Book reveals `Saving Private Ryan' was won for Wexford over pint

It brought £4 million to the Wexford economy and gave the county an international profile, yet it would never have happened at…

It brought £4 million to the Wexford economy and gave the county an international profile, yet it would never have happened at all but for a chat one night in a Wexford pub.

Everyone now knows that the dramatic opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan, one of the most talked-about films of the year, were shot on Curracloe beach. Few are aware, however, of how close the whole project came to being lost to another location, possibly in Britain.

The story of how a Wexford County Council official intervened to save the day for the south-east is told in a new book which is likely to fill a few stockings this Christmas, Battleground - The Making of Saving Private Ryan in Ireland.

Written by local journalists Tom Mooney and Stephen Eustace, the book tells how the production team, seeking a location to re-create the Allied invasion of Normandy towards the end the second World War, was first attracted to a stretch of beach at Ballyvaloo, Blackwater, a few miles north of Curracloe.


The nuns in the local St John of God convent, when approached early last year, agreed to let their property to the Saving Private Ryan crew, but only from August 15th as the convent was being used as a retreat centre until then.

Associate producer Kevin de la Noy, who thought the Blackwater location was perfect, did not see a problem with the date. But director Steven Spielberg decided shooting had to begin in June.

Spielberg was anxious to use the filming of the Normandy landing to build up a comradeship among the principal actors before shooting the rescue of Private Ryan.

De la Noy had all but conceded that he would have to go locationscouting in England until he had a conversation in Aspel's pub with Wexford council's special developments manager, Adrian Doyle.

The book tells us de la Noy acted on Doyle's suggestion that he check out the Ballinesker area of Curracloe beach.

He was so impressed, apparently, that he stayed all night, watching the sun go down and waiting for it to rise again.

"He had found his Normandy," write Mooney and Eustace. "Sav]ing Private Ryan was staying in Wexford after all. It seemed Saving Private Ryan had been rescued over a pint of plain."

While Spielberg had a choice of beaches in Ireland and England, "ultimately Curracloe, along with the involvement of the Irish Government and the Irish Army, was what persuaded us to come here", said the film's co-producer, Ian Bryce.

Besides a string of insights into the making of the film, the A4 size publication also digs up some surprising facts about Wexford's past and present connections with the film industry, and looks at the background to the actual Normandy landings in 1944.

It also has on-the-set interviews with Spielberg and some of the film's stars, including Tom Hanks and Ed Burns.

But perhaps the most interesting character featured is Wexford writer and film critic Jimmy Lacey, who managed to penetrate tight security to hang around the set, uninvited, for almost a week.

He even got to listen in on the leading actors' conversations, which were about "traffic in New York, going to the dentist, doctors, anything except the film, and when they were called it was just straight into it".

And if you want to emulate Jimmy's achievement the next time they're filming in your area, he has the following advice: "The main thing . . . was to keep on the move in order not to get caught or become noticed. You just stayed in the middle and kept a low profile."

Battleground, the Making of Saving Private Ryan in Ireland is published by Milestone L. Press.