D'ja Hear about the Priest and the Barmaid? A Tiny Village in Co Wicklow Is Overwhelmed by Ballykissmania. There's No Escape - Not Even in the Local Pub

By Gammon, Clive | The Independent (London, England), September 29, 1998 | Go to article overview
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D'ja Hear about the Priest and the Barmaid? A Tiny Village in Co Wicklow Is Overwhelmed by Ballykissmania. There's No Escape - Not Even in the Local Pub


Gammon, Clive, The Independent (London, England)


YESTERDAY (SUNDAY), on the eve of its reincarnation as Ballykissangel the BBC soap, the charming village of Avoca, Co Wicklow was, in every way, saturated. At one point, a coach from North Wales, a camper van with English plates, a tractor and a cavalcade of wedding limos leaving St Patrick's church came into honking conjunction.

And there was serious saturation also at Fitzgerald's pub, where drinkers had spilled out on to the street. At Fitz's, it seems, the stout is of superb quality. "It's a great pint," said one. "So fresh. They sell so much that it's always fresh."

But what Avoca is chiefly saturated with is Ballykissmania. Coach after coach with GB plates rolls in filled with fans of, as they prefer to call it, Ballykay. They are intensely curious about the new series. What will the new priest be like, the one who will take the place of beloved, tragic Father Peter? How can the new barmaid, played by Victoria Smurfit (in real life an Irish heiress), possibly replace Assumpta?

And so they pile into the Ballykay Mini Market where, unendingly on a loop, panpipes play "Galway Bay" to buy the Ballykay souvenirs which far outnumber the normal items of Leprechauniana - Ballykay tea-towels, keyrings, thimbles, bookmarks, fudge and naturally Ballykay T-shirts which, unlike the Tour de France T-shirts, are not marked down.

And then they scatter to drink in the sights. Yvonne Fogwell has come all the way from Australia - she is a computer supervisor in Sydney - and now she stands on the old bridge over the Avoca River. "Everybody watches this at home," she says. "I've got every episode on tape." She stares at the water. "Oh my God!" she exclaims suddenly. "This is the exact spot where Father Peter threw his clerical collar over the bridge..."

It's Fitzgerald's pub, though, that is the epicentre of Ballykissmania. Everybody wants to stand in front of it being snapped supping a pint. Most of the locals, however, prefer to hang out at the Avoca Inn across the street. Said Michael Byrne, "I come in here for a bit of peace". Told a new series is starting, he rejoins, "Is that right?" and turns back to his conversation with Quentin Doyle who works in a factory nearby. At my urging, they reluctantly turn their attention to Ballykissmania.

"There's tourists getting lost all the time looking for Ballykissangel," says Michael. "It would be better all round if they changed the feckin' name of Avoca altogether.

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