‘I swapped factory work to make weapons for film and TV ... Braveheart was a baptism of fire’

What I Do: Tommy Dunne has made props for Braveheart, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Game of Thrones and more

I’m from Wicklow town. I worked as an engineer - a fitter, turner and toolmaker - in a local factory. One of the electricians there, his brother did special effects. He called me for a job and I started on a film called Braveheart. We did gas lines and braziers at different locations. We finished as they were getting ready for the shoot. I went over to the armourer and said, “if you ever need a pair of hands, I’m available”. He said: “you start Monday.”

Braveheart was a baptism of fire. It wasn’t manic, it was controlled chaos and it was just great. You were making swords, shields, spears, you are in the world of Braveheart. You are out in tents, in Curracloe, at Trim Castle or on the plains of the Curragh for the big battle scenes. I was looking at Mel Gibson, running up and down on his horse, and the battle sequences with Brendan Gleeson. They are coming up getting their weapons off you. You are constantly rotating between making to being on set for any repairs that are needed. It was surreal but so enjoyable.

I never thought I could use my skills in this way, to swap factory work to be doing weapons for the likes of Gladiator, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Black Hawk Down.

I had been in the FCA for six years and I enjoyed every bit of that. We got good training and I always did all the courses and the weapons training. It meant I wasn’t out of step when I was dealing with weaponry for film.


After Braveheart, I was asked to go to Malta and Thailand for Cutthroat Island with Geena Davis and Matthew Modine. She played a warrior pirate. Once they have a weapon on them, you are constantly with them. With Geena, she had two muskets, she had swords, she was well geared up. You are constantly teaching the actors how to reload the musket, how to shoot, how to be safe.

You develop a relationship with them. I shot one in Dublin recently called the Pope’s Exorcist with Russell Crowe. Russell is always lovely on set. I did Gladiator with him as well. You become a bit of a circus while you are away and everyone gets to know each other and then everybody goes their own way. You might meet again in five years, or on the next job.

I spent 10 years working on Game of Thrones, designing and making the weaponry, based at the Titanic Studio in Belfast. In the last season, we had to make a giant Scorpion [mounted crossbow] that you see on the ship for the Greyjoys. We used the same one for the Lannisters in a different frame with a different look. We adapt items so the production gets value from it.

A lot of the information is in the script and then you have meetings with the show runners to find out what their interpretation is. You are dealing with the art department.

Jobs like this are possible; there is plenty of work in Ireland in this wonderful film industry ... I wish people would look at it more rather than thinking, ‘that’s not for me’.

Longclaw is the iconic sword in Game of Thrones and Jon Snow, one of the main characters, was presented with it by his commander. It’s supposed to be a special blade with certain powers - Valyrian steel is what they call it on the show.

Oathkeeper is another weapon that was broken out of a hero sword called Ice. Ice was a ceremonial sword and a beheading sword, and when it was broken down by the Lannisters, it was made into two swords, Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail. The power of Ice has gone into these two swords. The Lannister world is opulent, all about show. When making these two swords, we had to make sure there was plenty of bling, plenty of jewels on the Widow’s Wail which the character Joffrey got to use - he was the king of bling, a little prince in waiting, very pompous in his world.

Oathkeeper was Jaime Lannister’s sword and it had the shape of a lion’s head, with plenty of gold and pattern welding. You are trying to make sure the weapons suit the character.

I feel proud of what we achieved, that our designs became at the forefront of the story. It is a privilege. Even though it’s fantasy with dragons and mythical creatures, the weapons have to have a practical feel to them while looking in keeping with the genre.

I was in Game of Thrones three times acting-wise. I played the blacksmith who breaks down the Ice sword. I was also a butcher who was a barber shaving Kit [Harington] for a scene. It was good fun.

Jobs like this are possible; there is plenty of work in Ireland in this wonderful film industry. Camera grips, special effects, art, transport; there is plenty of scope. Studios can pull in a film, but there has to be a crew, and I wish people would look at it more rather than thinking, ‘that’s not for me’.

I’m working on a CIA film at the minute in Majorca. I love what I do, I enjoy every day of it.

In conversation with Joanne Hunt. Tommy Dunne’s work is displayed at the Game of Thrones Studio Tour in Banbridge, Co Down. If you have an interesting job or hobby you would like to tell us about, email magazine@irishtimes.com.