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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 22 March, 2018

"We covered the affairs, the lies, the secrets": After 21 years, this Irish soap is still going strong

We speak to some of the people who work on the show about what contributes to its success.

TWENTY-ONE YEARS ago, perhaps no one could have predicted that Ireland’s first  as Gaeilge soap would still be going strong over two decades in.

Nor could they have guessed that it would tackle some seriously tough subjects – and show the first gay kiss on an Irish soap.

But this year Ros na Rún, TG4′s Irish language soap opera, is celebrating a milestone 21st birthday as it gets set to return to screens on Tuesday 6 September.


Filmed in the Connemara village of an Spidéal (Spiddal) in Co Galway, Ros na Rún is the single largest independent production commissioned in the history of Irish broadcasting.

Employing over 160 people, it  has a weekly viewership of 150,000. But what gives it its longevity?

“It was ahead of its time”

Series producer Deirdre Ní Fhlatharta, who has been working on the show more or less since day one, says that one of the keys to the show’s success is the fact that it hasn’t been slow at tackling difficult subjects.

“If you do go back to 21 years ago that Ros na Rún went out, we were a bit bolder with the storytelling [than other shows]. We covered some huge controversial issues at the time,” she says.

“I suppose Ros na Rún was ahead of its time in a sense, and it wasn’t a sense that it was decided just to be sensationalised,” she says.

Ros na Rún prides itself that its stories are very character-driven – they stem from the characters themselves rather than being plot-driven. We want people to relate to our characters, which is important to us.


Ros na Rún actually means woodland of the secrets, so the show is living up to its name – Ní Fhlatharta says they have “covered the affairs, the lies, the secrets” in the fictional village.

When Ros na Rún screened the first gay kiss on an Irish soap, it was “hugely controversial” at the time, she says.

Other hard-hitting topics they have tackled include rape and suicide.

The important thing about covering these issues is we have to treat them with respect and treat them with a realistic tone and give them the time that [is] need[ed] to cover these stories.

They try to make sure the issues are topical ones, but also try to balance the harder stories with lighter issues as well – something which they particularly tried to do during the recession.

They’ve also had to move with technology, such as replacing the TVs on set with flatscreens, and ensuring characters have smartphones. They keep their story team fresh too.

Actor Colm Ó Fatharta – who plays Evan in the show - has starred in Ros na Rún for the past five years, after being spotted in a school play by a cast member.

“The thing I like about it is it switches up every year – when you read the script you don’t know what is going to happen,” he says of working on the show. “It makes it exciting for an actor.”

And though it does tackle dark subjects, Ó Fatharta says that there’s a streak of Connemara humour running through it too.

A story in Irish


Ros na Rún is a small village, but the stories “would stand up in any language”, says Ní Fhlatharta.

She says they get a lot of feedback from people “who don’t speak the cúpla focal, who diligently follow the subtitles”.

That last comment perhaps puts paid to the presumption that an Irish soap as Gaeilge would only be of interest to those who speak the language.

At last count, 41.4% of the country say they can speak Irish – about 77,185 people, according to the 2011 census, actually use the language everyday, the majority of whom live the Gaeltacht areas.

In Galway, where Ros na Rún is filmed, 49.8% of the people living there said in the 2006 census they have some ability to speak Irish – the highest percentage in the country.

An ESRI report from last year on attitudes to the Irish language in Ireland found that over two-thirds of respondents in the Republic of Ireland (67%) and almost half in Northern Ireland (45%) reported a positive attitude to the Irish language.

But it also found that:

As there are few opportunities to speak Irish outside Gaeltacht areas, ability in Irish is more likely to be passive ability (primarily by understanding the language as encountered on TV, radio, or written forms), while levels of active ability are more likely to decrease over time, as it is rarely practiced outside the formal educational system.

There’s an argument, then, that having Irish programming like Ros na Rún can help people become more familiar with and open to the language.

Ros 1 A scene from the show.

Niall Mac Eamharcaigh, who plays John Joe, has been a member of the cast for around 15 years.

Mac Eamharcaigh grew up in the Donegal Gaeltacht. As a gaelgóir, what does it mean to him to have an all-Irish soap on air for 20 years?

It means an awful lot, I think it’s very important to have a soap on twice a week. I wish it was on more often – I think it’s the backbone of the station really.

He praises the fact the show includes different dialects. “Going back a few years Donegal people would have difficulty understanding other dialects but those barriers were actually taken down first of all by Raidió na Gaeltachta. And now it’s been enhanced by TG4,” he adds.

He also says that having a show like Ros na Rún can act as inspiration for young gaelgóirs when it comes to their careers.

“If someone’s interested in a career or acting or doing something on TV, there is a huge opportunity there, something we didn’t have.”

But Mac Eamharcaigh says he is concerned about to what extent young people interact with Irish content.

I would meet a lot of young people from Dublin and they don’t even know where TG4 is, never mind the soap on TG4. And you know, I suppose that it’s a difficult target, the younger crowd, but it’s still important that they keep it going and I know [Raidió na Gaeltachta] did a lot, it helped.

“It became our small Hollywood here”


When Ros na Rún launched 21 years ago, it was the dawning of a new era for Irish television as Gaeilge. “It was very exciting because TnaG (now TG4) at the time had just come on air as well,” remembers Ní Fhlatharta.

“There was huge excitement. Here we were with a brand new television station, and around 10 miles up the road was a film lot. It became our small Hollywood here.”

Many of the crew members had come from TV training “into something completely new”. It was also a boon for the locals, says Ní Fhlatharta.

Even for people from Galway or Spiddal, to have this on your doorstep. And the employment it has created over the 21 years. We are a big enough hub here right in the heart of Spiddal.

Ros na Rún employs over 150 people. It shoots from Monday to Friday, and the type of shoot changes depending on the time of year.

“We are very much governed by daylight hours and the weather,” says Ní Fhlatharta.

What’s the biggest challenge when making Ros na Rún? “Working through the Irish language is a challenge. Our pool of actors would be smaller because of the language issue and really we want all our cast to be fluent because it gives the characters that realism. But we are very strong on auditioning.”

They shoot for six months a year, from August to February, and this year held auditions in Dublin and Kerry.

Coffin shed - night 2-7-Edit-11

As a fluent Irish speaker, actor Colm Ó Fatharta loves acting in his native language.

“Personally, believe it or not, it’s much easier for me to act in Irish than in English,” he says.

“When I tell people I’m on Ros na Rún they’re like ‘it’s great’. They are proud of the Irish language [and say] they wish they spoke it more.

“Even the casting agents, when I say Ros na Rún they are very positive about it… it’s a bonus to have an actor have another language.”

21 years more

fry ros na run412 Stephen Fry makes a cameo appearance on the show in 2011. Source: Andrew Downes

And as for the future of the show?

“Let’s hope there’s the next 21 years and more hopefully,” says Deirdre Ní Fhlatharta.

[We hope] never to let it get stale – we have to keep looking at new ways to not make things different for the sake of it but we have to move with the times.

In the coming season, you’ll be seeing a lot of new faces, but you might also see an old face or two coming back.

“We have a great team – a terrific cast and crew, writers, production staff, and directors,” says Deirdre Ní Fhlatharta.

They are all very loyal to Ros na Rún – they just give so much and if it wasn’t for them, their enthusiasm, I have to say I don’t think Ros na Rún would ever be as good.

Finally, for those who might not have watched the show, what’s actor Colm Ó Fatharta’s advice?

“I would say definitely you should give it a go and it’s just very easy, it’s not a show where you have to watch it for weeks on end to get what’s happening, you can pick up very quickly what is happening in the village.”

Ros na Rún returns to TG4 on 6 September.

Read: “We put a GoPro down the toilet”: Here are the secret bits you don’t see in a TV show>

Read: Murder, grave digging and exploitation: These six images changed Ireland>

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