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Cozy Irish Drama Ballykissangel Whisks Viewers Off to Ireland

By Edited Nov 15, 2013 0 2

I've always had a fascination with Ireland, so it's a little surprising to me that until last year, I had never heard of Ballykissangel, the BBC program created by Kieran Prendiville and set in a small Irish town. The show has been off the air for nearly a decade now, but it's wonderfully entertaining, and every episode feels like a little haven from a zooey world, with the gorgeous scenery and colorful characters capturing my heart at every turn. If you love all things Irish as much as I do, the show is well worth a look.

Season One - Father Peter Clifford, a progressive priest from Manchester played by Stephen Tompkinson, arrives on the outskirts of Ballykissangel in the pouring rain, and feisty pub owner Assumpta Fitzgerald (Dirvla Kirwan) offers him a lift into town. So begins a friendship that will be at the heart of the series for the first three seasons. Peter's inability to drive throws them together on more than one occasion early in the series, as she provides chauffeur services, as well as tart-tongued critiques of the Church. Meanwhile, her pub is the central gathering place for most of the major characters.

Season one is largely a process of Peter getting to know the locals and becoming fully involved in all of the town's activities. Characters introduced in this season include Brian Quigley (Tony Doyle), a man whose wealth allows him to throw his weight around quite a bit; his fiery daughter Niamh (Tina Kellegher); her timid boyfriend Ambrose (Peter Hanly), the town's only police officer; bumbling Liam (Joe Savino) and Donal (Frankie McCafferty), who do odd jobs for Brian and several other townsfolk and always seem to mess them up; level-headed veterinarian Siobahn (Deirdre Donnelly); her close friend Brendan (Gary Whelan); their chum Padraig (Peter Caffrey); eccentric farmer Eamonn (Birdy Sweeney); persnickety shopkeeper Kathleen (Aine Ni Mhuiri); and Father MacAnally (Niall Toibin), the parish's senior priest. As it only lasts six episodes, much further development comes later, but by the end of the season, Peter knows his way around town pretty well, and so do we.

Season Two - The relationship between Assumpta and Peter heats up, though he does his best to stop it from going beyond the bounds of propriety, a task that becomes difficult when he finds himself paired up with her as the romantic leads in a locally written play. Recently married Niamh and Ambrose try to start a family, which puts them into frequent contact with Dr. Michael Ryan (Bosco Hogan), a significant side character throughout the series. Not everything in this season revolves around Peter, though he's still very much a part of most of the storylines, from Liam and Donal's distasteful money-making scheme to Siobahn's fundraiser to rebuild Kathleen's fire-gutted home.

Season Three - This is the last season of Ballykissangel to include Father Peter and Assumpta. Kirwan and Tompkinson were ready to move on to other roles, so the question of how those entwined story arcs would be resolved is one of the central issues of the season. Can Peter and Assumpta just be friends, or is a change of vocation in Peter's future? This is the most dramatic of the seasons as those questions are explored. It's also one of the longest seasons, and several episodes involve neither Peter nor Assumpta, allowing other characters to move into greater prominence when the focus of the series shifts. Niamh and Ambrose are particularly interesting to watch as they have a baby, while stern Father Mac becomes much easier to take in this season and pub regulars Siobahn, Brendan and Padraig move into more complex storylines. Still, it's hard to take one's eyes off of Peter and Assumpta, whose dangerous dance in this season is riveting to watch.

Season Four - It's a new era in Ballykissangel, with Niamh now in charge of Fitzgerald's. Newcomers arrive to round out the cast. We meet prodigal villager Sean Dillon (Lorcan Cranitch), a local outcast, and his lively teenage daughter Emma (Kate McEnery), as well as Eamonn's teenage nephew Danny, played by Colin Farrell before he hit the big time. It's also time for a new priest, who comes in the form of Aidan O'Connell (Don Wycherley), a soft-spoken Irish priest who's spent a decade in a monastery. To help him make the jump into modern society, his free-spirited sister Orla (Victoria Smurfit) also moves into town. While the tone of the show is very different and it becomes more of an ensemble series, it's nice to move into a less dramatic season and focus more on the everyday problems of the various townsfolk.

Season Five - Niamh and Ambrose are at the heart of the season's most dramatic turn of events. Whereas season three feels like an ending to the Peter and Assumpta Show, season five brings to a close the saga of Brian's family. To offset the solemn threads in that storyline, we get even more goofiness from Liam and Donal than usual, in part due to Donal's oddball uncle. The death of Birdy Sweeney results in the disappearance of Eamonn, leaving Danny to run the farm. New owners take over Fitzgerald's, and a spunky new police officer named Frankie (Catherine Cusack) comes to town, and these five become fairly central to the final season.

Season Six - Tony Doyle's death leads to a first episode that writes Brian out of the series, and after that episode, Niamh is gone as well. Aidan is gone with barely an explanation, and nobody says a peep about Orla or Danny, so we're left to wonder precisely what happened to them. New characters include stable owner Avril (Susannah Doyle) and incomprehensible elderly farmer Louis (Mick Lally), who seems to have been brought on board as a replacement for Eamonn, but the most prominent new character is yet another new priest, this time suave Australian Vincent Sheahan (Robert Taylor). At only eight episodes, there's barely time to get well acquainted with the newbies, and the last episode doesn't feel a great deal like a finale. Nonetheless, while I would say the series peaked with season five, it's fun to go back to BallyK for a few new episodes. I'm sure that I will be returning.


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Comments

Oct 1, 2010 4:12am
Philtrate
I live in Ireland and find the speech very difficukt to follow with the country Limerick accents. Yes It IS very funny.
Oct 1, 2010 6:39am
bilbopooh
There are a couple of characters I have a really hard time understanding - especially those elderly farmers!

Liam and Donal crack me up...
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