Wednesday 26 June 2019

Fr Ted: Mass hysteria on the show's 20th anniversary

How the anarchic comedy series is still bestowing blessings in Co Clare

Comedy gold: Father Dougal and Father Ted
Comedy gold: Father Dougal and Father Ted

Graham Clifford

'And after the break stay tuned for a new comedy series based on the lives of three hilarious Irish priests and their quirky housekeeper," chimed the chirpy continuity announcer.

It was 20 years ago this week that the very first episode of Father Ted appeared on Channel 4. On the evening of April 21, 1995, a cult-series was born and now, two decades on, fans of Father Ted still flock to the old 'Parochial House' located, not on an Island, but in the heart of the Burren.

I took tea in the house recently. The McCormack family who own it, and lived here during the filming, run a tea room where 'Tedheads' converge throughout the year.

Getting a picture is all-important. Like so many before me, I bend over in front of the house wearing an imitation of Bishop Brennan's Mitre with my good lady wife gearing to kick me in the rear. Snap.

Visitors pay €10 (per adult) to take tea in the house where home-made scones, brown bread, jam and sweeter options fill the table.

Of course the tea flows freely. You can buy magnets stating 'I had tea in Fr Ted's House'.

In 2008, Janet Cavanagh, who lives in the area, established 'Ted Tours', offering expertly guided three-hour tours of locations used in the filming of the series.

"As well as the parochial house we bring them to the Aillwee Caves, where much of one episode which featured Graham Norton as Fr Noel Furlong, was shot," explains Janet.

"Also to Vaughan's Pub in Kilfenora and we show them Mrs O'Reilly's house where Pat Mustard forgot his trousers in the milk-float episode."

There are plenty other sites to see on the Ted Tour and Janet says that business is brisk.

"It's hugely popular. We get a lot of hen parties and we provide nun outfits and so on for them to dress in.

''Generally we take 15 people on each tour but we can cater for more on private bookings. We've loads of bookings already for most of the summer and we're thinking of putting on additional tours to cater for the demand," she says.

The tour costs €25 per adult and €20 per child, while additional merchandising such as t-shirts featuring Mrs Doyle's famous catchphrase, "Go on, go on, go on", are available for €14.99.

Interestingly, Janet says she's noticed a significant increase in the number of Americans turning up for tours in recent months.

"It's now available on Netflix in the US. They love it so much and book months in advance to see the sites," she says.

"We have Tedheads coming in on a weekly basis," explains Mark Vaughan of Vaughan's bar.

Both the exterior and interior of the pub were used in the 'Are you right there, Father Ted' episode, when Ted found himself in hot water for appearing to be racist toward a Chinese family. Today Chinese lanterns still illuminate the interior of the pub.

"We display a lot of the original props that were used. It's hard to believe its been 20 years, Father Ted left a lasting legacy in this area and every year we hold a festival here in Kilfenora dedicated to the series," says Mark.

Up at the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, John McCarthy explains that it was here all the cast and crew stayed during filming. Much of the video for the 'My Lovely Horse' Eurovision entry was shot in the grounds of the hotel and when John was 10, he and other local children appeared in the Father Ted Christmas special.

"We still get a lot of people coming in and taking pictures of the place and a lot of our hen and stag parties come because of the connection with Father Ted, it's been great for local business really," John says.

Further afield, Welsh man Peter Phillips has been hosting Tedfest on Inis Mór in the Aran Islands since 2007.

Each February some 400 fans of the series descend upon the island at a cost of €150 each (that excludes travel and accommodation). With a total intake each year of approximately €60,000 from this one event, it's clear how strong the demand for Tedfest clearly is.

"On July 4 this year we're holding a Tedfest Edinburgh event where we'll have the usual Lovely Girls contest, Italia 90 Disco and a Craggy Island Ceili and then a week later we're holding a similar event in the London Irish centre in Camden," Peter told Weekend Review.

He's hoping to hold a Tedfest event in the US next year with locations in Boston and New York being considered.

He adds: "People in Ireland, and in the English-speaking world in general, have a huge affection for Father Ted and that kind of affection doesn't die over time.

"In 100 years, when they're talking of how Irish social attitudes changed at the end of the 20th century, they'll still be talking about Father Ted."

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