Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star


IT’S hard to believe that it’s been 50 years since a film legend came to Waterford. Famed director Stanley Kubrick, who had previously made “2001, A Space Odyssey” and would go on to make “The Shining” starring Jack Nicholson and “Full Metal Jacket”, brought a considerable entourage to Waterford.

The lavish production was “Barry Lyndon”, partly shot here and was based on a novel by William Thackeray. It was released in 1975. Starring Ryan O’Neal and Marisa Berensen with Patrick Magee and Leonard Rossiter, it’s a tale of adventure, romance, battles, rogues, duels and a young Irish cad who tries to marry up to achieve a better social standing.

Filming started in 1973 and Waterford city was chosen as HQ for the movie team. The entire top floor of the then relatively new Ard Rí Hotel was booked out. An office building in Newton was also availed of. Naturally, the local economy benefited from “Hollywood” coming to town and back then this was something that didn’t happen every day in Waterford.


‘Leaving nothing to chance, Kubrick wanted the music and dance in his film to be just right and held auditions at the Ard Rí for locals with a view to finding an appropriate set dance’


There’s a great story about a chap turning up at a car dealership wanting a number of cars and mini buses and not being believed and politely told to go forth and multiply basically only to subsequently discover to his horror that this somewhat scruffy “customer” was in fact genuine. Apparently our reluctant salesman dropped into the Munster Bar after work and walked in to a rather large and jolly gathering. When he asked what was occurring, he was duly informed that the party was a rival car company who were celebrating a rather large order that they’d secured that very day! I feel for that poor guy.

The delighted car dealership were not the only ones to prosper. Local hairdressers, dressmakers, carpenters and drivers all got a slice of the pie. A warehouse on the Cork Road served as HQ for the vital task of getting hair and wigs right and seemingly the wigs had to be returned at the end of the day and brushed out again to be ready for the next morning’s shoot.

One well-known name didn’t reap the rewards he was hoping for when he was contracted to be the film’s caterer. Former popular rugby analyst George Hook was in that business in a former life and eagerly looked forward to a handsome payday for feeding the movie crew over a number of weeks in Waterford. He, however, now admits that he “didn’t make a bob”. This it seems may have been down to bad management on his part as he claims to have been a terrible businessman.

One enterprising gentleman deserves mention. Somewhere in the Knockmealdown Mountains, and old cottage had been earmarked for use in the film but needed thatching. A local duly got the job and he certainly milked it for all he could. As well as his payment, he managed to procure transport to and from the cottage, his dinner, two bottles of stout and an amount of Woodbine cigarettes.

Tons of extras were also needed, mainly as soldiers and plenty of eager and excited souls signed up for the big movie. Actual infantry from the Defence Forces stationed in Kilkenny were drafted in too, with some costumed as British troops and some Prussian.

Another story has it that as one army scene was being filmed in Co. Kilkenny, a trickster placed a frog in a basket of bread being handed out to the incoming troops by a local woman. The frog jumped out of the basket and the woman screamed, ruining the take and infuriating Kubrick, as he had to turn around 300 troops and start the marching scene again. You can understand why he got cross. There’s always one.

Leaving nothing to chance, Kubrick wanted the music and dance in his film to be just right and held auditions at the Ard Rí for locals with a view to finding an appropriate set dance. A lady called Angela Power recalls meeting him on the roof of the hotel and finding him “a nice man”. She presented a record called the Piper’s Maggot, which amused him. She and her pals did their dance to it and it ended up in the film. Angela Power got to dance in the scene with Leonard Rossiter. That’s one for the grandchildren! Kubrick loved the music so much he got the legendary Chieftains to record it.

One of the movie’s four Oscars went to Milena Cananero for Costume Design and local seamstresses worked under her supervision. It’s certainly a lovely film aesthetically and beautifully shot. Kubrick wanted a natural looking lighting set up and even used super-fast lenses pioneered for use by NASA, to achieve his desired look.

Waterford Castle was used as a location, as well as parts of Co. Tipperary and Kilkenny around Kells Castle. The movie switched bases to Dublin in 1974 and Powerscourt House was also used in filming just a year before it burned down. Sadly, events took a rather sour turn at this point as Kubrick and his family were apparently the subject of IRA death threats. Whether genuine or not, Kubrick took them seriously and decided to uproot and shift operations to England. Those involved in Waterford, though, have always spoken highly of their time on the film. Ryan O’Neal loved working with Kubrick and claims he brought so much out of him as an actor.

Upon release, it didn’t do as well in the U.K. and the U.S. as had been hoped but over time, opinion certainly seems to hail the film in a much more favourable light.

It’s worth revisiting and if you’ve never seen it, it’s surely one for your ‘must see’ list, if only to see the Déise in a major movie. It’s a little piece of Waterford history and after 50 years, it deserves to be celebrated. Those locals who played even a minor part will always have great memories of when Ryan O’Neal and Stanley Kubrick came to town.


By Timmy Ryan

Broadcaster and liquorist

By Timmy Ryan
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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