Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ah, go on, go on, go on!

Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, has 850 inhabitants and more than 100 priests and nuns - but only for the weekend.

The rugged isle is hosting the first ever Father Ted festival, and fans of the hit television comedy show have flocked to the island to pay homage to Ted and the rest of the cast.

Dermot Morgan, who played Father Ted, died nine years ago, but his comedy character lives on through repeat showings and huge DVD sales.

The Ted fans, most of them aged under 30, have invaded the port of Kilronan on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, transforming it into Craggy Island.

The Friends of Father Ted group are dressed up as Ted, his dozy sidekick Father Dougal, the drink-sodden Father Jack and their housekeeper with a penchant for tea and sandwiches, Mrs Doyle.

Walking along any of the narrow streets of the village, you will pass priests who aren't priests, nuns who aren't nuns and Mrs Doyles who aren't Mrs Doyles.

On Friday Night, I counted four cardinals, three bishops, a plethora of priests and a myriad of nuns at the Father Jack cocktail party.

Nothing new in that, you may say, except that the language frequently featured three of Father Jack's favourite words - drink, feck and girls - and the nun's hemlines would not have passed muster with the mother superior.

A website to promote the weekend's festivities crashed under the weight of hits from fans around the world.

Peter Philips, one of the organisers, says they have been bowled over by the response. "It's greater than anything we could have imagined. The interest in the Father Ted festival has been enormous," he says.

The planning however, was not without its problems. A storm blew up off the Galway coast when Inis Oirr, the smallest of the three Aran Islands, cried foul.

People there claimed the festival should have been held on their island because the Plassey shipwreck and other landmarks which featured in the opening credits of the show, were shot on Inis Oirr.

Given that most of the show was shot in a studio in London with exteriors filmed in County Clare, the row among the islands over the "rights" to stage the Father Ted festival, would have probably given Dermot Morgan something to chuckle about.

Mr Philips has found a way of resolving this unholy row.

"The two islands will take part in a Father Ted priests five-a-side football match on the beach at Kilronan," he says. "The winners will take the Craggy Cup, and the bragging rights."

Clerical combat aside, there are a number of other events keeping the Tedfest fans occupied.

These include Buckaroo speed dating, the Father Jack cleaning fluid drinks reception, ludo aerobics, and the Inis Mor lovely girls contest.

There is also the Craggy Island Song for Europe competition, another re-enactment of a popular Father Ted episode.

Belfast songwriter Peter Millar has been involved in penning "jack in the box", which is described as "a sort of tribute to the music and legs of Northern Ireland Eurovision singer Clodagh Rodgers".

Rarely does a television sitcom resonate so ruthlessly with an audience but Father Ted is alive and kicking on Inis Mor this weekend.

When the festivities draw to a close on Sunday, we can all settle down to a nice cup of tea and maybe even a sandwich.

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