How to explore the spectacular Irish islands featured in The Banshees of Inisherin

Set against the drama of Ireland’s windswept west coast and hotly tipped for the 2023 Oscars, the latest film from In Bruges director Martin McDonagh is poised to introduce a new generation of moviegoers to the rugged beauty of the Emerald Isle.

By Matthew Figg
Published 21 Dec 2022, 10:00 GMT
Colin Farrell in the The Banshees of Inisherin.

Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin, filmed on the Irish islands of Achill and Inis Mór. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures © 2022 20th Century Studios.

Photograph by Jonathan Hession

Ireland’s rugged west coast takes centre stage in The Banshees of Inisherin by director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), a poignant tragicomedy starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson that’s widely tipped for success at the next Oscars.

Set in 1923 during the final months of the Irish Civil War, the film examines the crumbling relationship between humble dairy farmer Pádraic (Farrell) and his best friend Colm (Gleeson). The pair live a quiet life on the fictional island of Inisherin, a remote and barren spot where the only hint of the world beyond the isle's craggy shores is the occasional faint explosion from the conflict on the mainland.

When Colm abruptly decides to call off the friendship to pursue his creative calling as a musician, Pádraic’s world is turned upside down, with the stark splendour of the Irish coast providing the perfect backdrop for the turbulent events that unfold during the film.

Filming for Banshees was centred on the weather-worn islands of Achill and Inis Mór, whose extraordinarily tall cliffs, isolated bays and wealth of history have attracted tourists for generations. Whether travelling by ferry or hopping on a plane, there’s never been a better time to discover why this unassuming corner of Ireland deserves its moment in the spotlight.

Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in a clifftop scene. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios.

Photograph by Jonathan Hession

Achill Island

A firm favourite on the Wild Atlantic Way coastal road, Achill is Ireland’s largest island and plays host to some of the film’s most breathtaking scenes.

Located on the western fringes of County Mayo, the island’s desolate landscape offers drama at every turn, from the towering sea cliffs at Croaghaun to the countless miles of hiking trails and paths that snake through the mountainous terrain.

At sea level, sheltered bays and sweeping sands abound across Achill’s 80 miles of shoreline, with five of the island’s best beaches awarded Blue Flag status. For those seeking a secluded seaside break, Achill is a destination that holds its own, whether you want to catch the waves at Keel Beach or simply dip your toes in the shallow waters off Camport Bay.

With so much to offer from sea to summit, it’s little wonder that Achill captured the imagination of Banshees’ producers. Filming took place across the island, from the rocky outcrop of Cloughmore on Achill’s south-eastern corner to the 19th-century St Thomas’s Church in the northern village of Dugort.

Cloughmore was home to the J.J. Devine pub, the favoured watering hole of Pádraic and Colm, where some of the film’s key scenes play out. The production crew built the pub on-location, and although the set has been deconstructed, Cloughmore’s wave-battered cliffs and winding country lanes guarantee cinematic views wherever you look.

Further north, production crews transformed picturesque Purteen Harbour into a classic village scene, bringing Inisherin to life with a shop, post office and busy main street. A short, scenic drive northwest from Purteen will take you to Keem Bay, another pristine Blue Flag beach. Here, the film’s producers transformed a ramshackle hut into Colm’s tiny cottage, while the bay’s golden sands and steep cliffs bring atmosphere in abundance to some of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell on set at Cloughmore. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios.

Photograph by Jonathan Hession

How to visit Achill Island: The easiest way to reach Achill is by car, with the Michael Davitt Bridge connecting the island to the mainland. The drive from Dublin takes just under four hours, while Knock — the nearest airport — is 75 minutes down the road. For those looking to travel by rail or bus, the nearest train stations are Castlebar or Westport, the latter of which enjoys a direct bus connection with Achill operated by Bus Éireann.

Once on Achill, the best way to explore is by car. However, the island’s twisting roads are perfect for cyclists, with Achill Bikes offering a year-round rental service.

Inis Mór

Sixty miles south of Achill as the crow flies is Inis Mór, the largest of the hauntingly bleak Aran Islands that stand at the mouth of Galway Bay.

Covered in endless sheets of grey limestone pavement, Inis Mór has a storied past worthy of Hollywood, with dozens of ancient monuments and historic sites dotted across the island.

Perhaps the most striking of these is Dún Aonghasa, a 3000-year-old fort perched precariously at the top of a 300ft cliff on the island’s south coast. With the breathtaking expanse of the Atlantic Ocean reaching out to the horizon beneath the fortress’ prehistoric walls, it’s little wonder visitors have been flocking here for millennia.

Kerry Condon in The Banshees of Inisherin. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios.

Photograph by Jonathan Hession

Alongside the many ruins and archaeological wonders, the island teems with natural beauty. Crafted by the elements over millions of years, the drama of Inis Mór’s vast stretch of sharp-edged cliffs is matched by the spectacle of the cavernous blow holes on a stormy day, when the powerful Atlantic tides catapult soaring fountains of sea spray high above the rock-strewn fields on the island’s south-eastern tip.

It's among these inhospitable fields and gnarly limestone pavements that the production team constructed the modest cottage that Pádraic shares with his sister Siobhán. Here, Pádraic tends to his small croft in a landscape dominated by a patchwork of dark, sombre tones — from the ever-present limestone to the network of drystone walls that criss-cross the island. It’s hard to imagine a better setting to capture the quiet melancholy of The Banshees of Inisherin.

How to visit Inis Mór: Due to its remote location, the only way to reach Inis Mór is by ferry or plane. Aran Island Ferries offers regular sailings from Rossaveal, while The Doolin Ferry Company serves the island from Doolin. Flights to Inis Mór are provided by Aer Arann Islands and depart from Connemara Airport, a 40-minute drive from Galway.

There are no car ferries operating to the Aran Islands, so the best way to explore is by foot or bike. Aran Island Bike Hire offers rental options for both single and multi-day trips, while many visitors choose to spend several days hiking between the island’s main sights.

For those wanting the comfort of a vehicle, Aran Off Road Experience offers action-packed itineraries that promise to introduce visitors to the very best of Inis Mór.

The Banshees of Inisherin is now available to stream on Disney+

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