With Oscars glory and a possible economic boom at stake, a sense of anticipation has gripped the island off the west coast of Ireland where one of the Academy Awards heavyweight contenders was largely filmed.
The Banshees of Inisherin, which boasts no fewer than nine nominations, including best picture and best actor, may be set on the fictional island of Inisherin, but was actually filmed on Achill island and the island of Inis Mor in 2021.
The head of Achill Tourism has told Sky News of a huge surge in phone calls and enquiries from around the world, as fans of the movie make plans to visit the nine film locations on Achill.
“It has emotionally touched people in that they’ve seen it on the big screen, and they might’ve been thinking of coming to Ireland, and this has just fired up the emotion,” said Chris McCarthy. “They’re making the calls, they’re making the bookings and we’re delighted with the success of it.
“Isn’t Sky News here, what more can we want? We’ve been on all kinds of media now, we’re getting worldwide traction. There are a lot of tourism companies in the world that would be looking for this kind of publicity.”
The publicity looks certain to boost visitor numbers to what is Ireland’s largest island, connected by a bridge to the Co Mayo mainland. Achill’s 57 square miles include stunning cliffs, green mountains and pristine beaches.
“Most of our phone calls to the office now start with the Banshees, or ends with the Banshees. Some of the callers have asked our staff if the scenery is photoshopped, and we have to persuade them no, it’s real, and it’s here.
“Of course we’re hoping for an [tourist] influx, but there are challenges – we have our environment to protect. This is our home, this is where we live. The beauty that [the film’s director] Martin McDonagh saw here, we need to pass it on, to sustain that beauty so it can keep giving.”
The critical acclaim that greeted The Banshees of Inisherin helped create a sense of pride and excitement on Achill and Inis Mor, but also took many by surprise – possibly even the cast themselves.
Colin Farrell, who secured his first Oscar nomination for best actor for his performance in Banshees, told Sky News he was “shocked” at the success.
“To do the film, to be off the west coast of Ireland with the cast that we had, the crew that we had, reuniting with this fella [Brendan Gleeson], reuniting with Martin, I was happy,” he said.
“And then Venice happened [the Venice International Film Festival], and we were all shocked at the response it got in Venice, and since then it’s been like a snowball.”
As the ultimate arbiter of critical adulation approaches, the locals on Achill will gather to watch proceedings from Los Angeles in pubs like the atmospheric Lynott’s in Bunacurry on the east of the island.
Its owner Mick Lynch, originally from London but a long-time islander, is the proud owner of the original shears that play such a central – and gory – role in the movie. The shears were gifted to him by a member of the production team as they left the island.
Taking them down from the wall, he dismisses the idea of using them to control unruly punters.
“It’d be interesting to see wouldn’t it, what would be left”, he ponders. “No we wouldn’t do that, it’s not cricket is it? We want customers to come back. If they come back with no fingers, they wouldn’t be able to hold a pint would they?”
Madeline Condell has a much less macabre souvenir from her involvement in the movie. She holds a picture frame containing the back of a cornflakes packet, signed by the cast including Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell.
“He started laughing, and said in all his years signing autographs, he’s never had to sign a cornflakes box. So I was mortified of course, and delighted at the same time you know, having a conversation with two Hollywood celebrities. And very approachable as well, genuinely nice people. They fitted into the community very well here.”
Madeline was one of the extras featured in the church scenes. Although there are several Catholic churches on Achill, the producers chose to use the only Church of Ireland (Protestant) church – St Thomas’s – which had to stand in as a Catholic place of worship. This necessitated the installation of new confessionals, which were later removed, although the church was gifted a new heating system.
What about Jenny? – the true scene-stealer
One star of the movie that won’t be tuning into the Oscars ceremony is Jenny the miniature donkey. Described as the film’s true scene-stealer, Jenny won a legion of fans as the constant companion of Colin Farrell’s character Padraic.
In the film, Jenny’s story had a tragic end but in real life she’s “thriving” after Martin McDonagh insisted upon her early retirement from the acting game. In fact, her current whereabouts is a tightly-guarded secret, but she is living with several other donkeys at location somewhere in the Irish midlands.
One of her original trainers, Rita Moloney, sent Sky News photos of Jenny from a few weeks ago, showing her healthy and well and with a full winter coat. “She’s ruling the roost” at her new home, Rita said.
Jenny may have retreated from the limelight, but Achill island could be thrust dramatically onto the world stage should Banshees pick up several statuettes at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday night.
You can watch the Academy Awards on Sunday 12 March from 11pm exclusively on Sky News and Sky Showcase. And for everything you need to know ahead of the ceremony, don’t miss our special Backstage podcast, out now, plus look out for our special episode on the winners from Monday morning.