Ryan’s Daughter isn’t one of David Lean‘s more beloved epics, which is a pity because it is one of his better movies. The film enriches and deepens the central themes of his work, with an astonishing look at the island’s mainland treats. Fuelled by the geography, Lean crafted a tale of roguishness, robbery, romance and rebellion, curating a film that supported complete Irish independence, at a time when Britain still had undue influence over six of the island’s counties.
But the film wasn’t shot in Northern Ireland, but in Southern Ireland, as it detailed some of the more agrarian hotspots in Kerry. Situated in the middle of Munster, the county presents a portal back in time to the days when pub singalongs were the choice of entertainment, and the rebellious nature of the citizens was matched by the rigours and rhythms of the local townsfolk. Where pubs and pleasure seemed to go hand in hand, the county now doubled as a time machine back into an Ireland of long ago.
And although some more modern critics may take umbrage with Lean’s depiction of a rural town, he does present a tale of lingering lust, where Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles) risks everything in her life for an afternoon of passion. The film also boasts a stunning re-enactment of carnal desire, as Ryan throws herself into the arms of a wandering soldier, keenly aware that the faintest rumour of infidelity could cost her family everything they have.
Speculating as to how much the film will influence future directors is pointless, but it’s impressive to see how well the film has lasted in Kerry, uniting those who were old enough to remember the filming with those who care enough to enjoy the picture for the first time. This list offers five key locations.
Five key locations in Ryan’s Daughter:
5. Clogher Head
The huts can be seen during a pivotal moment during the film, focusing on the bus that journeys in and out of Kerry on a daily basis. Clogher Head also wound up in the risible Far and Away feature, which starred real-life couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. As it happens, Clogher Head held romantic, as well as functional, purposes, giving the feature-length Ryan’s Daughter a sense of history in a tale that was more interested in the central theme.
The film depicts the beginnings of the Civil War and was released during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Ireland seemed doomed to fall into the traps of continuous war, earmarking a sense of injustice and insincerity into an industry that was growing more peaceful with every passing year. The scenery in Clogher Head is gorgeous, bringing the mystical and the material together as one glorious geographical hybrid.
4. Minard Castle
An emblem of Kerry, the castle was attacked by Oliver Cromwell’s men during the 17th century, leaving the beautiful citadel down to its knees. The ruins can be seen in Ryan’s Daughter, evoking the changing landscape, and showing Britain’s continued stronghold over land that did not belong to them. In many ways, the castle stands as broken love, as it represents the fractured marriage between Charles Shaugnessy (Robert Mitchum) and Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles), holding true to the broken emblems of their beloved Kerry, and all for the name of tradition.
In many ways, the castle stands as an important symbol of the unconquerable Irish spirit, as it salutes a nation that has steadfastly refused to compromise, or surrender, even after centuries of continued battle. But like the rock it was made from, the Irish spirit can be fashioned, moulded and changed, but it will never be destroyed beyond recognition.
3. Inch Beach
As a means of making the film more authentic, director David Lean filmed on Inch Beach, before filming some of the more ornate scenes in South Africa. It’s easy to see the difference between the gravelly Irish sand, and the sprawling South African seaside, but the director was canny enough to use the scenes in South Africa for the more dreamlike moments and to use Inch Beach to illustrate the more harder-edged elements the script had to offer.
As it happens, the film helped to popularise the beach, and it has become a tourist hot-spot, decades after the directors had finished filming there. Former Bond Timothy Dalton recalled being given what was marketed as “original sand” from Ryan’s Daughter as he visited his ancestral homeland. Like Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton, Dalton visited Dickie Mack’s, a favourite local pub in Dingle.
2. Coumeenole Beach
Let’s not say Ryan’s Daughter didn’t leave an imprint on Kerry: There is a commemoration stone that was erected in 1999, dedicated to the film’s legacy. Celebrating the film’s 30th anniversary, the stone commemorates the film’s most impactful moment, as rebels load up on guns, in the hopes of freeing the land from imperial rule. Caught in the rural landscape, the rebels feel destined for great things.
The beach is one of the more popular landmarks in the province of Munster, pivoting a strong halfway point between the more cerebral and the more visceral aspects of the counties. It forms part of the country’s geography, earmarking a place that only grows more reverent of its importance with every passing year.
1. Dun Chaoin
The Dun Chaoin parish forms the central backbone of the film, as it is where the barracks and the school scenes were filmed. In its own way, Dun Chaoin provides a context to the film, showing that education is the salvation of the soul, while also highlighting the pastoral beauty that enticed England into the country in the first place. And although the school might have folded under the changes of time, the scenery still remains as shimmering and seductive as it ever was.
The film Ryan’s Daughter remains one of the most impressive films in David Lean’s canon: It’s as ambitious as Doctor Zhivago, it’s as engaging as A Passage to India, and it’s as cognizant of the country’s mythology and nuances as Lawrence of Arabia was. Ryan’s Daughter is, in a word, a classic of British cinema.