Historic house gains international fame in movies and TV shows
One of Northern Ireland’s oldest stately homes is enjoying a new international life as an increasingly popular filming location.
Grey Abbey House has stood in the Ards peninsula since 1762.
The estate in Greyabbey also includes the nearby medieval abbey, which dates back to 1193, plus several islands in Strangford Lough.
It is one of a number of locations in Northern Ireland enjoying popularity among directors and producers.
Nine television dramas and six feature films were filmed on locations in Northern Ireland in 2018, all of which had funding support from Northern Ireland Screen.
One of these was Channel 5’s Agatha and the Truth of Murder, a story inspired by Agatha Christie’s life, which was shot at Grey Abbey House.
The property is the third home on the current site built by the Montgomery family, one of the most pre-eminent of the planter families from Scotland who arrived in Co Down around 1607.
Rows of portraits of Montgomerys from across the centuries line the walls of one of the sitting rooms.
“It’s huge fun (to live in a house like this), it’s a lovely house to live in and we are very lucky,” said owner Bill Montgomery.
His wife Daphne added they also feel very much part of the village.
Now viewers from around the world are enjoying their historic home through the growing number of movies and TV productions being filmed there.
These include The Frankenstein Chronicles, which starred Sean Bean, My Mother and Other Strangers starring Ciaran Hinds and most recently the Truth of Murder, which airs on December 23.
Pippa Haywood, Tim McInnerny and Blake Harrison were among the cast who filmed at Grey Abbey House in autumn.
Mrs Montgomery said the house was also used for the Woman in White and Mrs Wilson, while other productions have featured the abbey and islands.
She said: “Sean Bean was in the Frankenstein Chronicles, that was all about the stealing of bodies.
“So it was quite sinister. Sean Bean was playing the detective who was trying to find the source of this.
“We had filming in the walled garden for that, including two very sinister men climbing over the wall at night.”
Mrs Montgomery said the house is often transformed for filming.
“The set designers are very good and we would recognise the house,” she said, although her husband added: “Sometimes it requires a double take.”
The process involves preparing the house, filming and then putting everything back and Mrs Montgomery paid tribute to production crews.
“We do enjoy having productions filmed here because they are very aware that they are intruding a bit of course but it’s how the business works,” she said.
“They are incredibly easy to work with, they take photographs of how rooms were before getting things packed up and then put everything back where it was.”
Mr Montgomery added it can take some adjusting to but added many of the filming crews are also great fun.
“Obviously you have to adjust your life while it is happening, there was one night I was on a late flight home, I didn’t get to bed until 2am, I staggered out of my bedroom in the morning to be met by half a dozen people with film cameras,” he said.
Most of the filming is organised through Northern Ireland Screen, which keeps a database of locations to show directors.
“They have a whole lot of locations on file, a producer and director will go to them and say ‘we want to do a production here and we want a prison, or a hospital, ordinary house, church, railway, ruins’ and the locations manager will then point them in the right direction,” Mrs Montgomery said.
“Quite often a producer and director might come, look and say this isn’t exactly what we want.
“For ages we were getting turned down quite a lot, it’s pot luck really.”