Hollywood  History

Hollywood, Co Wicklow and Hollywood, California

Foreign tourists who stumble on Hollywood in the course of their travels can often be seen posing for photographs in front of Guirkes’ old shop. The prominent sign on the facade Oifig an Phoist – Hollywood Post Office is clearly what draws them. Intrigued that such a small village can boast such a legendary name they feel the need to capture the moment on camera. If they take the time to make further enquiries the same tourists are even more astonished when they discover that this small village in west Wicklow is actually the original Hollywood and that from it came the California Hollywood, home of the movie industry.


                                                  The Old Post Office

The old post office is currently a café

Hollywood Co Wicklow can boast that it had the name for at least a thousand years before the American one was ever heard of. The name Hollywood derives from the area’s association with St Kevin. He lived here around the end of the sixth century. Having come for solitude St Kevin found that even Hollywood wasn't quiet enough for him. According to legend he was tormented by a woman named Kathleen and to escape her attentions he fled across the mountains, to the even greater isolation of Glendalough.
The name Holy Wood (Latin Sanctum Nemus) is recorded as early as 1192. The Irish version of the name Cillín Chaoimhín is also documented from 1192. Cillín Chaoimhín means Kevin's little church or oratory. At some stage the original Holy Wood became Hollywood. The Catholic and Protestant churches in Hollywood have always been named after St Kevin. His stay in the area is also commemorated in a number of local landmarks St Kevin's Well, St Kevin's Chair, St Kevin's Bed and St Kevin's Cave.


                                            Sign on Dragoon Hill overlooking Hollywood Village

It was a local emigrant from here, one Matthew Guirke, who gave the name of his native place to the famous suburb in Los Angeles. Hollywood was decimated by the Great Famine of the 1840s. Like millions of others in the years following this catastrophe Guirke was forced to seek a new life in America. He eventually made his way to California where he succeeded in business, and owned a race track. Amazingly this Matthew Guirke was the granduncle of Jim Guirke (1919-2003), the man who ran the village shop and Post Office in Hollywood for over 60 years until his death in 2003.

                                                   Jim Guirke, Hollywood

Given that ours was the original Hollywood it was probably only a matter of time until some of the movie stars would be seen around the place. One of the first was Liam Neeson. When scenes from the Neil Jordan film Michael Collins were being shot here in 1995 Neeson became a familiar figure in the village. He played the part of Collins in the film while the American actress Julia Roberts was his co-star as Kitty Kiernan. The famous scene at Béal na mBláth, where Collins was killed in an ambush on 22 August 1922, was filmed in Corrigan’s Glen which is located just a few hundred metres from the village. The scenery here is spectacular and its rugged and wild landscape have also been used to great effect in movies such as King Arthur, Reign of Fire and the 4-part television drama Rebel Heart. Input “King Arthur ice scene” into your internet search engine to see for yourself why Corrigan’s Glen has become such a popular filming location.


Liam Neeson and extras (including Steve Collins on left) on set of Michael Collins in Hollywood Village in 1995

After Michael Collins the next big production shot in the locality was Dancing at Lughnasa (1998). Adapted from the original play by Brian Friel and directed by Pat O’Connor, Dancing at Lughnasa was the film which brought the American superstar Meryl Streep to the streets of the original Hollywood. The story takes place around the Celtic Festival of Lughnasa when traditionally the first fruits of the year were welcomed. In August (mí Lughnasa) each year Hollywood now celebrates its own harvest festival when it stages a gala weekend on the theme of rural life in the pre-1950s. When locals were hired as extras in Michael Collins and Dancing at Lughnasa they were bemused to find themselves rubbing shoulders with some of Hollywood California’s biggest stars. A particular photograph that stands out is the one featuring local publican Jim Tutty with the actress Meryl Streep at the front door of Tutty’s house in the village.
For more than a century the name Tutty has been synonymous with Hollywood. Tutty’s bar has retained its old world atmosphere and its walls and mirrors could almost be the custodians of the area’s communal social memory. Over the years the Tutty family provided their chapel field free of charge to the GAA club, and indeed they continue to make it available for community events when the need arises. The photograph featuring Jim Tutty and Meryl Streep is an iconic image of two Hollywood greats. Jim is a living legend in his own locality, while Streep is a living legend of modern cinema who enjoys worldwide recognition. The day they were photographed together was the day a true lady from Hollywood California met a true gentleman from the original Hollywood.


Jim Tutty and film star Meryl Streep (with local woman Gretta Conroy in background). Photograph taken in 1998 (outside Tutty’s front door in Hollywood).


Meryl Streep with extras and locals on set of Dancing at Lughnasa in Hollywood Village.


Jim Tutty and actor John Kavanagh on set of Dancing at Lughnasa in Hollywood Village.


Local lad Tadhg Byrne and actors waiting to ambush Michael Collins (at St. Kevin’s statue above Hollywood).

For YouTubelink to Danish national TV interview on Hollywood with local historian John Glennon see the first 10 minutes of The Green Island here. 
For YouTubelink to re-enactment of Famine Eviction scene in Hollywood in the 1840s click the Youtube bottle cap below.