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tomb raider Father Ted star Ardal O'Hanlon on his new doc on Celtic myths and his latest novel

'Priest fashion doesn't really change'

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Ardal O'Hanlon

Ardal O'Hanlon

Ardal O'Hanlon

Ardal O'Hanlon still gets a laugh out of Father Ted, decades after he played dim-witted Dougal on the hit comedy.

The actor, writer and comic has dispelled stories that he wants to distance himself from the role.

He says variety keeps him working, from Death in Paradise and Derry Girls to playing a creepy teacher with Oscar winner Olivia Colman in Skins. His next ventures are a documentary about the myth of the Celts and a new novel.

But Father Ted will always have a place in his heart.

"I loved it. It gives me nothing but pleasure to have been part of it and I'm very proud that it still stands up after all these years," says Ardal.

"If it comes on the TV, I will linger for ten minutes and have a little look and a little chuckle.

"I'm not just laughing at the jokes. I'm remembering the happy times as well.

"And it is timeless. Priest fashion doesn't really change."

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Ardal O'Hanlon (l) in Father Ted

Ardal O'Hanlon (l) in Father Ted

Ardal O'Hanlon (l) in Father Ted

The 56-year-old went from cleric to chameleon after the series ended taking on a superhero, Dr Who and a memorable stint in cosy Caribbean murder drama Death in Paradise as DI Jack Mooney.

He spent four hot summers filming in Guadeloupe solving 24 murders, but says it was tougher than it looked.

"No one believes me there was any hardship involved. We weren't just sipping cocktails," says the actor.

"It's a demanding job by any standards. I did eventually come to terms with it, working in hot humid conditions where you're always wet and damp and being bitten by mosquitoes, and you spend the rest of your time in the sea swimming with giant turtles.

"It was pretty demanding, but I wouldn't have swapped it."

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Ardal O'Hanlon in Death in Paradise

Ardal O'Hanlon in Death in Paradise

Ardal O'Hanlon in Death in Paradise

Ardal, from Monaghan, has developed a passion for documentaries and he's covered Ireland's death traditions, football rivalries and swearing, exploring the theory that Irish people do it more often and better than anyone else.

His next subject is the myth of the Celtic people, which uncovered attempts to establish a division between early settlers north and south before a border ever existed.

In Tomb Raider he discovered that an Austrian Nazi, a Welshman and a team of American archaeologists were pivotal in establishing Ireland's ancestral roots in the 1930s, with competing theories that settlers either came through Scotland or across Europe.

"I knew nothing about this whole area, but I'm always interested in the myths we tell ourselves about who we are and where we came from. And any excuse to get out and about in Ireland.

"I'd never paid a lot of attention to the Stone Age sites but the countryside is littered with cairns and dolmens.

"I grew up on the border myself but where we grew up you didn't really recognise the border. You were barely aware it was there.

"The only difference was the road signs and the Wagon Wheels."

The dad of three says the scope of his work has kept him happy, especially his cameo as Cousin Eamon in Derry Girls.

He'll be sad to see it go and says working on the Lisa McGee comedy, about to end after its third series, was a happy experience.

"I'm glad to see the show doing so well worldwide. It was a lovely, happy set to work on.

"It's a really warm-hearted show and it celebrates women at all stages. The girls and parents get to shine."

The dad of three says being locked down during the pandemic helped him take stock of the usual hectic pace of his life and finish his novel.

Brouhaha has been part of his life for the last seven years, but two years of enforced downtime gave him the chance to finish it.

The story of a missing person in an Irish border town is full of dark humour and the hidden side of rural life.

It's out on May 26 and Ardal admits he's nervous about its reception. His debut was Talk of the Town in 1998.

"I'm terrified. I'm proud of it but you never know how it's going to be received.

"It's about a person who disappeared three years previously and what happened to them and why. It's kind of a detective novel and a regular novel about a small town, that's satirical and also dark and grim.

"When the pandemic started, I had a two-year hiatus and I had the skeleton of this which I'd written six or seven years ago.

"I didn't kill myself, we still had cocktail hour at three o'clock every day, but I think I would have gone nuts if I didn't have this to do."

Ardal also signed up for Taskmaster, a show he'd never have agreed to a few years ago.

"I mellowed during the pandemic. I used to spend most of my time running around the place, always running on adrenaline thinking about where I had to be and who did I need to see.

"Then I was able to sit at home and do all these things I promised myself I would do, and I got back to writing.

"But I only do a book every 25 years," he says.

Ardal O'Hanlon: Tomb Raider is available on BBC iPlayer

roisin.gorman@ sundayworld.com

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