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Watch 1,500 Irish soldiers groan with pain on the Braveheart battlefield

It was the largest scale movie production to come to Ireland and was the start of something big for the film industry…

AT THE END of eight weeks of fighting alongside William Wallace on the set of Braveheart, extras from the Irish Defence Forces filmed their final and most epic scenes.

The battle scenes in this movie were heralded at the time as the greatest in decades and set a trend for war films from then on. For the Irish film industry, Braveheart brought a new lease of life and highlighted how attractive the country could be as a location.

Sergeant Dave Rooney, from the Defence Forces’s Audiovisual unit, was the cameraman who filmed the documentary we’ve been showing you for the last couple of weeks. He said it was a bizarre scene to watch the production roll into the Curragh – it was a film on a scale this country had never seen.

“When you saw them coming in – the trucks arriving in – and we were just stood there watching the Hollywood business rolling in. It was like watching the circus rolling into town. No disrespect to Hollywood, but it was.”

“People just couldn’t get over that this was being made in the Curragh,” he said. “It was a logistical dream for them though – beside a train station, on the motorway, near an airport.”


Lar Joye, an Army Reserve Captain who was an extra on the film and later went on to become a director at the Irish Film Archive said Braveheart was “new territory” for the industry and definitely left its mark.

“I think the battle scenes, there hadn’t been a big epic battle movie since the 60s – that’s when you had Ben Hur and that kind of battle movie,” he said. “So, he [Mel Gibson] kind of started it off. I mean since then you have all these other big movies, so he was the first and in our imaginations, no one had done a historical movie like that. The only time you’d see a historical film was on a Sunday afternoon on the BBC.”

For the army, Michael Collins was the following year and the year after that was Saving Private Ryan so you definitely, from the people involved, you ended up having a group of people who knew what to do on set, how to act on set and it kind of created a buzz for that three year period.

High praise from Mel Gibson

Colonel Pearse McCorley, who was charged with liaising between the soldiers and the production company, said we have Gibson and Braveheart to thank for the production of Saving Private Ryan coming to Ireland.

I asked Spielberg while he was here why he came to Ireland. He said: “Somebody suggested we should come to Ireland. I went to my good friend Mel Gibson and I asked him what he thought of going to Ireland and he said go for it – the FCA (army reserve)are great.” That is a direct quote from Steven Spielberg quoting Mel Gibson.

“By the time we had Saving Private Ryan, we had a lot of experience – we gained experience and we were wiser and we just knew,” he explained. “We adapted very quickly and there were no major hiccups.”

Then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, and current President, Michael D Higgins was instrumental in the deal made with the production company to film here. In exchange for allowing them to use Irish landmarks, like Trim Castle, the company had to agree to take on Irish people as part of the crew.

This meant that many of the assistant directors, cameramen and producers were Irish and the experienced they gained throughout the process helped not just their own careers but the development of the film industry here as a whole.

At the end of the filming, it was time for the soldiers to leave the Hollywood lifestyle behind and go back to their normal lives.

One such soldier, Jason McKevitt – who we made fun of a bit last week – got in touch and told us a little about what happened after their big screen debut:

Some of the lads left the Army Reserve, or FCA as it was called then, and  used their wages as extras on the movie to buy tickets to emigrate to New York and London.   The money was great for 1994 Ireland.    We received £260 Punts into our hands with the army providing accommodation and food in the Army Barracks.  I also spent time in London after the movie and would come home in the summer to train with the army. It was pre Celtic Tiger Ireland!

He also said his 10-year-old daughter “fell about the place laughing” when she saw him in last week’s story, so we thought we’d break out his GIF again:

If you’re interested in learning more, watch the third and final part of the Defence Force’s documentary behind the scenes of the filming, and keep en ear out for the soldiers’ stunning rendition of ‘Twist and Shout’.

DFMagazine / YouTube

Don’t worry if you missed parts one and two because you can find them right here. The IFI will also be screening the film at the end of this month to mark 20 years since its production in Ireland. 

Part One: Here’s what it was like to be part of Braveheart’s epic army>

Part Two: Mel Gibson thought his Irish Braveheart extras were a bunch of smartasses>

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