Tom Hanks learned Saving Private Ryan lines from helmet on Irish beach

By Shane Harrison
BBC News Dublin Correspondent

  • Published
Director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks on the set of Saving Private RyanImage source, Getty Image/Fotos International
Image caption,
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks on Ballinesker beach

On a warm sunny day it is hard to believe that Ballinesker beach in the south-east of Ireland, about two-and-half hours' drive from Dublin, was to all intents and purposes a Hollywood movie set.

During the summer 25 years ago Hollywood stars including Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg set up camp on the County Wexford beach to film part of Saving Private Ryan.

Irish Army reservists - members of the Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCA) - were extras in the re-enactment of the D-Day landings during World War Two.

The movie by DreamWorks tells the story of the attempt to save the life of Private James Francis Ryan, whose three brothers had already died fighting in the war.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Tom Hanks at the 1998 premiere of Saving Private Ryan

Those FCA extras who took part in the landing scenes wore wet suits under their uniforms to stay warm and as dry as possible.

A quarter of a century later, one of those extras - John Fowler - vividly remembers the many rehearsals before the final takes.

Image caption,
Ballinesker beach in County Wexford was turned into a World War Two movie in the summer of 1997

"They had pipes underneath the water and sand that had air blowing through simulating live fire," he says,

"And if you ran into them then you were dropped, gone and taken out of the film."

Image caption,
Ballinesker beach is a much more relaxing place for John Fowler these days

Graham Cadogan, another extra, is proud that he got to share screen time with the movie's main star Tom Hanks.

"I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to get picked by a talent scout," he says.

"It's the scene about 20 minutes in where Hanks is up at the command post looking for his interpreter."

Because of that scene, Graham's grandmother went to her one and only war film.

Image caption,
Former FCA member Graham Cadogan shared the silver screen with Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks, the regular guy who played baseball with the crew and extras on the beach, impressed many.

Paul Bolger remembers their time lying beside each other in the "warm tents" for drying out wet clothes.

He says that after a couple of minutes the movie star pulled up the helmet he had rested on "turned it upside down and started reading his lines from inside his helmet".

"Then he'd put it back under his head and he'd mumble away his lines for another while. He was just one of the lads."

Image caption,
Paul Bolger camped with Tom Hanks as the Hollywood star rehearsed his lines

Although Saving Private Ryan won five Oscars including best director for Steven Spielberg, it lost out in the best picture category to Shakespeare in Love.

'Quite shocking'

Despite that, Donald Clarke, the Irish Times film correspondent says it is a very influential war film.

"We are dealing with a director who until that point, despite Schindler's List, was seen as a bit of a sentimentalist," he says,

"So, it was quite shocking that you had him depict the landing in the opening half hour of the film with such extreme violence."

Twenty five years later and back on the beach, there is little or no evidence that movie stars and film crews were once here.

But at least the extras from the Irish Army reserve still have their fond memories.