Travel

The Storybook Island That Backdrops Colin Farrell’s Fantastic New Movie

'The Banshees of Inisherin' set up shop on Inishmore, a majestic Irish locale that offers a perfect respite from the hubbub of Dublin.

Searchlight Pictures
Searchlight Pictures
Searchlight Pictures

Colin Farrell made four trips to the quaint store where multiple generations of women hand-knit wool sweaters using traditional patterns that Vogue popularized in the 1950s. He lunched at the café run by a group of chatty sisters who serve fresh crabmeat and Guinness beef stew to long lines. He walked-or jogged, in short shorts, captured by tourists’ prying cameras-the gravel pathways connecting 14 villages lined with stone walls, Bronze Age ruins, green hills, grazing cows, and cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean’s dramatic Galway Bay. In the evenings, his pal Brendan Gleeson played the fiddle at Joe Watty’s, a lively pub celebrated for fish and chips.

At first, the roughly 850 locals who live on Inishmore, an Irish island 144 miles from Dublin, were starstruck. But when a celebrity is in your midst every day for six weeks, you get used to it. The pride they share in having welcomed Hollywood to their home is palpable, and now that The Banshees of Inisherin is in theaters, the whole world can understand the enchantment of this storybook setting where modernity hasn’t overwhelmed its timeworn charm.

Searchlight Pictures
Searchlight Pictures
Searchlight Pictures

The Banshees of Inisherin wasn’t the first movie to shoot on Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. The influential 1934 quasi-documentary Man of Aran depicted agrarian life, and some of the homes built for that film are still standing. More recently, the romantic comedies The Matchmaker and Leap Year-starring Janeane Garofalo and Amy Adams, respectively-featured scenes set there. But even though director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) uses a fictional version of the island, Banshees is the biggest movie to set up shop thus far. (Some of its scenery also comes from Achill Island, 60 miles up Ireland‘s west coast.) Having garnered glowing reviews, the poignant dark comedy about a dispirited musician (Gleeson) who abruptly decides he no longer wants to spend his days swigging pints with his happy-go-lucky friend (Farrell) is poised to rack up Academy Award nominations come January.

It’s also bound to bring more tourism to Inishmore. During the summer months, when average temperatures hit the mid-60s Fahrenheit, approximately 1,200 to 2,000 travelers visit per day, according to Cyril Ó Flaithearta, a tour guide who was intimately involved with Banshees because his horse Minnie is one of several animal stars. Guests arrive by ferry or flight. They can stay overnight in one of the charming bed-and-breakfasts, bike or hike the pastoral landscape, swim in the beaches, observe the seal colony, take the horse-drawn tours that once documented Farrell exercising, and go to the same shops and taverns that he and his colleagues frequented. Some also surf or partake in what Ó Flaithearta calls the most challenging rock climbing in Ireland.

Inishmore developed as a pagan outpost until early Christians transformed it into a monastic settlement where notable Irish saints studied. It has maintained Catholic roots ever since, though religion no longer carries the same stronghold. In 1916, Inishmore helped start the uprisings that launched Ireland’s quest for independence from the British Empire. That long chapter of rebellion included the Irish Civil War, a backdrop that lends the 1923-set Banshees existential texture. Even with a supermarket and the spoils of Wi-Fi, locals remain strikingly self-sufficient. Many harvest their own food and barter with neighbors. If the movie treats remote life as bleak, the reality today is anything but.

Courtesy of Tourism Ireland
Courtesy of Tourism Ireland
Courtesy of Tourism Ireland

“Everyone wanted to pitch in,” costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh says of the shoot. Her department operated out of the community hall that hosts social events, indoor sports, and small-claims court. “We had a lot of locals who worked as extras, and we got to know a lot of people that way. The makeup artist, Lynn Johnston, and I brought our teenage boys over for a few weeks, and one of the local ladies did school lessons with them and they went swimming-jumping off the pier with the locals kids every evening. It was idyllic.”

When I was on Inishmore to survey the locations where Banshees filmed, Jo Watty’s provided a Saturday night as merry as anything in Dublin’s crowded center. Co-owner Grace O’Flaherty extolled the economic gains this sort of Hollywood production might prompt, especially after the challenges of nationwide COVID-19 shutdowns. Like others who run businesses on the island, her welcoming vigor would make the most far-flung wayfarer feel snug. That night, O’Flaherty’s son performed a mix of Celtic folk standards and American pop hits, inspiring singalongs to Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl,” Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

“Every day is a festival here, if you ask me,” Ó Flaithearta said while bussing our group around, pointing out spots where glamping and destination weddings have become common.

Courtesy of Tourism Ireland
Courtesy of Tourism Ireland
Courtesy of Tourism Ireland

Inishmore can be a simple day trip off the mainland, but Ó Flaithearta recommends three days to experience it in full. I left wishing I could stay for more than one night, in part to hear more of the Gaelic spoken among natives. (Don’t worry: Everyone knows English, too.) There’s majesty in these hills, rife with folklore about the haglike fairies whose wails portend death. Sheila Flitton portrays one such banshee in Banshees. After visiting, maybe you’ll be able to spot the road where Farrell’s character ducks behind limestone to avoid her macabre approach. Ditto the cliff where she lurks while he waves farewell to his sister (Better Call Saul‘s Kerry Condon) as she departs by boat. Flitton is a highlight of the film, as are Barry Keoghan and Condon, whom Ó Flaithearta says went above and beyond to make sure the animals on the set were well cared for.

Farrell and Gleeson have spoken fondly of Inishmore during recent Banshees of Inisherin press appearances, including on The Graham Norton Show and Late Night with Seth Meyers. The former called it “a magic, magic place that doesn’t feel like it’s changed too much.” Surely the actors’ names will be added to Ó Flaithearta’s year-round tours, marking another vibrant episode in the island’s history. In a sense, Inishmore is to Dublin what Big Sur is to Los Angeles, or Cinque Terre to Rome-an escape from the bustle that proves even more picturesque than the metropolis itself.

“There’s something spiritual about the island,” Condon says. “It’s healing. Where I was staying was near a private beach. I had lost my dog of 15 years before the shoot, and I would go down to the beach in the mornings and it’s like I could feel her there. It makes me want to retire there.”Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Matthew Jacobs is a contributor to Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @majacobs.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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