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It's not a holiday, ok?

IT was never made entirely clear exactly what Monty Hall is escaping from in his Great Irish Escape. If I had to guess, I'd say it's a regular, nine-to-five job.

"For the next six months, I'm returning to my roots as a marine biologist," declared Hall as he arrived in wild, beautiful Connemara to the strains of the inevitable diddly-eye music.

He would mention that he's a marine biologist a few more times during the programme, as it if to remind himself and us that this is very definitely work and not, as the casual observer might conclude, a long, paid holiday in one of the most beautiful places in Ireland or Europe.

Hall is accompanied, as he always is on his holid... -- sorry, work assignments, by his dog, Reuben. He and Reuben are two of a kind, puppyish and enthusiastic. Both are easily distracted and liable to get excited at anything that catches their eye.

In Reuben's case, it was the plentiful hares flitting across the road on the way to the fishing village of Roundstone.

For Hall, it was . . . well, just about everything, from the multicoloured houses in Clifden to the vast expanse of sky visible while driving along the Sky Road (wonder why it's called that?).

Mostly, though, it was the landscape. "It's seductive and soporific," said Halls, adding that it makes you want to relax and sleep.

Sadly, Great Irish Escape was rather soporific as well.

Hall is in Connemara ostensibly to work with Dr Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, which has spent the last 15 years photographing the dolphins in and around the Shannon Estuary, which they've seemingly frequented for thousands of years (ancient mariners' diaries contain descriptions of "sea monsters"), so they can be identified and tracked by the unique nicks and markings on their fins.

He's also there, he said, to act as a kind of roving troubleshooter, zipping up and down the West Coast, whose marine life has never been properly mapped, trying to find beached whales for analysis.

Hall and Dr Berrow did find one beached whale near the end, but having spent three hours dissecting it to locate its massive stomach, they were disappointed to find nothing inside.

"It apparently vomited while it was drowning," said Halls.

In truth, aside from the whale and one morning spent shooting pictures of dolphins around the treacherous waters of the island of Inishee, work seemed to be the last thing on Hall's mind.

He went for a walk along the beach and visited a vegetable market to pick up some supplies, because he wants to be as self-sufficient as possible while in Connemara.

During this detour, he confided that, as a child, he was scared of potatoes that had sprouted. "My sister used to chase me round the house with them," he said, "which in retrospect, I suppose, is quite weird."

After that, he drove to Tullycross for a mussel festival, where he entered the cookery competition and came third.

"It's no place for the weak, up there cooking mussels," he said afterwards.

And then it was time for a dive among some conger eels, which, despite their fearsome reputation and fierce bite, are as gentle and friendly as puppies, and like to be fed by hand.

"He's right here between me legs!" burbled Halls from behind his diving mask, as a big conger snaked around his thighs.

That was about as exciting as it got and, I suspect, as exciting as it will ever get.

Great Irish Escape is part nature programme and part travelogue, but above all else it's a massive piece of free advertising for the beauty of Connemara, which is sure to please Bord Failte.

Frankly, though, if I want to enjoy the pleasures of the West of Ireland, I'll take a holiday there myself rather than watching Monty Hall do it.

I'll even bring my own dog.



MONTY HALLS' GREAT IRISH ESCAPE hhiii


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