Soap bubbles with saucy plot: A day on the set of Ros na Rún

Esther N McCarthy gets a front-row seat in tonight’s episode of ‘Ros na Rún’. She talks to some of its key players.

Soap bubbles with saucy plot: A day on the set of Ros na Rún

Esther N McCarthy gets a front-row seat in tonight’s episode of ‘Ros na Rún’. She talks to some of its key players.

I’m sitting in Bernie’s café in Ros na Rún, having a fake cup of tea. I’ve got my brightest scarf on, so you won’t miss me in the background. (The episode airs tonight and I’m fierce excited.) Being an extra is hard work, the tea isn’t even hot. Two old hands at it, Rebecca Fisher agus Austin McGreal, are giving me some tips.

“Just mouth the words, don’t really say them,” advises Austin.

But what if I panic and can’t think of words to pretend to say? His go-to move is to have a look at the menu, raising an eyebrow quizzically. You can’t teach this stuff.

Rebecca lives close by and is a student, it’s handy extra money and Austin is an older gentleman and gets the bus in from Galway; he does it because he enjoys the atmosphere.

It’s about the fifth take now, floor manager Niall O’Connor is setting up the scene and making little changes to where the actors are standing and the way they deliver the lines. There’s only so much mockeyah menu-perusing an amateur can take so I concentrate on the storyline.

So, Brían and Bernie are totes getting it on and he’s, it’s fair to say, a bit younger than her. They met because he’s friends with her son, Evan. Who’s not going to be too happy about the fact that they locked lips last night. During a break in filming, I get the low down from Fionnuala Ní Fhlatharta, who plays Bernie.

Seán Mistéal, Fionnuala Ní Fhlatharta, and Colm Mac Gearailt on set.
Seán Mistéal, Fionnuala Ní Fhlatharta, and Colm Mac Gearailt on set.

“It’s a nice storyline for Bernie because she was with the priest, he left the priesthood for her, and they had some tough times, but that didn’t work out, and her last partner, Cathal, tried to kill her in a murder-suicide, so she’s totally gone for a different type this time.” (The non-murdering kind, I hope, I want to see Bernie make it to next season).

“He’s just a bit of fun,” she concludes.

“Oh really? Is that all it is?” interjects Kerryman, Colm Mac Gearailt, who plays Brían, the bit on the side.

Seán Mistéal joins in the laughter. Sean plays the aforementioned priest, David Ó Laoire, who’s also Brían’s cousin in the soap. From Dun Chaoin, he’s still known as ‘An Sagartín’ at home, even though his character’s a postman how. He’s been working on the show for 13 years and says he was thrown in at the deep end. “I was an altar boy so I based the character on the priests at home.”

But playing a philandering priest has it’s drawbacks in the west of Ireland. “I was in Dunnes Stores in Eyre Square during the time that the relationship between me and Bernie was going on and an old lady came up to me and was giving out mad about Bernie — ‘that Bernie one is wicked!’ and she was giving out me about being a bad priest,” he laughs at the memory.

“The great thing about working on Ros na Rún though is, the door is always open with the writers and the producers. You can always go in and talk about your character, like when I heard ‘you’re going to get married and be a postman’ — I was a bit in shock but it really worked well.”

Pól and Máire Eilís Ní Fhlaithearta getting ready for filming
Pól and Máire Eilís Ní Fhlaithearta getting ready for filming

Séan’s favourite storyline so far? “Well, the poor Sagartín got shot last year — that was a very dramatic scene: There was a stuntman, we were shooting until 2am in the morning, I enjoyed that. It worked really, really well.”

The director comes down and hushes us, ciúinis anois, it’s time for the first real shoot. I take my place back at the table for the role I was born to play, baby: Chatty tea drinker number three.

And I’m in good company, my cameo may have no lines and quite possibly no screen time, once the editing was done, I’ll have to wait and see tonight at 8.30pm on TG4 but still, Alan Hughes, Nathan Carter, Francis Brennan, and the inimitable Stephen Fry have all walked onto the Ros na Rún set. Fry even learned a cupla focal for his guest appearance back in 2010.

Next stop, the IFTAs.

From Cork to Connemara

Steve Downing (left)
Steve Downing (left)

Steve Downing from Douglas, Cork, works as the sound editor on TG4’s Ros na Rún.

“I studied Arts in UCC after school. For some inexplicable reason, I selected philosophy and geography. Quite the combination. I then did a Masters degree in sound design at the University of Edinburgh.

“This is my fourth season with the soap. My first I spent mixing sound on set, then moved into audio post production, So it’s my third season as sound editor.

“There were several factors that attracted me to Ros na Rún. I really wanted to live and work around Galway and Connemara. I also wanted to work in Irish, having attended a Gaelscoil as a kid. It’s also great to work on a long serial drama as you get to know the ins and outs of the show in great detail.

“As regards speaking Irish,I was certainly fluent as a child. These days, I mostly hear Irish, as my job doesn’t really entail too much interaction! But I am making an effort to speak as much as possible.

“My job is kind of all-encompassing. For each episode, I edit the dialogue, cut out background noises and unwanted sounds, and replace some lines in a process known as ADR. Following this, I add in all the background sounds that are required: People chatting in the pub, traffic and pedestrians on the streets, music in the shop or cafe, then I add all the spot effects: people getting punched, cars driving off, I replace most of the door sounds and a lot of footsteps too.

“At the time that I was offered a job on Ros na Rún, I had just finished a contract as head of the sound department at a TV studio in Berlin, creating content about E-sports (competitive video gaming) for a Korean media company. I was planning my next move, and was considering either a job in Rio, or in Nairobi. That’s when I was offered a job as a sound mixer on Ros na Rún. I decided to come back to Ireland just for six months before moving on again, and am still here three years later. It was the best decision I ever made, and it was all because of Ros na Rún!”

What makes ‘Ros na Rún’ so special?

Our intrepid reporter Esther on set.
Our intrepid reporter Esther on set.

Walking around the set of the only rural soap opera on Irish TV, going strong for 22 seasons in the stunning village of An Spiddal, Co Galaimh, there’s real camaraderie between everyone from the onscreen stars to the crew. There’s joking about the pints had at a birthday party last night, there’s a really friendly vibe and shockingly, there appears to be an obvious absence of egos.

Everyone works really hard but they have great craic doing it. The other thing that really resonates is the deep affection everyone displays when they talk about EO Teilifís’s founder and the original creator of Ros na Rún, Máire Ní Thuaithail. She sadly passed away of cancer in 2016 and everyone has a special story about her. Her legacy is the largest independent artistic production outside of Dublin, employing up on 160 people. Sos sa tsíocháin.

- Ros na Rún airs on TG4 on Tuesday and Thursday at 8.30pm with an omnibus at 7pm on Sundays.

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