Hundreds gather for Father Ted festival

A Father Ted fanatic today confessed to missing divorce proceedings to join the faithful at a festival celebrating the cult sitcom.

A Father Ted fanatic today confessed to missing divorce proceedings to join the faithful at a festival celebrating the cult sitcom.

Gary Astley, from Preston, England, dodged the court hearings and his ex-wife to mark the 10th anniversary of the last episode of his favourite television show.

He was among a congregation from as far away as Japan who gathered at Kilfenora, Co Clare, that was home to many of the scenes, to see creators Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews unveil a plaque to the hit series.

Mr Astley said: “I don’t think the solicitor believed me when I told him I was coming over.

“So I just told him I was going overseas. It sounded very exotic, he probably thinks I’m on a sun lounger in the Caribbean, when in fact I’m dressed up as a priest in Kilfenora – freezing.”

He added: “It’s absolutely fantastic, I think I’m going to come and live here.”

Both Linehan and Matthews said they were flattered that hundreds – dressed as priests and nuns – had made the pilgrimage to the fictional Craggy Island for a week of unbridled silliness.

“I’m in favour of it,” declared Matthews. “It’s very flattering that people take the time to organise this.”

Mr Astley, a business development officer, remarked that a goat overseeing the proceedings shared the same name as his ex-wife Christine.

“I definitely prefer the goat,” he said.

Earlier, the Craggy Island milk float was pushed though the small village followed by a convoy of “bangers” in a recreation of the classic episode 'Speed 3'.

Locals – many who starred as extras in the series – spilled out of homes, shops, pubs and the post office to cheer it on up the main street: “Go on, go on, go on ...”

Only one minor injury was reported when a steward’s foot was run over by the float, made famous by Father Dougal Maguire, as it circled the village roundabout.

There were whispers among the congregation that real local priest, Fr Joe Roche, was gagged by church superiors when he declined to make any comment on whether or not he was in favour of TedFest II.

But Linehan was unrepentant about their unholy creation.

“I’ll tell you what’s great about it,” he said.

“It’s unusual that a programme that is not a science fiction programme would have this kind of fan base. The fact that Ted has done that, I’m chuffed about it.”

And to the delight of the faithful, Matthews refused to rule out the pair working together again after going their separate ways for years.

“It just depends on the idea. But we’re still mates and everything. So you never know,” he said.

One of the organisers, Janet Cavanagh, moved to Fr Ted country from London seven years ago.

She said that the goodwill shown towards the television series had amazed everybody involved.

“People love to get into the whole spirit of it, and the whole character of it. The series lends itself to complete and utter madness,” she said.

Yoko Nozaki, who travelled from Tokyo and was dressed as a nun, was so taken by the sitcom she set up a website translating the plots into her native Japanese.

She first bought the series on DVD at an Irish airport to learn English from the subtitles.

“It took a while for me to understand what they were saying, and then some time again to understand what was so funny,” she said.

“It was two stages to get into it, but then it was really, really funny.

“All the characters are so charming, especially Fr Ted. He’s stealing money from the charity but beside that he is really innocent, such a pure person.

“If I’m feeling down I put the DVDs on and get some new energy from the Irish humour.”

Paul Richards, from Cardiff, Wales, said the surreal festival had been everything he could have imagined it would be.

“The craic has been wonderful, the people have been wonderful and the village has welcomed us. It’s a real tribute to the programme and a real tribute to the area,” he said.

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