When you think of Charlie Chaplin, I bet the first thing that pops into your mind probably isn’t the charming little village of Waterville in Kerry, right?! You might be surprised to hear that this picturesque village on the Ring of Kerry was one of Chaplin’s favorite holiday locations and that his influence can still be felt today in the form of the famous annual Charlie Chaplin Festival, not to mention (the perfectly instagrammable) Charlie Chaplin statue and the “Charlie Chaplin’s Walk” along the seashore.
In fact, Charlie Chaplin and his entire family chose Waterville as their summer vacation destination for over a decade, which pays tribute to how much they enjoyed the time they spent there. Waterville is such a tranquil and picturesque village with amazing views of the sea and the Kerry Mountains and a generous helping of friendly Kerry hospitality so that it is no wonder that the Chaplins fell in love with it. You will too when you stop by!
Waterville is nestled right in the middle of the Ring of Kerry, so if you travel this highly recommended route, definitely make sure to plan a stop in Waterville and check out the following Charlie Chaplin sights. You won’t be disappointed!
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1) The Butler Arms Hotel
This is where Chaplin and his family stayed every summer from 1959 to 1971. When the Troubles in Northern Ireland began in the 1970s, Chaplin, as an Englishman, didn’t feel safe anymore in Ireland and decided to holiday elsewhere.
Curiously enough, Chaplin’s first visit to Waterville almost never happened at all. Chaplin’s friend, Walt Disney, who had stayed at the Butler Arms Hotel in 1946, recommended this idyllic spot. However, Chaplin arrived unannounced at the hotel only to realise that the hotel was not only booked out, but also that the receptionist didn’t recognise him. Chaplin and his family set off to find lodgings elsewhere.
Luckily, the owner of the hotel quickly realised the faux pas, chased the family down and invited them to return to the hotel. The family agreed and were greeted with tea and scones in the lounge area, now called the Chaplin Lounge, and stayed in the hotel owner’s private quarters.
Apart from the Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney, The Butler Arms has also been the accommodation of choice with other well-known celebrities. While filming on the nearby Skellig Michael UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, JJ Abrams, Kathleen Lucas along with the crew of Star Wars Episode VII and Episode VIII stayed at the hotel in 2014 and 2015. Michael Douglas and family, along with sporting stars Dan Marino and Wayne Gretzky have also stayed at this very impressive, family owned hotel.
2) The Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival
Since 2011 there is an annual Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival at the end of August. (Be sure to pack your Chaplin costume in order to take part in the Charlie Chaplin lookalike gathering if you are in the neighborhood around then!) The festival, which includes, workshops, short film competition screenings and street entertainment, has been called one of the most successful festivals in a rural Irish community. For more info click here.
3) The Chaplin Film Festival Office and Centre
Directly across from the Butler Arms is the small little center dedicated to all things Charlie Chaplin. Don’t be misled by its small size as it contains a large collection of Charlie Chaplin pictures and merchandise (including canes and bowler hats in case you forget your outfit!) Take the time to watch a short documentary on Chaplin’s time in Waterville to find out more about this international icon in a sleepy Irish village.
4) Charlie Chaplin’s Walk
The picturesque waterfront promenade is a must for any tourist. Line up to take the obligatory photo with the Charlie Chaplin statue. (This statue by Alan Ryan was erected in 1998.) Also keep an eye out for the mural of Chaplin on the back of the Arts and Crafts shop An Tigín (opposite the Stella Maris B&B).
5) Lough Currane – Charlie Chaplin’s Fishing Spot
If you happen to be in Waterville by car, then think about driving the short distance to Lough Currane, which is tucked away behind the village. Alternatively you can also walk to a scenic viewing spot by foot. Just turn into Southview Terrace (about 10 m away from the Charlie Chaplin Mural in the direction of the Butler Arms Hotel) and follow the road until the end (less than 1 km / 0.6 miles).
Charlie Chaplin used to travel down this road to try his luck fishing for salmon and trout. However, he was clearly an inexperienced fisherman and rarely caught anything at all. One tradition in the Butler Arms Hotel was to display the catch of the day along with the names of the successful fishermen placed underneath. After one fishing trip, when Chaplin returned empty handed, he disappeared into the kitchen of the hotel and reemerged with a can of sardines. He then placed one sardine alongside the rest of the day’s catch and wrote his name under it.
Tip: Here is a fantastic article that gives you a little bit more background information about Chaplin’s holiday visits alongside great black and white photographs.