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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 17:22 GMT
Father Ted fans get festive
By James Helm
BBC Ireland correspondent

Dermot Morgan,  Father Ted - Channel 4 Four Publicity
Father Ted actor Dermot Morgan died nine years ago
As tributes to a TV show go, it is impressive.

Fans of Father Ted, the hit 1990s Irish comedy that followed the surreal adventures of Roman Catholic priests on remote Craggy Island, will gather this weekend to pay homage.

The chosen location is the wild, windswept beauty of Inis Mor, an island off the west coast of Ireland, which will host three days of activities and frivolity.

The first Friends of Ted Weekend - as with all things to do with Father Ted Crilly, played by the late Dermot Morgan - has taken several bizarre twists.

Having begun as an idea floated on a website for Father Ted fanatics, it has attracted media interest from around the world and sparked rivalry between Inis Mor and one of its near neighbours.

The three series of Father Ted aired on Channel 4 in the UK between 1993 and 1998 and also starred Ardal O'Hanlon as Father Dougal, Frank Kelly as Father Jack and as Pauline McLynn as Mrs Doyle.

It was filmed in Ireland and London, spawning catchphrases such as Mrs Doyle's "Go on, go on, go on" and gaining a loyal following, referred to in Ireland as "Tedheads".

I've never got into something so much that I would dress up and go to an island
Graham Linehan
Father Ted writer
So in wintry Inis Mor, off the coast of Galway, fans will gather for an itinerary that includes a Priests versus Nuns Football Tournament, a Guided Fancy Dress Walk around the island, the Father Jack Cocktail Evening, and - in the style of the show itself - a Lovely Girls contest.

Money raised will help a local charity. The event coincides with the anniversary of Dermot Morgan's untimely death nine years ago.

Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews were the show's Irish writers.

Linehan is currently working on the latest series of Channel 4's The IT Crowd and says of the Father Ted Weekend: "I'm very flattered by it.

"It's great that the show can still muster up this kind of energy. I've never got into something so much that I would dress up and go to an island."

Father Ted cast
The festival has struck a chord with the show's fans
And with what fans of the series would see as true modesty, he said of Father Ted: "It was one of those things that, if you are lucky, they happen once in a lifetime."

Co-organiser Peter Phillips, from Porthcawl in south Wales, has been overwhelmed by the interest.

He thought they might get a couple of dozen fans to turn up, but 100 tickets sold out in three days and he says the event's website has received a million hits.

"It was one of those ideas that didn't go away," he says. "We wanted to do something, have a Father Ted gathering and we didn't want a cheesy sort of hotel convention.

"If they are mad enough to find their way out to an island then they are real fans."

'The Real Craggy Island'

The sub-plot of the weekend revolves around the true ownership of the barren scenery featured in Father Ted.

Neighbouring Inis Oirr claims to be the real Craggy Island because it was featured in the show's opening title sequence.

Inis Mor, with a population of 1,200, is the larger of the two, and there's always been a rivalry between the two.

People, for the first time, became a little more irreverent about the Church
Arthur Matthews
Father Ted writer
With Inis Mor's businesses getting to benefit from the influx of Ted fans, Inis Oirr's inhabitants could be forgiven a touch of resentment.

Now a major Irish bookmaker has stepped in to settle the matter with a five-a-side football match between the two islands on the beach.

Former Ireland internationals John Aldridge and Tony Cascarino are flying in to manage the teams and the winning side will be awarded the title of "the Real Craggy Island" for the following year.

In fact, as Linehan and Matthews point out, the external scenes - like Father Dougal's struggles with a milk float around a roundabout - were shot around Ennistymon in County Clare, just a few miles from the islands.

I ask Matthews why fans go to such lengths to pay homage to Father Ted. "I have no idea," he says. "The acting, the people in it? The stupidity and the silliness of it?"

Religious criticism

At the time, the show's caricatures of priests and Church produced criticism. "It was edgy at the time," Matthews says.

"I think it coincided with the Church having troubled times and people, for the first time, became a little more irreverent about the Church.

"Twenty years ago, it would have been too soon. Ten years ago, it was about the right time."

The two writers will not be at this year's event.

But with camera crews and ardent fans dressed as priests and nuns all descending on a small Atlantic island for three days of madness, the Father Ted Weekend sounds just like one of their comic creations.

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