The Moone Boy effect

Thanks to his hit TV show, Chris O’Dowd has put Boyle, Co Roscommon, on the map. The comedian’s father Seán gives Conor Power the tour of the town.

FOR MANY years, the Roscommon town of Boyle has remained off many people’s radars as a tourist destination.

Not that there was ever anything wrong with Boyle. On the contrary — it’s an appealing and charming small town. It’s just that it was the kind of place you simply passed through or skirted around in order to get to somewhere else.

Sligo Town is less than 40km away along a smooth wide road that bypasses the town, while 10 minutes in the other direction, Carrick-on-Shannon is a well-established tourist base with its impressive marina and important regional commercial centre.

But all of that, it seems, is about to change and the strength of one man’s dream has forced the spotlights of the entertainment world onto this unassuming town, highlighting the delights of Boyle for all the world to see.

I am, of course, talking about the Moone Boy effect. Thanks to the success of Chris O’Dowd’s six-part comedy series (which has just begun showing in Australia), Boyle has seemingly become as fashionable as Barcelona, with a huge surge in internet searches from the UK and in Ireland.

Those involved in tourism promotion in the town include O’Dowd’s father Seán — an affable man who describes himself as “90 going on 30” on his Twitter page and who is passionate about his home place. Though he remains tight-lipped about what initiatives are in the pipeline for Boyle until decisions have been finalised, the notion of a Moone Boy tour of the town is one of the many that have been discussed.

“Roscommon County Council, Fáilte Ireland, and Roscommon County Leader Partnership Board and Boyle Chamber of Commerce are actively creating plans where they will come up with suggestions on how we might align ourselves with other towns who’ve had similar experiences... Watch this space!”

As I take a look around Boyle, virtually everyone we pass salutes and/or calls out to Seán. He is Boyle through and through, having been brought up in the town and born to a father who came from just outside Boyle.

“Boyle was always described in geography books as a ‘market town’,” he says, “and it has been that generally for a long, long time, with a lot of good shops and things like that. But Boyle is also a town with potential that it’s not fully realising at the moment. One thing in its favour is our geographical position: The N4 is out only half a kilometre out the road. We’ve three particularly beautiful lakes that attract fishermen from all over the world. We’ve Lough Key Forest Park, where numbers are way up on last year. Waterways Ireland have just put in another 40 extra berthing spaces that’ll hold another 100 boats.

“But probably the biggest feature of Boyle is that it does have a ‘heritage’ feel and its real potential probably lies in the tourism aspect of that.”

Boyle certainly has a lot of that “heritage” feel of which Seán speaks. The 12th-century abbey in Boyle is one of the attractions that will draw the passing tourist. Over the years, it had been falling into a state of disrepair in parts. Recently, the Office of Public Works embarked on an operation to disassemble the crumbling west wall, number all the stones and reassemble it better than before. They added a glass structure that helps to support the wall as well as making an eye-catching feature. It looks magnificent.

Just down the street from the O’Dowd house is the town’s second most important point of interest — the King House. A superbly restored Georgian mansion that served as a military barracks, it’s a marvellous place to explore and get a feel for the history of the town, with some rooms being given over to exhibitions of local artists.

A little further down on Main Street, a plaque marks the spot where actress Maureen O’Sullivan was born. She left the town at a relatively young age and went on to become a Hollywood actress; most famously as Jane alongside Johnny Weismuller in the Tarzan films of the 1930s.

“She came here in 1988,” Seán explains, telling how the event was a major source of inspiration for a very young Chris O’Dowd, who was thrilled that a real-live Hollywood star could have been born in his town and then return in triumph to address thousands of people who turned up to hear her speak from the back of a lorry in the centre of town.

Chris, it seems, was not the sort of young man who couldn’t wait to leave the small town and get up to the big city. Or at least, if he did, according to his father, he was someone who always had a great love for his native town and that affection served as inspiration for the creation of Moone Boy.

“He was here a few weeks ago on the night of the transmission of the last episode of Moone Boy,” says Seán. “It was one of those nights where we ended up talking until four in the morning that you can have with members of your family but that don’t happen nearly often enough. We were recounting old days and, in the course of our conversation, he told me that he always loved Boyle — ever since he was a kid — and he always felt that he would love to write something about Boyle and that he would do something for Boyle but he never knew what it was going to be.

“Chris was the last of our children — we have five children… He was a blond-haired, easy little child. He knew everybody and picked up a lot of influences that a kid his age mightn’t necessarily have picked up as easily. At a very early age, he displayed a great ability to be able to think laterally — something that stands to him to this day... I remember him in the hallway at home one day when he was about eight.

“He was talking to some other lads about numbers. One of them said: ‘The biggest number you can have is a billion’, and the second fellow said ‘No, it’s a trillion’, and the third goes, ‘No, it’s a zillion’. Then it was Chris’s turn and he says, ‘I know a bigger number than a zillion’, and they were going, ‘There’s no bigger number than a zillion!’ and his answer was: ‘A zillion and 27’.”

At a later stage in life, Seán says, this ability to think laterally was to display itself yet again when Chris aged circa 20 managed to talk himself into a job as manager of a cocktail bar in Paris, despite having virtually no experience of cocktails. He had to come up with a new cocktail with a catchy name and his contribution was a drink called “Plastered in Paris”. Beautiful though the town may be, Lough Key, my opinion, is the greatest asset that Boyle has on its doorstep. Located within walking distance of the town, the Lough Key Forest Park is a mature former estate with magnificent forest, walking trails, and a magical expanse of water that would rival Killarney for natural beauty.

When the writer of Moone Boy was growing up, it was at the height of a windsurfing craze in the area and such a shared outdoor activity with his family was no doubt instrumental in instilling in him a deep affection for his home town. It was all started by an enthusiastic former assistant bank manager in the town named Adrian Moore, according to Seán; a man who taught himself how to windsurf one summer on a lake that lends itself very well indeed to the sport, and then inspired a sizeable proportion of the town to follow him. The windsurfing craze may be gone now, but the feeling is that the new craze for Boyle will produce a more permanent effect. “Even though Chris is very content where he is in London at the moment, Boyle will always be very, very high on his agenda,” says his dad.

If the success of Moone Boy continues on its current, seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory, Boyle is going to be high on the agendas of a lot of other people too.

HOW TO GET THERE

Travel

Boyle is just off the N4 40km south-east of Sligo. There is good parking in and around the town.

For those who want to visit Boyle by public transport, the town is well served by regular buses and it is also on the main Sligo-Dublin rail line with regular daily services.

Where to Stay

Abbey House is located in the grounds of Boyle Abbey — perfect for that heritage feel with all the facilities of the town and around within easy reach. Tel 071-9662385. www.abbeyhouse.net.

Linsfort B&B, Main Street, Boyle: for the ‘in town’ experience, this is the one — a Georgian house in the heart of it all. Tel 071-9662866. www.linsfort.com.

Sights

Apart from the aforementioned King House and Boyle Abbey, the Pleasure Grounds consist of a public park that lives up to its name: a leafy well-maintained public space with playground, all-weather pitch and a canal running through it. Check out the Crescent at the top of the town. Any fans of Moone Boy will recognise it as an area where a lot of segments of the show were filmed; particularly the episode where Steve Wall guests and busks with Martin Moone beside the Clock Tower.

Where to Go

You’re surrounded by lakes on almost all sides and the Curlew Mountains are nearby. If you feel like a drive, you won’t go wrong by taking the old main road to Sligo that winds charm-ingly up and charmingly down the other side. It wasn’t so charming for those who might remember having to drive it stuck behind a tractor and four lorries, but now you can really take it at your pace and admire the stunning views.

But when in Boyle, stick around.

The Lough Key Forest Park is a place you can easily spend the whole day at all times of the year. The walks around it alone are superb. There is also a great visitor centre that’s as geared towards families as it is towards individual adults. Have lunch overlooking the lake or try out Boda Borg. The indoor physical puzzle-maze is not easy to translate on paper, but it’s another brilliant idea imported from Sweden that is unique entertainment for anyone from six to sixty. Outside, there is also a Tree Canopy walk to give you an elevated ramble amongst the foliage. Boating on the lake is another option and there are a number of companies running day trips or longer cruises from Carrick-on-Shannon.

Where to eat

Here are some of Seán O’Dowd’s recommendations. An Craoibhin: Located on Elphin Street, it’s open every day for breakfast and lunches with home-cooked lunches at reasonable prices. Evening meals served from 5pm to 8pm Mon-Sat. Features a recently-opened snug that’s ideal for small groups. Tel 071-9662704.

Aunty Bee’s Tearooms: Located in the King House Courtyard, and a favourite with many for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, Mon-Sat, 10-5pm.

Troy Deli: On Shop Street, serving stone-base pizzas, kebabs with garlic and chilli sauces, baked potatoes, paninis, burg-ers, sandwiches and omelettes and the delicious taste of freshly brewed Italian coffee.

Find out more

www.realboyle.com: Website run by Seán O’Dowd, with plenty of information and updates. www.kinghouse.ie: Information on one of the town’s main tourist attractions www.loughkey.ie: Excellent website all about Lough Key and its many activities.

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