Far & Away:
Ryan's Hope and Search for Tomorrow in Ireland
Sept. 22, 1992
By Valerie Davidson

Ireland was a romantic haven for RH's Jack (Michael Levin) and Mary (Kate Mulgrew).

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In the continuing series of how to vacation where soaps have traveled to do location sequences, SOAP OPERA WEEKLY takes you to the Emerald Isle.
     Ryan's Hope was the first daytime serial to go out of the country on location. While most people tend to think of the trip to Ireland in the fall of 1978 (comment -I think they might have the date incorrect by about a year) as Mary Ryan (Kate Mulgrew) and Jack Fenelli's (Michael Levin) honeymoon, in fact it was their reunion after a brief separation. (Their honeymoon was spent on a Mississippi riverboat.) The various locales were presented as "Letters from Mary and Jack." Each time the couple went to a different place they would write a letter home about it, and that sequence would be aired to correspond with the letter.

     Director Lela Swift likens the trip to a travelogue of the Republic of Ireland. It began in Shannon and ended in Dublin. "We would kind of explore each location for what we wanted from it, and then make up something that would go with it," she explains. "We would have loved to have gone into the North (Northern Ireland, which is part of Great Britain and therefore a backdrop for political conflict), but the insurance wouldn't cover us."

     From Shannon they went to the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, the country seat of Clare, where Jack and Mary had a romantic party. The next stop was Galway and Thoor Ballylee, poet William Butler Yeats' summer home and a popular tourist spot. Sequences with Mulgrew and Levin were shot there and at Moran's Oyster House off Galway Bay. From Galway the couple went north to Sligo (pronounced Sly-go) and climbed Knocknarea Mountain. Maeve's Cairn, popularly held to be the grave of the legendary Irish queen celebrated in the epic poem The Tain (pronounced Tawn), is at the top of the mountain. Coming down from Sligo they stopped at Yeats' grave, in the shadow of Ben Bulben, and Mulgrew left flowers. In addition, the company went to the westernmost tip of Ireland to Slea Head (portions of the recent Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman film Far and Away were shot there), where Mulgrew and Levin had a love scene in the surf reminiscent of From Here to Eternity. "It wasn't planned," chuckles then-head writer Claire Labine, "but I think one of them got knocked down by the waves, and Lela just kept the cameras rolling."

     The Fenellis also visited the Burren, an exotic landscape comprised of 100 square miles of limestone and shale outcroppings in northwest Clare. They also saw dolmens, ruins of structures originally built by the druids as a place of worship. In West Cork they visited the purported birthplace of Queen Maeve. "From Cork we went to Waterford and toured the crystal factory," Labine recalls. "We got some great footage there. We also went to Curragh, the racetrack of Irish Sweepstakes fame and home of the official national horse breeding association."

     The final leg of the tour was Dublin, where Jack and Mary did pub crawls. Much of the pub photography was done in stills, however, so the soap could recreate the setting back at the studio and be able to control the sound and the ambiance. "At that time, a women's presence in a pub was still frowned upon by some," Labine says, so we used that as a plot device and Mary put on men's clothes."

     The crew also visited a ceili, a party with traditional music and dancing. "We had dinner and there was dancing," Labine says. "Kate got up and danced. It was totally wonderful and spontaneous."

     In addition to the Old Ground in Ennis, the troupe stayed in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin, where Joseph P. Kennedy stayed during his tenure as ambassador to the Court of St. James in the late '30s. Princess Grace of Monaco (nee Grace Kelly) was also a guest there. In Cork the group stayed at the Arubtus Lodge, which Labine calls her favorite place in all of Ireland. Situated on a hill called the Montenoutte overlooking the surrounding River Lee, the Arbutus was originally a Georgian residence that has been turned into a hotel by the father of the current owner, Declan Ryan. Ryan and his wife, Patsy, trained in France at various vineyards and restaurants, and now apply everything they learned to preparing Irish produce and fish, particularly Ireland's world-famous salmon. The cuisine is a combination of Irish and French, and Labine claims the wine list is the best in the British Isles. "You can eat so brilliantly in Ireland now," Labine says. "For a long time it was just fried plaice (flounder), but now there are so many lovely things available. There is lamb and veal as well as fish, and all these glorious vegetables. They have wonderful breads, the eggs are fresh, and the Irish bacon and pork are incredible." In Sligo, the company stayed at Ryan's in Rosses Point.

     The highlight of the trip for Mulgrew was a pub near Dingle Bay in Slea Head. "I met a women named Kate Ashe. I found her so interesting that when I came home I said to my father, who goes there all the time, 'The next time you go to Ireland, you must look up this women at Ashe's Pub in Dingle Bay.' I liked it, and her, so much. In fact I left a fabulous fur coat there. I forgot it accidentally on purpose. It's still there, and every time one of us goes to Ireland I say, 'Get my coat!' but nobody ever does!"

     In terms of shopping, the Waterford plants has a wonderful showroom, but don't expect bargains on the crystal. As for Irish linen, in Dublin the best places to shop are around Grafton Street, off St. Stephen's Green, and on Nassau Street across from Trinity College.

     Labine recommends that visitors journey into the countryside to really appreciate Ireland. "You go to Dublin to get centered," she says. "The real Ireland is outside of Dublin. You should have some sort of itinerary in mind, but the best part is stopping to talk to people. If you get off the main roads onto country lanes, you may encounter herds of cows or sheep, but you just stop and they go around you. The lovely thing about Ireland is that you're always only 3 1/2 hours from the other side of the country, no matter where you are."

(Note - "Search For Tomorrow" segment has been omitted)

Levin and Mulgrew (right) with a flight attendant from Aer Lingus, the national airline.
     As one might imagine, when asked to describe things that happened nearly 14 years ago, people have different recollections of the same event. "Ryan's Hope" director Lela Swift claims that when they landed at Shannon Airport, Kate Mulgrew (Mary Fenelli) spread her arms and exclaimed, "This is my mother country." RH co-creator and co-head writer Claire Labine claims Mulgrew actually kissed the ground. 

     "I did?" asks the incredulous Mulgrew. "I don't remember that. Well, I was young, I'm sure I did it. It sounds just like me. I do remember walking on a wall, because somebody dared me I couldn't do a whole take without falling". 

     Labine also claims, "Kate is a shopper, and she shopped everywhere we went." To which Mulgrew replies, "I did not! I'm not a 'thing' person. I bought a lot of stuff, but I gave it all away." Then, after reflecting only a fraction of a second, she adds, "You know what? She may be right. I do have this purple, fuscsia-colored hat I got on that shoot, that little walking hat they wear." When asked about dancing at the ceili, and the love scene in the surf at Slea Head, Mulgrew wails, "Oh, God, I did that, too? Well, from what I recall I was dancing all the time. I was pretty outrageous and full of myself in those days, a rather naughty girl." 

     There are things they agree on, too. Mulgrew admits to an incident at Knocknarea Mountain. During the climb up, they improvised a competition to see who could get to the top first. "They had to shoot it about 62 times," laughs Labine. "They were exhausted, but screaming with laughter. Kate made it to the top first, jumping up and down screaming, 'I win, I win, I always win!'" 

     If you undertake your own odyssey to Ireland and decide to climb Knocknarea Mountain, it is recommended you try it in good weather, or with a good guide. "We were coming down from the mountain in the late afternoon," Labine remembers. "As often happens in Ireland, a storm front came in. It didn't rain, but there was fog everywhere, fog so thick you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Lela, Paul (Avila Mayer, co-creator and co-head writer), Kate and I were together, and the mountain was covered with heather, which covers ditches and things. All of a sudden we heard this shriek, and here was Lela head down in a five-foot gulley. All we could see of her were her little yellow boots sticking up. We were laughing so hard we couldn't get her out." 

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The cities and countryside harbor ruins like this one, seen by Levin and Mulgrew.
     "Ryan's Hope meant so much to all of us that it's painful to talk about it," says Claire Labine, the show's co-creator and co-head writer (with Paul Mayer). For Labine and Mayer, as well as the cast who went on the remote, the location shoot in Ireland had a similar effect.

     It was a labor of love; Labine and Mayer both have deep ancestral roots in Ireland, as did two of RH's main characters, Maeve and Johnny Ryan, who were from County Cork. Labine's maternal grandmother instilled in her a great interest in Irish history and the Celtic Renaissance.

     Those from RH who went on the remote tend to speak of Ireland in terms of a  magical, poetic place. "In the spring in Ireland, in the afternoons, there is what they call 'the long, long light,'" says Labine. "The sun comes in at an angle and the atmospheric haze provides a natural filter so that the twilight lasts until around 10 at night. It is the most incredibly beautiful thing."

     Kate Mulgrew (Mary Fenelli) agrees. "Every time I go back, Ireland assaults me anew with its splendor," she says. "I have traveled extensively throughout Western Europe, but I've never seen anything like it, because it's unsurpassed. And if you think Ireland looks green from the air, it's absolutely dazzling when you get down there."

     Perhaps the whole thing -- the show and the trip to Ireland -- is best summed up by the irrepressibly funny and articulate Mulgrew. "That trip really fit who Mary Ryan was," she says. "She had a kind of delicious madness. My memories of that trip are of dancing and laughing and running all over the place; of becoming friends with Claire and staying up talking to her until the wee hours of the morning. I have memories of loving those people, of loving Claire, of loving Michael (Levin, Jack Fenelli), of cherishing time and never sleeping. I remember drinking Guinness and eating tons of shrimp and brown bread! What I remember about that trip is wanting it never to end. I think that was probably the last of the truly, completely happy memories of my life."

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