Quick fire question: Which is more out of date? The Rose of Tralee or your ready-to-go Father Ted-inspired ‘Lovely Girls’ joke? It’s been over 20 years since the ‘Rock a Hula Ted’ episode first aired.
The main storyline focused on hot-headed musician Niamh Connolly – based on Sinéad O’Connor – but it’s the subplot everyone remembers, the bit where Fr Crilly judges the 1996 ‘Lovely Girls’ competition.
Writer Arthur Mathews described the fictional contest as a “low-budget version of the Rose of Tralee” mixed with the Calor-Kosangas Housewife of the Year.
In the show, the ‘Lovely Girls’ weave between traffic cones like Collie dogs to showcase their Lovely Walks. They demonstrate their Lovely Laughs and take part in a sandwich-making competition in which the crusts must not exceed precise proportions.
And then there is the famous “of course, they all have lovely bottoms” punchline.
The episode satirised what academic Fintan Walsh dubbed the ‘homeysexuality’ of Irish pageants. He defined that as “domesticated women” who were “devoid of eroticism but integral to the brand concept of Irishness”.
And it was an Irishness that was one part Mother Ireland, two parts Comely Maidens lepping at the crossroads. In short, Dev’s Dream Girls.
Over the years, Roses have tried to reclaim the “lovely and fair” brand as it appears in the original ballad. The 2014 winner, Maria Walsh, often pointed out that being ‘lovely’ shouldn’t be considered a bad thing.
Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins turned the Fr Ted gag on its head when she referred to Dáithí Ó Sé’s ‘lovely’ backside. But in the last few years, Mathews and Graham Linehan’s joke seems to be wearing rather thin with the Roses.
“If I hear that one more time,” one of the women said in exasperation at this week’s ROT launch. Another Rose, Eimear Reynolds from Roscommon, spoke about how the loveliness stereotype had allowed people to underestimate the contest and everyone in it.
Look, criticising Father Ted wins you no friends. It was a seismic comedy, that both presented and challenged many Irish stereotypes. It was modern, beautifully structured, and laugh-out-loud funny, a comedy that Irish people could actually be proud of.
But the series does have its limitations and its depiction of women is one of them. The female characters are nowhere nearly as nuanced as the men. They can basically be divided into broad categories; domestic drudges, repressed nuns, asexual cailíní, and aggressive career women.
Mathews and Linehan would probably argue this reflected the Catholic Church’s views of femininity rather than their own. And for a while that was accepted by Irish viewers. Because the pair were criticising and ridiculing Catholicism, they seemed to be woke before it was even really a thing.
But perhaps they were also moulded by the parochial patriarchy in a way they couldn’t see. In ‘Rock A Hula Ted’ – and pretty much every single episode of the comedy – the men deliver practically all the punchlines.
The priests may be caricatures – but there’s a huge variety within them – over 80 priests appear across the three series, all with distinct ticks and traits.
The women on the other hand do little more than repeat stock phrases about tea, cake and chocolate. Their roles are limited and limiting.
But because Father Ted is bulletproof, no one really questions the female representation on screen.
In a weird way, through the endless repetition of their parody of the Rose of Tralee, it is now considered a more realistic depiction than the festival itself.
Even if it was a plausible representation 20 years ago, that isn’t the case these days.
If you want an inferiority complex, go down to the festival – your typical Rose is either a doctor, or a humanitarian who can play the harp.
But rather than listen to the hundreds of women who have competed in the contest talk about what it means to them, we prefer to rely on Linehan’s and Mathews’ out-of-date interpretation.
In fact, some use it as an excuse to say the most unbelievably derogatory things about those competing. One year a troll tweeted me saying none of the women “deserved respect” because they were “running around like chimps in the lovely girls contest”.
How gross is that? Also, if you’re writing off the women on stage as nothing more than lovely airheads, it’s no longer a parody.
Your views are just as backward as the society Mathews and Linehan sought to deride. Maybe the festival is more than a 20-year-old joke? Perhaps it’s time to stop considering Father Ted the sacred cow of Irish comedy, and for RTÉ to ease up on the repeats?
I want to take a moment to thank Boyzone. Not only did they give us ‘Key to My Life’, but they really have gone above and beyond when it comes to gifting the Irish nation with bizarro boyband moments.
They’ve had falling outs, got in brawls with P Diddy, and set up off-shoot and hybrid boybands, Keith ‘N’ Shane and BoyzLife.
They’ve become Panto Kings, featured on Love Island, Celebrity Big Brother, Cirque de Celebrité (that’s just Shane) and starred in a feature film once described as a “poor man’s version of Mortal Kombat… set in Trim” (I’m looking at you, Mikey Graham).
This week, another gem.
It’s been reported that a woman’s dream wedding day was ruined after Shane and Keith barrelled into her bridal suite the night before her wedding.
Apparently it was all a terrible, and completely innocent misunderstanding, involving mixed-up key cards but that didn’t ease bride-to-be Sarah Martinson’s pain.
“On my wedding day, I felt like a zombie… It ruined what was meant to be the most perfect day of my life,” she said.
I was sorry to hear that it had all ended so badly for Sarah. Having half a 1990s boyband burst into your room unexpectedly in the early hours of the night must be a bit of a shock to the system.
But surely this was a salvageable situation – she could have had a word with Boyzone’s management, and roped them into belting out a few ballads as she wandered down the aisle. Or get them to recreate that infamous Late Late Show performance at the afters. Either way, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house.
Winona Ryder and Christian Slater back on the big screen.
Christina in the capital
Exploring her Irish roots and bopping away to ‘Dirrty’. A noughties dream.
Nowt but a souped-up bumbag.
Ladies Day déjà vu
Feels like a never-ending merry-go-round of familiar faces and fascinators.
We want people to leave a bit of blood and guts on the floor
Brendan O’Connor’s new chat show sounds… gory.