‘If I bring home a sense of enjoyment, then my job is done’

Lesser Spotted Journeys Joe Mahon. Picture: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker
Lesser Spotted Journeys Joe Mahon. Picture: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

Joe Mahon has returned to our television screens with his latest UTV series of Lesser Spotted Journeys.

It has been over 20 years since Joe, 65, began his travels around Ulster and, now with Lesser Spotted Journeys, further afield.

The Londonderry-born presenter says he still continues to get a great deal of satisfaction from making the Lesser Spotted series.

“If I can bring back something of the sense of enjoyment that I genuinely get out of travelling around the country and visiting different places then I have done my job well,” he says.

Joe likens Lesser Spotted to going on holidays and bringing back photographs to show friends and family.

“It’s a bit like going away and bringing snaps and boring people with them; but of course I hope I don’t bore anyone,” he laughs.

“What I have found over the years is that you need to find out as much as you can about a place so that you can tell people about it.

“Every single place that we visit we spend a week filming there, but prior to that somebody from our team will have spent several weeks visiting the place, reading about it, talking to people and getting a real feeling for the area.’’

Joe, a former teacher, acknowledges that even after 20 years of filming the Lesser Spotted series he is still learning.

“The new series is a mixture of programmes shot around Ulster and then the rest are spread out fairly equally among the other provinces.

“But when you do all the maths of the counties in each of the provinces, you quickly realise that each of the provinces have different numbers of counties, for example Connacht only has five while Leinster has 12, so it’s not always easy to get a fair distribution.

“It has certainly been an education for me filming the new series, I would have always holidayed in the west of Ireland when the children were younger, so I would have been familiar with Co Galway, Co Clare and Co Kerry to an extent, but really beyond that it is all so new to me.”

Joe’s travels around Ireland, and especially those off the beaten track, remind him of when his family were younger.

“We used to go for drives with the three youngsters in the back of the car. They used to hate me taking them anywhere, because I wouldn’t have been content to go to such and such a place, but I would come across a wee road with grass growing up in the middle and I would take them up those roads and we’d get lost.

“But I have always had that inclination long before we started filming Lesser Spotted.

“I always wanted to explore and I was always thinking about finding the perfect glen or the perfect lake or setting.”

Joe does think that Ireland has become a much more accessible place in which to travel.

“Recently we travelled down to Wexford and Waterford to film. Even though it’s on the other side of the country it took us little or no time to get there because of the fantastic roads that we have now.

“And in a way all the new roads have made travelling around Ireland so much easier nowadays compared to 10 or 20 years ago.”

Joe continues: “But I do like to get off the beaten track and to get away off the road. I like to look for those quiet places and sometimes they can also be very lonely places. I remember being in north Co Mayo, and you could walk for days and not see a soul there.

“But then you have other places which might be busy but just off the beaten track and I don’t think that those sort of places shouldn’t be overlooked by Lesser Spotted Journeys as their history and character is every much as interesting as, say, an urban sprawl which is bustling with life.”

He adds that while travelling the country finding the most interesting places to film, he enjoys nothing more than taking a break and having a picnic in the countryside.

“While we are filming we are living out of the back of a car. There are three cars going around the country.

“One car carries big boxes with flasks of coffee and tea, food and sandwiches.

“There is nothing that I love more than stopping for a break on the road, putting a wee table cloth out and setting up a picnic.

“It could be lashing with rain and blowing a gale, but that (having a picnic) just cheers you up and makes the day much brighter.

“I have to say the rest of them may not be as keen and prefer to take shelter from the wind and rain, but I just love it.”

Reflecting on 20 years of Lesser Spotted Joe says the real test of the success of what he does is that people welcome him back when he re-visits a place where he has filmed.

“The real test is – are you happy to go back to place that you did a programme without fearing that people will throw things at you,’’ he laughs.

“Over 20 years we have built up a really good network of contacts and people who trust us and they generally recommend us to other people who we want to talk to; that is an invaluable resource that network of people.”

And Lesser Spotted continues to make new friends around the country.

“All the people who were in last year’s Lesser Spotted who didn’t know us and met us for the first time, I am now able to go back to them and because they have been delighted with the outcome they are happy to recommend us to others.

“These are usually small places which may not have a lot of resources, but what they are left with is a nice pictorial record of the visit which highlights the really beautiful aspects of their home.

“Not every place has spectacular scenery, but what they will have instead is very strong stories and great characters.”

Lesser Spotted Journeys continues next Tuesday (September 20) on UTV at 9pm when Joe visits Desertcreat, Co Tyrone.

The series concludes on Tuesday, November 29 when Joe visits The Sloblands in Co Wexford.