Ardal O'Hanlon

The Monaghan comic consigns Father Dougal Maguire to the sitcom cemetery

It was as a young, fresh-faced stand-up comedian that Ardal O’Hanlon first came to the attention of Irish comedy lovers in the early 1990s, his fantastical tales and doe-eyed delivery setting him apart from his comedy contemporaries.

When Father Ted creators Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews stumbled upon O’Hanlon, they considered him ideally suited to join the cast in their new surreal sitcom about three priests and their housekeeper living together in a grim parochial house on an island off the west coast of Ireland.

O’Hanlon impressed at his casting and was handed the role of the dim-witted Father Dougal McGuire, which he assumed with aplomb. O'Hanlon was removed from the stand-up circuit and thrust into the decade's television comedy phenomenon, instantly heralded as a comedy icon.

Fast-forward into a new millennium and O’Hanlon has found it difficult to shed the persona of Fr McGuire. Despite attempts to recapture his acting form, which included a sojourn in dodgy BBC sitcom My Hero and an appearance in a remake of the classic Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby, he was unable to break away from the cult of Dougalism.

However, a return to the stand-up circuit and sell-out performance at the 2008 Féile An Phobail Comedy Night highlights how the Carrickmacross Cyclone’s comedic journey has come full circle. O'Hanlon doesn't disappoint the large audience gathered at Andersonstown Leisure Centre.

Slightly overwhelmed by the thunderous reception he receives as he opens his set, O’Hanlon ponders upon the English translation of Féile an Phobail, rhetorically asking the audience, 'Does it mean roar your asses off?' 

He plunges into his material, dismissing chants of 'Dougal, Dougal!' from onlookers, saying that he 'has never heard of him' and jesting that he 'would not be singing 'My Lovely Horse''. 

With the Father Ted references dealt with, O’Hanlon is free to stamp his own identity upon proceedings, forcing the audience to confine all thoughts of his alter ego to their DVDs and dusty VHS collections. 

The origin of the comic's unusual name, a plague of back-garden trampolines, the charms of curly swords and the world peace-wielding power of chicken wings are all subjects touched upon as O’Hanlon commands the stage, as fresh-faced as ever and sporting a relatively funky look with his ‘new-rave’ style trainers.

Instantly establishing a rapport with his laughter-loving audience, O’Hanlon confides in them, explaining that he was named after a Norwegian village, which had been involved in a nuclear power incident, and that he enjoyed close relationships with his brothers Hiroshima and Chernobyl.

He then denounces the merits of the term fun-run (confessing that he would prefer a fun-bun, or even a fun-nun), bemoans the perilous credit crunch (evidently he had requested to be paid for this performance in diesel) and puts a new slant upon the life-cycle of man by categorising the key stages of mankind’s existence in terms of their pyjama wearing ways.

Although his many anecdotes are resolutely funny, the throw away one-liners are often the real comic gems of the night. Lines like 'Don’t laugh so much at that joke, you’ll make the next one jealous' and 'Did you ever wonder what crows did before telephone wires? Just hover around and die of exhaustion?' are key examples.

Every tale and joke is delivered in O'Hanlon's own inimitable style, his facial expressions and wide-eyed stare succeeding in maximising the laughter levels.

Wrapping up his set, O’Hanlon exits to rousing cheers and a standing ovation from the sell-out Féile audience. 

Having won their affections, the comic succeeds in doing away with Fr Dougal Maguire and asserting himself once again as Ardal O’Hanlon, stand-up comedian.

Despite such a triumphant performance, the one slightly disappointing element of the night is that O’Hanlon doesn’t return for an encore, leaving proceedings to come to a rather abrupt and premature end. 

If the old cliché is true, and laughter is the best medicine, the sell-out crowd who attended the 2008 Féile an Phobail Comedy Night will certainly be immune from any ailments for the forthcoming year. Let’s hope that another inane inoculation of similarly heady levels will be repeated in 2009.

Ailís Corey