My introduction to the world of British TV: Ballykissangel

Ballykissangel cast; photo from

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.

Ballykissangel cast; photo from

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.


    • Oh, Lynne, that makes me very happy. One major problem with doing this blog will be that I want to re-watch EVERYTHING. Someday I’ll get back to Ballyk again!

  1. My library actually has these! I’ve put a hold on the first three seasons. We are off tomorrow for Veteran’s Day so I’ll have all day to watch.

    • Ooooohhhhh….a Ballykissangel binge-watch. I so hope you enjoy it!! Do pop back in and tell us what you thought, okay? In my enthusiasm for all British TV I sometimes tend to forget that not everyone loves every program…but I always love discussing what people DIDN’T like about certain series too! Have a lovely Veteran’s Day off.

  2. I discovered Ballykissangel by accident…..rented it from netflix. I loved it from the start….the story of Peter and Assumpta will always be the top of my favorites list. Stephen Tomkinson plays the part so brilliantly. Her death ruined the show and it was not as good after that but I still watch it over and over. Im always trying to find other shows like it.

    • Carol,
      Thanks for commenting! I agree that Ballyk has always been one of my very favorite Brit series. It seemed to have so much more heart that American TV–more complex ideas; a lot of heartache but also a lot of humor. Great show, and brilliantly acted.
      As for finding other shows like it, I’d like to make a few suggestions (although I must say that it’s hard to find titles that truly match its greatness):
      Monarch of the Glen–set in Scotland, about a young laird (kind of “lord of the manor”) who has to go back home and help his aging parents try and make their estate profitable. The young man, Archie, is not, I’ll admit, the sympathetic character that Father Clifford is, but there’s lots of good community, love stories, and humor in this one too.
      the movie Brassed Off–this one probably comes the closest to Ballyk in tone. It also features Stephen Tompkinson in its ensemble cast (as well as Pete Postlethwaite and a very young Ewan McGregor). About a coal mine in the UK that is facing closure and what that does to its community and the community’s brass (“colliery”) band.
      As Time Goes By–now this one might seem like a strange choice but for my money it’s one of the other Brit shows (along with Ballyk) that I can just watch over and over and over. Less of the community aspect, but the love story between the two main characters (played by Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer) has a lot of great push and pull and a lot of nostalgia and longing, since they were once young lovers, were separated by the Korean War, but then meet again when they are near retirement age. Less dramatic than Ballyk, but a lot of great quiet moments that make you realize how much you love the characters and how great Brit TV–even its sitcoms–is.

      If none of those hit the mark please let me know and I’ll try again!

    • I’m streaming the entire Ballyk series now on Britbox through my Roku. I agree — once Assumpta died and Father Clifford left, it just wasn’t the same, IMHO. But I never cared for Assumpta’s character and for the life of me, couldn’t fathom why Father C fell in love with her. She could be downright cruel, as she was to Leo, her husband with whom she had a brief marriage. She struck me as just generally not a people person (oddly, since she was a publican) — there wasn’t much warmth about her. I tried to like her, but I couldn’t. Overall, the program is wonderful — all the different characters with their virtues and their flaws. And the countryside is just gorgeous!!!! A charming program that I’ll be sorry to leave.

      • I just re-watched a couple of episodes myself, and while I see what you’re saying about Assumpta….well, I can’t be too hard on her. As lovely as he was Father Clifford was enough to drive a person crazy, although yes, I know, dealing with an existential and religious crisis while simultaneously falling in love? That’s a lot to do.
        Regardless of how I felt about her I felt the pair really had chemistry, perhaps because they were also an item offscreen?
        Either way it’s always a program that I’m sorry to leave!!
        Thanks for commenting!

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