Star Wars in the garden

Breasty Bay (1)
Galactical Garden
About June 2015, a man asked me if I’d allow Star Wars to be filmed in my back garden. Well less a garden and more like 55 acres of scrubland at the most northerly tip of Ireland. Now he didn’t say he was from Disney, nor did he say he was filming Star Wars in Malin Head, it was more a case of joining the dots and playing along with the tacit understanding and what every local already knew. It got to the point where it would have been plain rude to talk about what was really going down. So no, the ‘S’ and ‘W’ words were never uttered during our correspondence, which might seem a bit strange, but he knew and I knew and sure wasn’t that enough? A sort of mini Jedi mind trick you could say or less fancifully, the result of some onerous confidentiality clauses in place until the film’s release!

Jedi Knights
In the very early hours of today*, along with a handful of nerdy night owls with fond memories of 1977′s original, I watched the result of that innocuous chat. And yes, it was a fairly surreal feeling to see a place I knew so well feature in such an iconic behemoth: Donegal was in a galaxy far far away. The hairs on the back of my neck duly rose to the first bars of John Williams’s famous theme tune and we were off into this fantastic world of wonder. The seven year old me from the 70′s was sitting there saluting that fateful decision of grown up me; honoured to have had a childhood dream come true by playing some small part in this epic saga; for just a brief while, both he and I were Jedi for a night. In truth, the scenes up in Malin Head are blended in with the other scenes along the Wild Atlantic Way, but I knew them when I saw them and yes, they looked stunning.

Ward’s Folly
That they chose a scenic oasis I so loved and championed for years was confirmation of the fact that my grown-up dreams were not so far-fetched – one of my many hair-brained ideas from my time up in Malin Head was to have an amphitheatre as an attraction to the area, much like the Minack Theatre in Cornwall. It got me dusting down a rather dated, forgotten promo I made back in 2009 and sent to Failte Ireland, the Irish Sports Council, Inishowen LEADER, Donegal County Council, the Arts Council, the Abbey Theatre and anyone else that might consider bringing the wonder of that place to life. Think Borat with a brogue and bit of a gut, since gone(ish). My posh neighbour at the time sniffly called it ‘Ward’s Folly’ and in truth it was a stretch, but hey, what’s wrong with dreaming out loud? The amphitheatre part in the promo above appears around the two minute mark.

I’d like to think my good vibes about bringing the headland to life and getting it the recognition it so richly deserved did not just go into the ether, but were picked up somewhere by proper storytellers. The site of the Seashell Amphitheatre in the video would become the spot where the Millennium Falcon would land according to the papers’ pictures above (it doesn’t!) and so my borrowed ‘build it and they will come’ creed is not too far fetched in hindsight. Well, something Star Warsy was there and that’s still a Royal Flush in my book. Unfortunately, the amphitheatre idea fell on deaf ears, as did all of my efforts to get an eco park going along that beautiful coast – I did manage to get shortlisted for a national award by Failte Ireland for my efforts in promoting the area, but that story and the reasons I finally sold up and left Malin Head in 2015 are for another day! And yes, please note that the land is now private property - best to observe it from the tower at Banba’s Crown and get yourself a world-class coffee from Caffe Banba before lunch at nearby Kealy’s Seafood Bar.

Moving on
I’m very proud to know and love the beauty of the whole of Donegal, its 1134 kms of glorious coast and its significant contribution to the Wild Atlantic Way’s success story. Moving on from the doomed Seashell Amphitheatre and the Malin Head Trail, I produced and developed the Donegal App, a free smart travel guide for the whole of the north west. I launched it on Leap Day 2012 and it has been downloaded several thousand times on Google Play and App Store platforms. All good things come to an end and I’m taking the opportunity of the launch of the film and the year end to call time on what has been a labour of love with nearly 600 points of interest on it.

A New Hope!
I’m working on a new and exciting project that will hopefully overhaul all the work I did in Donegal and beyond, but it needs to come down off its current third party platform come 1st January 2018. Feel free to download the Donegal App while still available in December, share it with friends then ensure you all come to the field of dreams that is Donegal in 2018. And yes, may the force be with you!

John Ward
Star Wars fan and dreamer
14th December 2017

*For the record, my midnight viewing was in Munster. No invite was offered to me from either Donegal County Council or Disney to the exclusive cocktails and canapés ‘thank you’ premiere in Letterkenny that night run by the Council for all Malin Head locals involved in the film. Classy to the end those guys…

u DA 2015 final

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