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 Leinster Leader 28 August 2008

Ballymore Eustace was in the spotlight fifty years ago this month with the news that a major film production from Ardmore Studios was to be filmed in the east Kildare location.  The Leader reported that the film ‘Shake Hands With the Devil’ was to be shot in that most picturesque location. Officials from Ardmore Studios had been busy making the necessary preliminary survey on the ground.
There was great excitement in the town – or should it be called a village? The Leader pondered the question by quoting its parish priest, Monsignor Browne: ‘ Ballymore Eustace was neither large enough to be styled a town or small enough to be reckoned as a village.’ Whatever about the correct terminology it was predicted confidently that the attention of the film studios would ensure that Ballymore Eustace would ‘ soon be seen by millions of persons in all parts of the world.’
The actual shooting of the film was to take place in Ballymore in September 1958 but before this could be done a considerable amount of preparing the ground was necessary. The Post Office and ESB engineers had agreed to the temporary removal of poles carrying overhead wires which would interfere with the picture.  And although Ballymore was famous for its traditional public houses the film makers had their own concept of the frontage of a licensed premises, as the report explained: ‘ And, although there are several licensed premises in the village, none of these is quite what the film people require. They, therefore, intend to erect their own public house where they want it, but the structure will be only a plywood frontage, all the essentials of alcoholic entertainment being left to the imagination.’
Setting the scene in Ballymore the Leader report reverted to the writings of the scholar-priest Monsignor Browne: ‘We learn that although it seems today to slumber in quite contentment Ballymore has known turbulent days down the centuries.’ Situated on the verge of the Pale it was turned  into an embattled fortress to guard against the inroads of the O’Byrnes and the O’Tooles who were once the rightful owners of the territory. The town (or was it a village?) had heard the fierce clash of arms and had witnessed the march and counter-march of opposing armies. History recorded the repeated alarums and excursions on its borders.   Its turbulent history went back many centuries. In 1306 it was burned to the ground by the ‘Irishmen making war on the English and the Irish of Leinster’.  There was an old tradition of cattle rustling in the area, back in 1419: ‘ O’Toole took 400 cows belonging to Ballymore, breaking the peace contrary to his oath.  A ‘smoke tax’ of one half-penny on ever hamlet was levied to keep the place defended against the assaults of the O’Tooles and the O’Byrnes.
In 1203 King John of England commanded the Justiciary of Ireland to grant John Comyn, Archbishop of Dublin, possession ‘ of the Castle of Balimore as well as so much of the Forest of Coillach as he ought to have by the King’s Charter’.  Not a trace of this castle now remains but the adjacent townslands of Bishophill, Bishopland and Bishoplane bear witness that the town and neighbourhood were once the perquisite of the Archbishop of Dublin.  And, whether or not a town or a village, Ballymore Eustace has always been distinguished among Kildare place names by its double-barrelled character. The Leader report elaborated on the origins of this historic addendum to the relatively common Irish placename of Ballymore: ‘ In 1373 Thomas Fitzoliver FitzEustace was appointed Constable of the Castle of Balimore with a salary of ten pounds per annum’.  There were terms and conditions with the appointment as FitzEustace was obliged to ‘ reside there with his family and govern the tenants without extortion and guard and maintain the fortress.’  This then is the origin of the how the distinction Eustace became appended to the Liffeyside village (or is it a town?) which was to be catapulted to international attention by the filming of ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ in the early autumn of 1958.
Series no. 82

Liam Kenny in his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun' reports on preparations by Ballymore Eustace for starring role in feature film in 1958.

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