Póg mo Throne: Northern Ireland as Westeros

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HBO’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones first hit television screens back in 2011 and has since become a phenomenon.

The series, based on George R.R. Martin’s novels, sits atop the IMDB top 250 for television and has been an enormous financial and critical success, raking in hundreds of awards and billions of dollars.

It’s also filmed in Ireland.

Okay, okay, not all of it. Those vast icy landscapes “north of the wall” are shot in Iceland. The deliciously sunny King’s Landing is made in Croatia. But many of the most recognisable places in the series are filmed in Northern Ireland, and the show is doing a great job of revealing to the world the natural and cultural attractions that can be found in this little corner of our island.

From the Haunted Forest where the White Walkers live to the Mourne Mountains, which stands in for the home of the Dothraki, the region’s natural wonders have been vital to the production’s intricate world-building.

Its castles are no less important. Arguably the most significant location in the series (or at least where the story begins and the narrative radiates outwards from) is Winterfell, home of the Starks, which is filmed at Castle Ward, Co. Down. Another half a dozen castles are used in places that will be immediately recognisable to viewers of the show.

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The crucial point to remember for fans planning a trip here is that Game of Thrones will be finished very soon. There is talk of several spin-off series planned – and they would be crazy not to make these, given the demand – but anyone who makes it to Northern Ireland now will be going on a pilgrimage they’ll be able to tell their children about; for Game of Thrones is sure to go down as a classic that will be enjoyed by countless generations.

To be able to say “I was at Castle Ward” when the world knew it as Winterfell might be like telling a grandchild you watched Romeo & Juliet in the Globe or saw the Beatles play the Cavern.

Derek Hopper

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