Having spent many nights with Frank Kelly, I felt personally obliged to write a little something in his honour. Just to clarify – when I say “spent many nights with”, I am of course referring to watching episodes of Father Ted and not to any seedy rendezvous between the two of us. As a TV show, Father Ted is my automatic go-to for all those unforgiving hungover days and godawful sleepless nights. What can I say? There’s just something I find incredibly soothing about watching the lives of three completely ridiculous priests unfold. It must be the very Irish part of me. My mother can testify to this as she’s spent many a night in the same room as me, trying desperately to sleep through the Divine Comedy theme tune.
When I heard the news of Frank’s passing, I wasn’t filled with the same shock that normally accompanies these sorts of deaths. You see, over the years, having immersed myself in Craggy Island and its uncommon inhabitants, I have come to know and love Frank solely as Father Jack Hackett and let’s face it, if he was Father Jack he’d have been long gone by now. Between the floor polish, the Toilet Duck and the daily alcohol consumption, he couldn’t possibly still be going.
This synonymity with a role was reportedly the reason Dermot Morgan (Father Ted Crilly) decided to call it a day on the show. He wanted to earn credibility as an actor outside this role. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after Father Ted ended. A true tragedy for someone at the mere age of 45. His anniversary also happened to coincide with Frank’s passing – something I find to be an inexplicably comforting coincidence.
While I’m sure the two actors have accreditations in many highly valued works, I would be lying if I said I was aware of any of these. This, I’m sure, was the kind of thing Dermot was referring to. But on this matter I will say “Yes, you were only Father Ted to me but that in itself is a wonderful achievement.”
Throughout all these years, this show has remained a personal favourite. When asked “If you were to watch one undiscovered episode of any TV show, what would it be”? I would always answer with Father Ted. You’re probably wondering who the hell asks this question. Well, I do so naturally I get it asked back. This might seem like a very strange question but when you think about it, it’s actually a really good one. And, while I can answer this with 100% certainty, the leading question “Why?” is a little more difficult.
In part, I think it lies in our ability, as a culture, to relate to it. The fascination with tea, the all too familiar caravan holiday to the arse-end of nowhere, the feeble attempts at keeping our Lenten vows – it’s so stereotypically Irish that you cannot help but fall in love with it. On the face of it, the premise is terrible: three priests living alone together on an island. And yet, somehow it just works.
Even in its innate silliness and vulgarity, it still manages to possess a charm and warmth that few others have been able to replicate. It’s like sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon, drinking cup after cup of tea, with some daft old uncle telling inappropriate jokes. It all feels so comfortably familiar and yet so bizarrely impossible that it creates a very special sort of paradox. And despite the fact that it had on paper the propensity to be so incredibly offensive, it somehow managed in its crude depictions to avoid causing any such offence.
For many I’d imagine, it is a hark back to simpler times. A familiar picture of life in the quaint, Irish countryside – while still holding true to the fact that we’re admittedly fond of a drink (or two) and a bit of craic. It is more than just a TV show; it is a piece of Irish culture that is unlikely to ever be repeated.
So, to you Frank and Dermot, the two men that brought us these unforgettable characters, I say “thank you”. Thank you for bringing us the foul-mouthed mess that is Father Jack and the disastrously unlucky but well-meaning old fool that is Ted. They have brought to my life years of laughter and comfort and no doubt, will continue to until I’m as old and senile as Jack himself. You probably never envisioned being remembered in this way but trust me, it is in the best way possible – with lots and lots of laughter.