Big Interview: Ardal O’Hanlon digs up Ireland’s past and discusses Father Ted’s legacy

This Monday evening Ardal O’Hanlon will take viewers on a fascinating journey back to the 1930s when post-Partition Ireland became the focus of modern archeologists.

By Graeme Cousins
Thursday, 5th May 2022, 7:59 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th May 2022, 8:04 pm

In the course of a new documentary, which will be broadcast on BBC One NI and RTE, the comedian and actor known for his roles in Father Ted and Death In Paradise, visits world famous archaeological sites in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, finding out what they tell us about the past.

And speaking to leading academics, Ardal unearths the stories and characters of this largely forgotten period.

He told the News Letter: “I love anything that helps in any small way to tell us about who we are and where we came from.

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Ardal O'Hanlon: Tomb Raider will be broadcast on BBC One NI and RTE

”When you think about it, the thirties in Ireland, north and south, was a crazy time – you had these two statelets trying to forge an identity for themselves.

“Everything in some way was politicised, even a subject as dry as archeology takes on a frisson of excitement.

“Then you have the characters involved, they were very colourful, particularly in Dublin where you had a Nazi directing operations.”

Adolf Mahr, was an Austrian archaeologist and a member of Hitler’s Nazi Party, who served as director of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin in the 1930s. Also trying to uncover the secrets of Ireland’s landscape were a team from Harvard University and a Welsh geography professor based in Belfast.

Ardal is a keen historian

Ardal, who is from Carrickmacross in Co Monaghan, commented: “Wherever you go in Ireland you’re going to come across a cairn, or a dolmen or a court tomb – they’re fascinating structures. It’s amazing to me how people will interpret these things.

“No one has a clue what went on there, who built them, where these people came from. We don’t have any firm conclusions in this show, but it’s the journey, the discussion you have along the way that’s interesting.”

Ardal, the son of ex-Fianna Fail TD Rory O’Hanlon, is keen on exploring Irish history and is likely to go down in history himself as Father Dougal from the iconic Father Ted sitcom.

Father Ted was first broadcast on Channel 4 in April 1995, but its legacy endures.

Father Ted days: Ardal with the late Frank Kelly and the late Dermot Morgan

Ardal said: “It’s 25 years since Father Ted finished. Where does time go?

“It’s hard to believe Dermot (Morgan) is gone and Frank (Kelly) is gone.

“I’m very proud of Father Ted, I loved my time on show. I’m glad people still enjoy it. If I never do anything else with my life I’ll always have that.”

He added: “The thing I find fascinating about it is the way that even in the Dail you’ll hear people regularly quoting Father Ted, in courtrooms you’ll hear the judge quoting Father Ted, whenever there’s a protest you’ll see people holding up signs that Father Dougal and Father Ted held up outside a cinema many years ago.

Ardal's new novel, out on May 26

“There’s loads of references to it on a daily basis 25 years on, I suppose that is very satisfying in so many ways.”

He said the only souvenir he has from the show is a tiny painting by Father Stone of himself and Father Ted that featured in series one.

He said: “I had all my tank tops, but I gave them away over the years to various charities for auctions.

“If I knew what I know now I’d have taken everything.”

Of his career path, Ardal said: “I’m enjoying making documentaries and I love the acting because you don’t know what you’re going to end up doing next. I still do an awful lot of stand-up. Basically I’m a plate spinner.”

Another plate he is currently spinning is a new novel called Brouhaha, out on May 26, which he describes as “Fargo set along the border”.

He said: “It’s my second novel. My first one was 24 years ago so I’m not prolific, that’s for sure.”

• Ardal O’Hanlon: Tomb Raider is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday at 10.35pm, and also on BBC iPlayer