RYAN’S DAUGHTER – film location as tourist magnet

The old school house can still teach visitors a thing or two.

There wasn’t much going on in the village of Dun Chaoin (Dunquin) perched on the end of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. Until 1970, when film director David Lean arrived to make Ryan’s Daughter.

The place sparked up for a year and a half as filming ran way over time and over budget. When shooting finally finished, Lean offered to leave the village sets there as a tourist attraction. The residents couldn’t see the point of that, according to our guide John from South West Walks – the film sets would make useful firewood and that was about it.

DVDs of the film are on sale in every souvenir shop in the area. I’ve seen Ryan’s Daughter, but remember little of it. I know it’s not Mr Lean’s most highly regarded work, and certainly not as memorable as his epics Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

What I do remember from it is John Mills playing the village idiot, Michael, a role which won him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. I’m sure he was good, although the academy voters always seem to me unduly impressed by actors who play people with disabilities – think Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, Geoffrey Rush in Shine, Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. They’re all fine actors who delivered excellent performances, but it’s easier than it looks to stammer, limp and twitch a bit.

But back to Ryan’s Daughter. On a spectacular headland looking across to Great Blasket Island stands the only surviving relic of the film – the old school house. It was nice to stand on the spot where Sarah Miles and Robert Mitchum had been.

‘KD’ and ‘GG’ have tried to attract attention by adding their initials to the gateposts. Yes, we noticed you, and we think you’re dickheads.

The school set from Ryan's Daughter. Note the separate entrances for boys and girls.

The writer was the guest of South West Walks and Utracks.


Filed under Ireland

29 responses to “RYAN’S DAUGHTER – film location as tourist magnet

  1. I think I was just a kid at the time and it was the first time I’d seen sex – fully clothed I think – on screen. I thought i was so grown up!
    See you soon Richard.

  2. I love this movie. I went to see it again on the big screen when it came back for its 30th (I think) anniversary. John Mills was wonderful in the role as was Sarah Miles, Robert Mitchum and Leo McKearn. When it first came out I had a poster of Christopher Jones on my bedroom wall – along with Marlon Brando. I have the DVD and watch it regularly. I think you can see that I am a fan. I would love to go there.
    Sorry about the test. I have just bought an i Pad and I was having an (unsuccessful) lesson. For 2 pins I would return it to the shop. If one more person tells me that Apple Mac is easier to use than a PC I’ll hit them over the head with it.

  3. I’m answering this from my iPad, just to see if I can, BdL. Must watch Ryan’s Daughter again, it seems.

  4. Norah Lacey

    Some of the scenes were filmed on ong Beach in Cape Town, South Africa.
    I seem to recall that this was one of the first times our city had been used in this way.

  5. jpg

    Basically all the scenes with Sarah Miles and Trevor howard on a beach, Sarah Miles and the Major on a beach and the major and Michael on a beach were all shot in South Africa because the weather during the shot in Ireland was awful even by Kerry standards. You can tell which scenes are in SA because the sea looks more turquoise, you can also see the distinct mountains of Houts bay in the background and also the distinctive ship wreck.

    • Thanks very much for all this. I’ll have to look out for the film next time it comes on The Classic Movies channel on Foxtel. I wonder if the beach in South Africa is also cashing in on Ryan’s Daughter tourism.

      • Bernard

        Over three decades, I confess to twice having pulled away and replaced the tin covering the then sealed windows of the Ryan’s Daughter schoolhouse previous to and then later with my young kids. This fall, I’ll be making my first visit in many years to see the now open derelict. it won’t appear the same but I’m confident there’ll be many fine memories to compensate.

  6. John Hughes

    Just returned from my second visit to the Dingle peninsula – first visit was in 2001. The old school house continues to deteriorate and really should be saved as a tourist attraction / film museum. The film Ryan’s Daughter was panned by the so called critics at the time but to me it’s a fascinating film, shot in an amazingly beautiful location and with a strong historical content of the IRA’s struggle aginst the British army.

    • Thanks for this John. Yes, it is a lovely part of the world and a great film location. Though I heard they were eventually forced by bad weather to go elsewhere to shoot some of Ryan’s Daughter.

  7. EMMA

    The part played by Christopher Jones was at first intended for Marlon Brando -a guest at David Lean’s wedding reception in 1955.But Brando ended up playing in ” Queimada” aka” Burn” instead. Interesting to figure out how he would have played the part.

  8. Joan Soap

    I’ve just watched Ryan’s Daughter for the UMPTEENTH time, and enjoyed it every bit as much as I did the first time several years ago. As a South African, still resident here, I have always known that many of the beach scenes were filmed at Noordhoek in the Western Cape (South Africa). By all accounts, Noordhoek is the correct location. Incidentally, there is no “ong Beach” as reflected in a Google search for the South African location, but there is one named Long Beach (Western Cape, SA). To answer your question, not many here even know about or remember the link between Noordhoek (North Corner) and Ryan’s Daughter, let alone cash in on it. As a film location, Cape Town and surrounds have become very popular in recent years for Hollywood movie productions.

    • I didn’t know about the Cape Town locations, Joan. I bet the weather there is a little more reliable than on the west coast of Ireland, where it’s seldom beach weather! Thanks for the visit and the info.

      • Joan Soap

        Yes, I’m pretty sure that, despite having a Meditteranean climate with some miserable winter days, the Cape Town area of the Western Cape still has better beach weather than Ireland! Come visit some day…South Africa truly is a magnificent country!

  9. Judee O'Leary

    I’ve seen the film several times, it gets better each time I’ve also visited Slea Head Tea Rooms with lots of Ryan’s Daughter memorabilia twice now, all the way from Australia! The school is in great dis-repair, I only hope someone will renovate it one day 🙂

    • Thanks Judee. Yes, it would be a great shame if the school’s allowed to be vandalised or just left to disintegrate. A bit of repair may be in order, but complete renovation would run the risk of making it look too new and fake (even though it was supposed to be a film set after all).

  10. Dewulf Rose

    Ryan’s Daughter will Always be my favourite film. When we visited Ireland 5 years ago we specially were looking for this location. So excited and happy we found it at last, but also disappointed the little schoolhouse is almost a ruine. Fine memories…and looking forward going back !

  11. Pingback: RYAN’S DAUGHTER – film location as tourist magnet | Richard Tulloch’s LIFE ON THE ROAD | Crawfordgold's Blog

  12. James Buckley

    It is just so typical of the mindset in Ireland unfortunately, can’t see the wood because of the trees. Has anything changed in 46 years? Just look at
    Wood Quay in Dublin, the Viking settlement, what other country would bury their Heritage?

  13. bernie prenice

    Hi there ,just been searching archive photo’s of the film Ryans which my father was the Gaffer on !! 16 months in total !! Thats right a small unit went out to cape town to shoot the beach scene’s which was only supposed to have been for 2 weeks but ended up 6 weeks in total !! while David Lean was in cape the famous storm scene was shot by the second unit director , steven’s (second name) !! I was just a little boy at the time running round the film set/street which later the locals took down , many stories
    very best Bernie Prentice

  14. John

    It’s typical Ireland. Aaah sure, what use is that old schoolhouse to us ?
    No foresight whatsoever, or even consideration as to what some people might consider an asset to tourism, or just an important building in what were very early days regarding ‘An actual worldwide film made in Ireland’! Aaah sure forget that nonsense, down there in the middle of nowhere.
    Things havnt changed much if you really look at it. Look at our Taoiseach.
    I think it would be an example for thick sculled politicians like him to be forced under some yet to be introduced legislation, to work a 70 hour week on the restoration of the mentioned building , and others alike throughout the country. That would toughen his/their hands, soften their holes, and waken their minds to reality outside licking the private parts of those fascists, to whom we signed up to years ago, and now bow to, every time we want to keep our heritage, and that including cutting a few bags of turf.
    As a true Irishman, I feel ashamed as to how we were duped in to voting these ‘girls dressed as boys’ in to government, to discard anything that wasn’t of benefit to their own pockets or ego.
    Oh by the way Mr Taoiseach, can I go fishing for a bit of leisure with my son down around Dingle over the weekend, or will I be arrested under some legislation that you sold us off to ? Sold to your fascist friends !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s