Achill and Inis Mór gearing up for a bumper tourist season thanks to ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’
Clutching a steaming pot of manure is not the stuff Hollywood dreams are made, but not every movie is filmed with a horse in the kitchen either.
The rugged beauty of the west coast of Ireland has never been brought to life so beautifully and vividly as it has in The Banshees of Inisherin. The success of the Martin McDonagh film is demonstrated in it having been nominated for nine Oscars.
The timeless allure of Achill Island in Co Mayo and Inis Mór off the coast of Co Galway are central to the story.
Achill and Inis Mór have always been beautiful, but now more people know it.
With the film tipped to win big on Oscars night, what can islanders and locals expect in the future?
Chris McCarthy of Achill Tourism and his colleague Rose Lynchehaun said it all feels slightly surreal.
“Ever since the Golden Globes, it has been a constant stream of inquiries,” Ms Lynchehaun said. “We have been thrust into a situation where when you pick up the phone you don’t know where in the world it’s going to be from. It’s marvellous.”
Mr McCarthy agreed, saying: “Colin Farrell giving Achill and Aran callouts in such a generous way was a game-changer.
“He said he was part of the community here and he spoke with real warmth. In terms of phone calls and social media, it really lifted everything. We have been gifted what every marketing company in the world would love.”
Turning to his colleague, he asked: “Remember our old life? To get Achill’s name into a paper, even to get a positive story in The Mayo News,was difficult, but since the Golden Globes we are fielding calls from all over the world. It’s mad.
“You couldn’t buy this opportunity. When Hollywood came here and they were telling us they were going for the Oscars, we kind of didn’t believe it. But here we are.”
In recent weeks, France 24, National Geographic, The Guardian and the LA Times have run features on Achill and Inis Mór.
Consequently, this summer is set to break all records in terms of tourism numbers.
Mr McCarthy is delighted, but sounded a note of caution.
“We need to protect what is here already. I have seen calls for improved infrastructure to meet the high numbers of cars expected and I don’t think that’s what we need. What we have we hold dear,” he said. “And we hope anyone who visits feels the same. It’s what makes Achill beautiful, so we will see what happens.”
Farrell, who is tipped to win the best actor Oscar, is remembered by Ms Lynchehaun as being “very quiet and gracious” during filming.
“He just went about his business and didn’t bother anyone and we didn’t bother him,” she said.
“He came here three weeks after the movie was shot and he brought his son to show him where the pub was, but it was gone at that stage.
“The crew didn’t leave as much as a grain of sand behind them. They left everything perfect.
“So we only have the memories left and, best of all, the beautiful untouched scenery.”
Ciarán Ó Flaithearta, a journalism student from Inis Mór, thinks the film will give a massive lift to the island.
He and Minnie, the family horse, were central to some key scenes shot on the island.
Minnie is grey and speckled white with an almost regal quality, and she captured the heart of Martin McDonagh.
“She’s my brother Fionn’s horse, she’s 16 years old and is like a member of our family,” Ciarán said. “Years ago, Fionn started doing horse and carriage tours of the island with Minnie – it had been a family business of ours on the Aran Islands going back to my grandfather.
“Fionn went to college and is now a teacher, so I took over the tours during the summer with Minnie.
“The summer that Banshees was being filmed, the casting director pulled up beside me in a black van and the window came down slowly and he asked if we could have a chat because he really liked the look of my horse.
“I said, ‘Grand, follow me down to the house’, and he did. That went well, and then afterwards Martin McDonagh arrived to see her.
“He had a good look at Minnie and gave her a rub. Then Colin Farrell and Kerry Condon arrived with the rest of the animal handlers.
“They decided Minnie was a good fit. After that, they sourced the old milk cart Colin had to drive in the movie, but Minnie needed a bit of training on it because it has steel rims and makes a bit more noise.
Colin Farrell, who is tipped to win the best actor Oscar, is remembered as being ‘very quiet and gracious’ during filming
“Myself and my brother trained Minnie on it and then we got Colin Farrell down to the house to do a demo and he was good. He picked it up very quickly – I think he had done work with horses before.
“Minnie and Colin took to each other very quickly, and Colin was great to her. There was one time I thought they were going a little bit quick for Minnie down the hill, and before I even said anything he turned to me and asked if I was OK with it. He said I could call the shots, basically. He was good like that and really committed to minding her.
“Minnie was supposed to have a small enough part, but I think she grew on Martin and he involved her more. There were scenes where we were told to go off and have a cup of tea, and the next thing you’re getting a call over the radio to come back because he wanted Minnie in the background of the shot.”
Minnie’s transition from workhorse to movie star was seamless.
“She has a lovely nature about her. She’s so placid and easy-going,” Ciarán said. “She loved all the attention. Kerry Condon was very fond of her. Every day she would show up on set with carrots for her.
“Minnie still works. Normally, horses work until around 20 and she has a few years left, but it depends on the horse. We’ll see how she goes. She’s mighty now, though.
“I’ve had two bookings already from fans of the movie who want to meet her this summer. I think the influence of the film was massive for the island and hopefully will continue to be.
“Even for the islanders who were involved, it was a great experience. Looking forward, I think we will see a big boost in tourism because of the film.
“Between the surge in sales of Aran jumpers already and how well the film has done in America, I think it will bring a lot of business to the island. That’s a wonderful thing because we rely so much on tourism.”
Ciarán urged fans of the film to keep an eye on two key scenes where Minnie’s performance was both pivotal and hilarious.
“There was a lovely moment in the movie when Jenny the donkey passed away,” he said. “They had only wanted Minnie in the background following Colin around. But when Colin knelt down to the donkey, Minnie came over and started sniffing at the prosthetic dead donkey. It was a lovely moment that really showed her empathy.
“Martin came up behind me and Kenny Grace, the other animal handler, and he put his arm around the two of us and he was so happy. He said ‘This is amazing. That was an amazing shot’.
“There was another scene where Colin had Minnie in the house with him. We were just trying to get her set up and what does she do but lift the tail and prepares to offload.
“Myself and Kenny were panicking and he told me to ‘Get a pot, or a bucket or something’.
“I was scrambling around and found a cast iron pot from the fireplace and we used that. But as soon as we did they were shouting to get out of the frame as they had to start filming as soon as possible while Minnie was calm in the house.
“So we had to run out into the back room and hide behind a curtain with a big pot of steaming manure. They shot for three or four minutes straight and I had to hold the heavy pot of glory the whole time.”
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