Sixty-six years on, actress Clare Mullen returns to Achill Island to revisit the scene of one of the worst film accidents of all time resulting in the death of four talented and extraordinary people working on a film called "Shark Island". ( 2017)
When a group of six talented and extraordinary people arrived on Achill Island in May, 1951 nobody could have foreseen that only two of them would leave alive. The film they had arrived to make, Shark Island would end in the tragedy of being one of the worst film accidents of all time.
The shark fishing industry on Achill was the stuff of Hemingway books- men armed with harpoons, battling enormous basking sharks in tiny currachs, trying to kill the fish for their liver oil. It was the excitement of all this that appealed to filmmaker Hugh Falkus, the dashing Spitfire pilot and POW whose life was a walking Boy's Own adventure. After a chance encounter at the BBC in 1950 with Achill shark fisherman Charles Osborne, Falkus knew that his next film would be a kind of docu-drama about the Achill sharkers.
The crew arrived in May of '51- Falkus, the actor and producer; his newlywed wife Diana, the film's continuity girl and screenwriter; his business partner, the director Sam Lee (then Britain's greatest stuntman), and the brilliant young cameraman Bill Brendon. Charles Osborne and his family were already living in Achill where he was well-known as a flamboyant daredevil. A few days after the English crew, a young actor from Dublin, Claire Mullan, 20 years old in her first film role, arrived, completely out of her depth.
The film was hell for her. She was away from home for the first time and the sea was red with the blood of the slaughtered sharks. As shooting progressed, she was forced into dangerous stunts, climbing cliffs and going out in rough seas in a flimsy little boat all seemingly at the will of the art director and co-star, Osborne, whom she later described as "very reckless".
On May 12th, the crew set out to film some jagged rocks, the Daisy Rocks, an area prone to huge, unpredictable waves. A massive swell struck the boat, leaving the crew fighting for their lives in the water. Falkus, a powerful swimmer, swam the mile and a half to shore through the icy sea to get help. But it was too late. By the time he reached land, all had been lost.
But Claire Mullan wasn't on that boat. By a stroke of almost supernatural good luck, she was five minutes late that day and the crew had gone to sea without her. But her ordeal wasn't over. Falkus was in a state of shock and so Claire had to identify the two bodies recovered, Sam Lee and Diana Falkus. Charles Osborne and Bill Brendon were never recovered.
Sixty-six years on, Return to Shark Island remembers those events on Achill Island with Claire Mullan, now a veteran actor of stage and screen returning to the island to revisit the scenes of the accident and finally try to achieve some closure on something which she has never been able to leave behind.
Documentary On One: Return to Shark Island is narrated by David Mullen.
Newspaper Readings are by Jim Fahy.
It is produced by David Mullen and Nicoline Greer.
Sound supervision by Mark Dwyer.
First broadcast: Saturday, September 30th, RTÉ Radio 1 at 2pm
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One, the home of Irish radio documentaries.