Author: Denise McNamara
~ 5 minutes read
After years of staging TedFest on Inis Mór, the event’s co-founder says his absolute favourite part of the mayhem is watching an occasional unknowing tourist react when they find themselves plonked in the middle of the surreal universe of Craggy Island.
“There’s always some hardcore Scandinavian or American visitor who researched the hell out of Dún Aonghasa but didn’t know it was Tedfest weekend,” reveals Peter Phillips.
“Then they see all these priests, nuns playing five-a-side football on the beach, people dressed as Mrs Doyle, My Lovely Horse playing on repeat.”
The festival sells out every year early due to the limited accommodation open in the first weekend of March. It missed out on one year during the Covid lockdowns and was one of the few festivals to be held in the country in 2020.
Originally attracting around 100 fans of the Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted, it now boasts 300 revellers, thanks to the addition of glamping pods at the campsite in Kilronan and the chalets behind the Aran Islands Hotel.
Described one year by a criminal psychiatrist who attended with her husband as ‘Lord of the Flies on crack’, events will largely follow the same format as when it first began in 2007.
Returning will be the ‘Lovely Girls Competition’; King of the Sheep; Pat Mustard Lip Sync Showdown; Ted’s Got Talent; The Screeching Competition in a Very Dark Cave; Matchmaking with Nellie, The Priests’ Dance Off; The Reverse Wheel of Death and Hide a Nun and Seek.
The cult favourite originally ran for three seasons between 1995 and 1998 with two of the lead actors no longer alive – Dermot Morgan played Father Ted and Frank Kelly starred as the inimitable Father Jack.
The show won a Bafta for best comedy and Dermot Morgan and Pauline McLynn were awarded Baftas for best actor and actress.
Dermot Morgan died from a heart attack aged 45 on February 28, 1998, just 24 hours after he had finished recording the last episode.
Original cast member Patrick McDonnell will travel to Inis Mór to host Blind Date with Eoin McLove and Joe Rooney will return as Fr Damo.
But after that don’t expect to see Ardal O’Hanlon, who played Fr Dougal, or Pauline McLynn as Mrs Doyle pouring copious cups of tea.
“It’s the opposite of a cheesy TV fan convention. The idea was always about giving people the chance to live on Craggy Island, to experience the madness,” reflects Peter.
“People might think that it’s quite cliquey and it’s the same people year on year. We have 20-30 hardcore fans but what I find is they come back every five years. They say it was the weekend of their lives, but it takes five years to get over it.
“People genuinely have trouble going home, they just get absorbed in this surreal life. In the beginning it’s a novelty dressing up but by Saturday afternoon nobody is batting an eyelid when they see Darth Vader buying a pint of milk in the shop.”
The organiser of the biggest Elvis festival in the world in Porthcawl, Wales, Peter has moved the antics to other locations such as the Irish Centre in Camden, London and Parks, NSW, Australia. The latter was a disaster when the local police closed the bar following noise complaints.
After the inaugural festival, there were complaints from neighbouring Inis Oirr that they were in fact the true Craggy Island because of the show’s opening sequence capturing its shipwreck.
That dispute was settled in true Fr Ted Crilly form with a five-a-side football match on the beach between teams managed by Ireland football legends Tony Cascarino and John Aldridge. Inis Mór won 2-1.
“There’s a certain type of person who fights their way to Inis Mór for three days in the middle of March. It’s just not the same going to Camden. I’d question how those who do the trek to the Aran Islands function for the other 362 days of the year.”
The story of how the whole thing was conceived could well be a Father Ted episode.
The native of Cardiff had lived in Roundstone for a year writing a biography on Connemara politician ‘Humanity Dick’ Martin, who is regarded as the father of animal rights. Peter found himself in a Sri Lankan war zone organising the charity donation of a bus following the devastating tsunami the year before.
He got chatting in a beach bar to Galwegian Fergal McGrath, who was an ardent fan of the sitcom. He was intrigued by the Elvis festival and they agreed to meet up in Neachtain’s pub in Galway City to explore the idea of a similar event celebrating Father Ted.
Inis Mór was the chosen location because they knew publican PJ O’Flaherty, who ran a hotel there.
The island is bracing itself for an influx of visitors keen to visit the spectacular scenes in the Banshees of Inisherin. There is still the possibility of “a seven-fingered throwing contest” in TedFest in a nod to Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy.
Revellers are advised not to buy a ticket for the festival unless they have sourced accommodation “or permission from another ticket holder to sleep with them”.
There is space to pitch a tent which can be booked at irelandglamping.ie. TedFest takes place from March 2-5.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:
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