You don’t hear much about Ballykissangel anymore.* This could perhaps be because its six seasons ran from 1996 to 2001, and WOW, that is getting to be a long time ago now.
But put aside the fact that this series debuted TWO DECADES AGO (okay, forgive the obnoxious capitalization, please. I just cannot get over how long ago 1996 is now), and you’ve got yourself a very solid little piece of television drama. When English priest Peter Clifford journeys to the small Irish village of Ballykissangel, nearly the first person he meets (in the pouring rain, oh, it’s so romantic) is pub owner Assumpta Fitzgerald, who is no fan of the Catholic Church in general or of English priests specifically. You can rather guess what happens over the course of the first three seasons.
When I first watched the show, in the late nineties, it was like BBC heroin for me; its blend of Northern Exposure-like small-town life (i.e., small town filled with quirky, intelligent, and sometimes troubled but always kind characters), forbidden romance, and Irish setting was a pleasure compound that perfectly fit my Quirky Romantic Dramatic TV pleasure receptor. I didn’t stand a chance against it and even managed to overlook what seemed, even then, its cheesy theme song and intro titles.
One night I was at a party at my best friend’s house when I realized it was Saturday night (which is when the show aired on my PBS station) and I hadn’t set the VCR to record it. (Remember? 1996 is like a million years ago?) So I actually left the party to run home and set the VCR to record. Luckily my friend lived on the street nearly directly behind where I lived with my brother, so all I had to do was sprint over half a block, cut through a small park and my backyard, and I was home. When I got back to the party I was roundly mocked by my friend for liking what must surely be, from its title and my description of it, the nerdiest program ever.
Please note that this friend went on not only to watch all the seasons of Ballykissangel, but she developed a severe enough Monarch of the Glen problem that she actually spent part of a trip in Scotland where that show was filmed. That’s me: nerdy show trendsetter!
But I digress. The show’s actually got a lot more going for it than just the story between Peter and Assumpta; the supporting characters are excellent (particularly Tina Kellegher as Niamh Egan and her scheming businessman father Brian Quigley, as played by Tony Doyle), the setting is of course beautiful, and the show is gentle even when it doesn’t shy away from showing the darker aspects of human nature.
I lost a bit of interest after season 3, which is when Stephen Tompkinson (Father Clifford) and Dervla Kirwan (Assumpta) left the show, but actually it was a super watch through all six seasons.
I’ve watched a lot of British television since I first watched Ballykissangel all those many, many Saturday nights so long ago. But Ballyk will always hold a little part of my heart as the very first British TV that I watched. And loved.
*Okay, you never heard a whole lot about Ballykissangel if you live in the U.S. But it’s a great show. Just trust me.