Meet the Ulsterman who brings animal magic alive on screen

A rare breed farmer from Co Armagh is happy to play second fiddle to his celebrity animals.

Saturday, 19th January 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 5:51 pm
Kenny with two sows he bred to look iron age for Game of Thrones

Kenny Gracey, who runs a family farm in Tandragee that has been around since at least 1710, has in the past 10 years found a niche in the market supplying rare breed animals for films and TV shows being shot locally.

The 61-year-old explained how his ‘children’ made their screen debuts: “In 2009 when the film ‘Your Highness’ was being shot here, the art director – Shane Bunting – knew me as someone who kept rare breeds and asked if he could use some of my animals for the film. He wanted an oldish type of animal so the Longhorn cattle and the Saddleback pigs were perfect.”

In 2010 when filming for Game of Thrones began in NI, a member of the production team from Your Highness got in contact with Kenny to ask for his assistance.

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Kenny and Jennifer Gracey and their celebrity animals will feature on The Farmers' Country Showdown on Wednesday, January 23 at 3.45pm

He said: “They came down and I hired them a whole lot of old rusty equipment for dressing the set plus the animals. It just snowballed from there.”

Asked does he watch the programmes and films his animals feature in, Kenny said: “I haven’t got Sky or Netflix or any of those things, so the only thing that I might see is something on the regular channels.

“I watched Death and Nightingales on the BBC at the end of last year. I did all the animals for that – cows, pigs, horses.”

Death and Nightingales is a historical drama starring Jamie Dornan and Ann Skelly which was filmed in Fermanagh and at Springhill House in Moneymore.

Kennys red deer appeared in Vikings, a TV series shot in Ireland

“They used my horses and carriages. I taught Jamie Dornan and Ann Skelly how to drive (a horse and cart).”

Asked what is was like to see his animals on screen, Kenny said: “You always have a certain amount of pride. They’re my children. For me it’s the same as watching your child on the stage. It’s great.”

Forthill Farm revolves around the farm shop, selling free range pork, lamb and beef from traditional breeds.

Kenny said: “I’ve been on the family farm all my life. You can trace the farm back to 1710. All records before 1710 were lost when the Irish Records Office was destroyed (in 1922) so we could well have been around before then.”

He added: “Hiring the animals out to productions has only come in recently, but it all goes hand in hand.

“It’s become a very big part of my life and the farm’s income.”

• Kenny’s farm will feature in The Farmers’ Country Showdown on BBC One NI on January 23 at 3.45pm