Tinsel Town’s unexpected County Wicklow beginnings.
The Wicklow Gap is one of only two passes through spectacular Wicklow mountains and, nestled in heart of it, is a lovely little village called Hollywood. There are two theories on how it got its name. One points to lush holly trees widespread in area. Another suggests it was originally Holy Wood, after St Kevin passed through in 6th century on his way to found monastic city in nearby Glendalough. Evidence suggests area has been settled since 1192.Today, with a population of about 100, it’s a quiet spot but not without a touch of glamour. Hollywood, County Wicklow is near one of Ireland’s prime locations for filmmaking and village has played host to a number of film stars. For example, during making of Neil Jordan’s film Michael Collins (1995), Liam Neeson became a familiar figure in village.
Neeson who played Collins was in awe of place. Although most of film was shot in Dublin famous scene at Béal na mBláth, where Collins was murdered in an ambush on 22 August 1922, was filmed in Corrigan’s Glen which is located just a few hundred yard from village.
American screen idol Meryl Streep was also enthralled by charm of village. The actress visited when she was starring in Dancing at Lughnasa (1998). 2014But by far biggest connection Hollywood, County Wicklow has to film industry is that local legend holds that it was a Mathew Guirke from village who founded other, slightly better-known Hollywood in California. Mathew Guirke’s great nephew Jim Guirke was until his death recently postmaster and shopkeeper in village. With his help, local history buffs have traced story of Wicklow blacksmith who founded Hollywood, California.Mathew Guirke was born in Hollywood, County Wicklow in 1826.His parents John and Anne Guirke rented a house in Knockroe in village, as well as lands in nearby areas of Rathattin and Dragoonhill. Mathew was one of six children.The Guirkes, like many Irish farming families at time, would have struggled to make a living. And when Great Famine struck in 1847 they began to wonder if there was a better life for them somewhere else.
By 1850 they had made their decision and saved enough money to pay passage for entire family onboard a vessel named Ellen bound for New York. Mathew was 24 at time.Once in America, Mathew set out on an odyssey that took him around that vast country. He started out in March, a year after he arrived, travelling to Charleston in South Carolina where he placed a notice in Boston Globe, seeking information on his uncle Timothy Guirke, a blacksmith also from Hollywood, County Wicklow. Mathew trained as a blacksmith, but he would soon learn many more skills. At various times his occupation is listed as horse-breeder, horseman and real estate agent. Records of next decade or so of Mathew’s life are scant, but at some point he travelled from Charleston to California. He established himself in an area near Los Angeles where he built a cabin.
We can assume he was doing well for himself because he also bought a small race track and started a small community. Clearly Mathew never forgot tiny village he came from; he named his new homestead Hollywood. Mathew’s travels didn’t end however. In 1865, there are records of him in Californian town of Sonora. From there he went to Virginia City in Nevada and then onto Helena in newly formed territory of Montana. He headed south west through town of Bozeman, and continued to an area that is at present part of Yellowstone National Park. Mathew started a business there. In August 1871 at a remote site near where Boiling River empties into Gardiner River, he opened McGuirke’s Medicinal Springs which he was later forced to close because it fell within boundaries of newly established Yellowstone National Park.
Eventually Mathew was awarded $1,000 by US government as compensation for loss of his enterprise. By now though, years of hard labour and exhaustive travels in rough terrain had taken their toll and his health was declining. Mathew Guirke died of chronic bronchitis on 13th October 1901 at age of 75. He is buried Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles. Meanwhile hamlet he founded in California was growing. In 1903 it became a municipality and later merged with city of Los Angeles. In 1911 attracted by quality of light in California, various film moguls moved their studios to area. And rest, as they say, is history.