognised UNESCO site, the Skelligs are two small rocky islands over 11 km off the coast of Kerry. Once home to monks looking to hide away from the world, the Star Wars films use the islands in much the same way, except they become a hiding place for Jedi!
The small size, unpredictable weather and protected status of the Skellig Islands led Star Wars location scouts to search elsewhere for a place to film the up-close scenes of the Jedi hideout. They chose the similarly rugged headland (and also Ireland’s northernmost point), Malin Head in Co Donegal – rugged, isolated, and rocky, and perfect to serve as an extension to Skellig Michael.
Another challenge-turned-opportunity befitting Star Wars filmmakers were the island’s puffins which kept wandering into the scenes! Since they were protected, filmmakers weren’t allowed to move them, so instead, they replaced them with an adorable alien of their own creation – the Porgs.
Read more about Star Wars in Ireland in our guide below.
Location(s): Wicklow Mountains, such as Lough Tay (above)
Leaving fantasy behind to delve into a (slightly hidden) history, the hit History Channel saga, Vikings, chose to use the lush, heather-covered hills and quiet harbours of the Wicklow Mountains as the filming backdrop for the Vikings show.
In the show, beautiful Wicklow is the backdrop for the dramatic wilds of Norway as well as the newly-discovered coastal regions of England and France – just a few of the places that the Vikings explored and raided! For example, Lough Tay (pictured) stood in for Ragnar’s home of Kattegat, and places all over Wicklow stood in for various parts of Scandinavia, England and beyond.
Ireland has a lot to for which to thank the real-life Vikings. These sea-faring raiders of the Dark Ages may get a bad rep but in truth, the Vikings brought several important things to Ireland, like the concept of cities and ports, maritime trade, boat-making technology and knowledge of a wider world. They founded several important cities – Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Wexford, to name a few.
The Vikings also lent their names to places like Wexford and Waterford (‘ford’ came from ‘fjord’), and to Dublin (to the Vikings it was known as Dyflin, from the Irish Duiblinn or “Black Pool”, referring to a dark tidal pool).
Viking enthusiasts should visit the southwest, in particular, Waterford’s Viking Triangle, where the Viking history is told through stand-ins in museums, reconstructions of boats and longhouses and even a Vikings 3D experience. Fans of the show Vikings should head to Wicklow to bask in the beauty of its hills, coasts and inlets!
Learn more about the Vikings – real and imagined – of Ireland in our guide below.
Location(s): Various Northern Ireland locations, i.e. the Mourne Mountains, Causeway Coast, Pollnagollum Cave, Cushendall Caves, Castle Ward, Shane’s Castle and a Belfast studio
The Seven Kingdoms are part of George R. R. Martin’s popular fantasy novels, brought to screen by HBO in the insanely popular series, Game of Thrones. Westeros and Essos may be imaginary places, but many Game of Thrones filming locations are actually very real places in Northern Ireland.
Whether you’re a fan or not, we can all agree that the backdrop for the series is breathtaking. Just like C.S. Lewis over a century before, location scouts realised that there was something very magical and fantastical about Northern Ireland.
Over the course of the show’s seven seasons, a variety of interior and exterior locations and landscapes across the north of the island were converted into parts of the magical world of Westeros and beyond.
While indoor shots were mostly handled at the studios in Belfast. Castles like Shane’s Castle and Castle Ward were transformed into magical strongholds in the series.
Dramatic landscapes like the sweeping slopes of the Mourne Mountains, the wild geology of the Causeway Coast, and the lesser-known mystical Pollnagollum Cave (pictured) became epic backdrops for scenes outside of the fantasy cites, among a variety of other locations. Walk the King’s Road (really the Dark Hedges), wander the beaches at Cushendun Caves or Downhill Strand, head out to the Iron Isles – we mean Ballintoy Harbour! – or the “Stormlands” coasts around Carrick-a-Rede, check out the “doors” all over Belfast commemorating the popular series, or try out activities like archery yourself at Castle Ward.
Learn more about Westeros and Game of Thrones filming locations here in Ireland.
Location(s): Various locations across Sligo, Dublin and Wicklow
Sally Rooney’s popular contemporary novel, Normal People, takes place largely in the little-known region of Sligo on Ireland’s west coast as well as the famed Trinity College of Dublin.
Turned into a juicy and addictive TV series, Normal People is the story of two Irish young adults from Sligo on the west coast of Ireland and late-night studying at Trinity College. Marianne is from a wealthy family but is socially ostracised, and Connell is working class but one of the “cool” kids.
Both the book and TV series follow their tumultuous relationship, while according to the blurb, exploring “the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.” It has gone down a storm across the globe!
Both book and TV series are set in the fictional town of Carricklea in Co. Sligo in northwest Ireland, putting this little-visited region on the map.
But beyond the story of the ‘normal people’ on screen, you might be curious about the locations in the show. Learn more about places seen on the show so when you visit Ireland, you’ll be ready to hit the road and see them for yourself.
Explore filming locations from Dublin cultural sights like Trinity College, the National College of Art and Design or the Hugh Lane Gallery, to the remote corners of west coast such as the stunning Streedagh Beach or Marianne’s historic Sligo home, filmed at Knockmore House in Wicklow.
Learn more about the Normal People TV series, filming locations and the book that inspired it in our guide below.
Ireland has a long history, a rich folklore, and a strong sense of storytelling. From Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Seamus Heaney, W.B. Yeats, C.S. Lewis and Jonathon Swift to more contemporary authors like Eoin Colfer, John Connolly, Colm Tóibín and Tana French (or Sally Rooney!), for a small island, Ireland has sure produce a large number of talented novelists, playwrights, poets and other writers. There’s simply something special about this rainy little island. Perhaps it is the epic landscapes of this magical place, which have been inspiring locals and visitors alike, particularly those looking for inspiration to write fantasy stories set in otherworldly lands.
Read on to read about a few of these writers who found their wild inspiration in Ireland’s mystical shores and landscapes.
“I have seen landscapes…notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge,” later adding, “one almost expects to see a march of dwarfs dashing past. How I long to break into a world where such things were true.”
Location(s): Counties Antrim and Down, notably Dunluce Castle, the Mourne Mountains, Carlingford Lough and the Causeway Coast
Fantasy author C.S. Lewis was born and raised near Belfast and spent much of his childhood exploring the wilds of Counties Down and Antrim. When writing the Chronicles of Narnia, the few parts of the book series set in the real world are clearly influenced by Oxford (and England in general) where he was living at the time of writing his famous fantasy series, but the fantastical worlds of Narnia where most of the book series takes place were vastly influenced by the romantic landscapes of counties Antrim and Down in northeastern Ireland.
The dramatic cliff top ruins of Dunluce Castle clinging to the wild landscapes of the Causeway Coast are said to have inspired Lewis’ depiction of Cair Paravel, the series’ royal castle, thousands of years in the future when it, just like the mighty Dunluce, is in ruins.
Lewis has been quoted saying that the landscapes in which he grew up felt very magical to him, and that places like the Mourne Mountains and Carlingford Lough could be straight out of Narnia’s mystical lands.
While many visitors comment on the feeling of magic in the air of the remote yet beautiful Mourne Mountains south of Belfast, Lewis captured this feeling of magic and used it to create the various realms of the fantastical Narnia, where the four Pevensie children and their friends have their adventures. Carlingford Lough, one of Ireland’s only three fjords, has also been cited by Lewis as a place of magical inspiration.
Perhaps, too, the far-flung islands described in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader may have taken their influence on some of Ireland’s islands, most of which were remote and isolated communities, microcosms of island culture and stories until recently. Ireland’s rich folklore likely also had an impact on the creatures good and bad that inhabit the worlds of Narnia.
Learn more about The Chronicles of Narnia and Northern Ireland in our guide below.
Location(s): The Burren National Park
Further south, Ireland’s west coast is full of diverse and wild landscapes. One such place is the Burren National Park in County Clare, a wild place renowned for its lunar-like limestone landscapes. A stone’s throw from the famous Cliffs of Moher, fewer visitors venture into this wild and unusual landscape.
One person who did visit this sparsely-populated land is the original fantasy giant, J.R.R. Tolkien. A contemporary, acquaintance and even Oxford colleague of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien is best known for writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, later published in the early 1950s.
While Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, he visited Ireland – in particular, he travelled to the region of the Burren National Park in western Ireland. The Burren’s unusual exposed limestone landscape is like something one might expect to find on the moon…or on Middle Earth, perhaps?
The Lord of the Rings saga features some strange and memorable landscapes (the quaint Shire, the windswept fields of Rohan, the fiery Mt Doom, the creepy Fangorn Forest, the grand Gondor, the dark Mines of Moria…). It’s easy to imagine the bizarre panoramas of the Burren appearing amongst these fantastic Middle Earth landscapes.
The Burren is riddled with caves, leftover from an ancient era of glacial movements. One such cave in the Burren is called Pol na Gollum – is this where the famous Lord of the Rings character of Gollum came from? The cave is known for its strange coughing-like gargle – similar to the iconic noise made by the character Gollum. Though Tolkien never admitted that his trip to the Burren inspired his descriptions of Middle Earth, it’s not hard to see how this unique karst landscape may have impacted his writings while creating the world of The Lord of the Rings.
Learn more about the Burren National Park in our guide to what might be Ireland’s most unusual national park.
Location(s): Sligo, Derry, Dublin
Though certainly not the original gothic vampire tale (another Irish writer, Sheridan LeFanu, wrote a less well-known vampire novel, Carmilla, twenty years before Dracula was published), Dracula is the preeminent source of the modern vampire story. Despite setting his famous gothic tale in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, Irish author Bram Stoker never once stepped foot in Romania.
Instead, Stoker’s Dracula inspirations seemingly came from Ireland and England (such as Highgate Cemetery). Born during the terrible Great Famine, this would have dramatically shaped Stoker’s childhood and world views, during which he would’ve encountered spooky tales of dark creatures returning from the grave, feasting on human blood, and terrorising innocent villagers.
Stories of people buried alive during the awful Famine years would’ve resonated with him, particularly tales told him by his mother, who was from the west coast region of Sligo. Those wealthy enough could install a bell and pulley system – just in case they woke up to find themselves buried alive in the most terrifying scenario imaginable, but the vast majority of people simply had to live with this fear.
Folklore expert Bob Curran from the University of Ulster in Coleraine, has argued that Stoker was heavily influenced by a Derry tale that tells of an evil 5th century Derry chieftain called Abhartach who came back to life to feast on the blood of humans until he was finally killed buried upside down with a wooden stake to the heart – sound familiar, Count Dracula?
Stoker lived in Dublin and spent considerable time researching traditions and faraway lands like the Carpathian Mountains at the beautiful Marsh’s Library, still preserved as it looked during the 17th and 18th centuries today, and home to many of the texts and maps he studied.
The west coast of Ireland is still full of eerie crumbling sites that make for a perfect horror novel backdrop – crumbling abbeys and manors, abandoned Famine-era villages, famine roads and walls, hidden Neolithic-era tombs and more. Could the ancient tales and haunting landscapes of Sligo, Derry and beyond have had a greater influence on Stoker’s classic horror story rather than a faraway land he never actually visited?
Interested in Ireland’s spooky background? Take a look at our Origins of Halloween private departure below. Or, read about Ireland’s spookiest spots.
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