Culture That Made Me: Hector Ó Heochagáin on Dallas, Nirvana and National Geographic

Culture That Made Me: Hector Ó Heochagáin on Dallas, Nirvana and National Geographic
Hector Ó Heochagáin: "I’ve been in all these places now, probably a hundred countries around the world, which is just incredible. I could never have dreamed growing up that I’d be making one-hour documentaries in these places. It’s just mad."

Hector Ó Heochagáin recalls JR Ewing, National Geographic and his love of heavy metal.

Dallas – and a JR in every parish

Saturday nights in my house growing up – we’d have a bath and then we’d watch Dallas. It was the show that brought me into the world of renegade oilmen, devious people and sexy women from the southern states. I thought Sue Ellen was very sexy. 

She’d a bit of dark side to her – I liked that. It’s a blueprint for Irish society. There’s a JR in every parish in Ireland, and most of them are in government. 

There’s a Bobby Ewing. There’s a Cliff Barnes, the poor fecker who never gets a bit of luck. You’ve got Lucy, the blondie girl. 

You’ve got Miss Ellie who’s always at home baking the brown bread. I was in Southfork, filming there on one of my trips, acting the maggot. It’s a ranch about 20 miles outside Dallas. 

You can do tours there. It’s like going to Graceland.

Dukes of Hazzard

As a child, Saturday afternoons were devoted to The Dukes of Hazzard. It was simple stuff. It was cool. It was funny. 

Two country lads with the denim shirts, tight jeans and their cousin, Daisy Duke, who was really, really cute, wearing denim hot pants – she was one of the sexiest women in America. 

They were moonshining all over the state of Georgia. There were always shenanigans going on. The lads used to jump in and out of the windows of “The General Lee”, their Dodge Charger stock car. They didn’t use the doors.

Then they’d hightail it out of where ever they were, with the local sheriff after them. He could never catch them, around those country roads. 

Who wouldn’t love a show where the cops are chasing a really fast car? That was its genre. You can go through the great films of every decade and there’s a car chase in them.

Transforming Spiddal into downtown Massachusetts

Around 1995, I worked for Roger Corman (“King of the Bs”, who ran a film company out of Connemara in the 1990s). 

I did special effects and stuff. I learnt what it was like to work a 17-hour day for shit money. 

You were getting up at 4am in the morning and on set at 5.30am even though in Connemara it mightn’t be bright until eight or nine o’clock on a winter’s day. But it was exciting – making movies for HBO and other American TV networks. 

To have a walkie-talkie and be on a movie set between cranes and tracks. A hundred people working to transform Spiddal into downtown Massachusetts or setting up a vampire movie.

Delivering one of the great movie lines

I played a cop in one of Roger Corman’s movies. I had one line. I was out on a speedboat. There was smuggling going on in the bay or something. 

I was in full cop regalia. I had the binoculars and was looking out from the back of the boat. 

“There could be two boats out there. I’m not really sure, possibly three.” It was one of the great lines in movie history. 

“OK, we’ll do that again.” “There could be two boats out there. Not sure, possibly three.” When you start saying a line like that over and over again you start doubting that you can even speak English.

National Geographic and wanderlust

I remember I had a really keen interest reading those National Geographic books that were left on desks in the waiting rooms of doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries. 

What do you do in a dentist’s surgery? You don’t pick up Woman’s Weekly so I loved looking at those yellow National Geographic books and the photographs in them. 

It's funny when I look back on the photographs on my iPhone – Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Saigon, Mongolia. Alabama last year. Siberia two years ago. 

I’ve been in all these places now, probably a hundred countries around the world, which is just incredible. I could never have dreamed growing up that I’d be making one-hour documentaries in these places. It’s just mad.

Trevor Brennan and a great success story

Sports autobiographies are my go-to books. I must have 150-200 of them. 

Trevor Brennan was banished from Ireland because he came from the wrong side of the tracks. He got a lifetime ban from playing rugby for hitting an Ulster supporter [later reduced to a five-year suspension on appeal]. He didn’t come from a glamourous club. 

He was working from 12 years of age, making £100 a weekend peeling chips at three o’clock in the morning in a local chipper in Leixlip. At 14, he was working a milk-round with his brothers. He was tough. He was reared at Barnhall rugby club. 

Then he broke into St Mary’s team, then Leinster, then Ireland. But because of his accent, and he might have spilled the beans a bit too much, he didn’t fit in. He was thrown on the scrap heap. He left for Toulouse. He now employs 43 people in his pubs. 

He’s one of the great success stories of Irish rugby and his book is one of the best sports books I’ve read. 

It’s called Heart and Soul. We were joking because I know him well and I told him: “You should have called it Trevor Brennan: My Left Hook.” 

Playing for the parish

Christy O’Connor wrote a book called The Club about Doora-Barefield’s hurling club in Co Clare. To come from a parish and then have a book written about it. Can you imagine? I married into that parish – I married a girl from Barefield. 

I know Ollie Baker and Jamesie O’Connor. Seanie McMahon – Jesus Christ Almighty, there’s another man who doesn’t get his recognition. What a colossus of a centre back. 

The book gives you a lovely slice of what it means to play for your parish, and what it means to try and win a county championship. It’s so honest. It’s the best GAA book I’ve ever read.

Listening to Nirvana

I’m a metalhead, a rocker at heart. I’ve seen them all – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Metallica. 

I saw Nirvana twice in one week. 

I saw them in the Point Depot on a Saturday night and then I emigrated to the Basque Country and saw them the following Saturday in the Basketball arena in the centre of Bilbao. 

Nirvana’s lyrics and the power of their live music is unbelievable. That Nirvana album, MTV Unplugged in New York – turn it on today and let yourself drift away.

  • Hector Anseo is on TG4 Thursdays at 9.30pm

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