Ros na Rún is an juggernaut of Irish television that has managed to keep audiences captivated through 23 seasons, 1,800 odd episodes, and generations of cast members that have come through the idyllic coasts of Connemara.
But any prospect that people are getting tired with the streets of Ros na Rún and the stories that have soaked them is clearly misguided as the show has only recently launched into its 24th season with no signs of slowing down.
This soap opera filmed in Spiddal is the single biggest independent production in the history of Irish television, with over 150 people involved in the production and a core audience that have stuck by it through thick and thin, along with new viewers discovering it every year.
The big plotline of season 24 is going to be centering on the twisted manipulations taking place in the Daly household.
After the gaslighting that drove her over the edge last season, Katy is trying to convince her heartbroken father John Joe that she’s not insane, but that Dee is pulling the strings.
Meanwhile Catríona Ní Loideáin has gotten her latest ego boost from high profile vlogging, but more betrayals await her in the future.
Tadhg Ó Direáin, is up to his usual double crossing, underhand tricks as he takes on Pádraig in Tigh Gaudi, but will he continue his roguish ways of will his heart soften or Katy
With the new season’s storyline comes new Series Producer Marian Ní Loinsigh, a long time veteran of the show who’s stepped up to take the helm this year.
The success of Ros na Rún down the years has in her view been due to the fact that writers and directors have always manged to come up with compelling storylines and character directions, while still staying true to the heart of the show.
“Because we have such a strong core, loyal following I definitely have big shoes to fill in terms of telling dramatic, fulfilling stories”.
But she’s not alone in that responsibility. The seaon’s plots and character arcs are formed by a story group throughout the year before heading to the scriptwriters.
“A lot of our stories come from where our characters are at in the world of Ros na Rún and what the characters what, and what the characters need, and the road that we pave for them,” Marion explains.
And while the Shakespearean drama of the Daly family is the the big plotline that will be weaving thoughout out season 24, part of the beauty of a soap like Ros na Rún is that there are always other character arcs weaving throughout the main story.
Plenty of other fan favourites will continue to evolve along paths they’ve been travelling for years now, with new twists in the way ahead.
The rocky road to redemption
Colm Gallagher came onto the scene of Ros na Rún under a black cloud in season 20, emerging from prison having served time for a robbery that he was blackmailed into committing and with a past that kept coming to “bite him in the bum” according to actor Pól Penrose.
What struck Pól from his first day was the cinematic strength of the show, above and beyond what he had been expecting from a soap opera.
“It was all prison scenes and it was one to one across the table” with Máire Eilís Ní Fhlatharta who plays Caitríona Ní Loideáin in a scene that he says was both mellow, yet intense.
“It was a very still scene” he adds, compared with a lot of soaps where characters can get lost in the crowd.
“It was a very challenging bit of writing that they had written at the time, so I was like ‘wow this is not what I was expecting’ and it sort of turned my notion of what to expect from a soap on its head”.
“He’s trying mend the wrongs that he did,” Pól says of where Colm’s head is at right now.”He’s always trying to make amends and he’s always trying to do the best he can around people.”
It’s been great, Pól adds, that the writers and producers down the line have chosen to evolve Colm’s character beyond just being the ex-convict, someone that could be used as an occasional foil.
“I’m lucky in so far as that they didn’t have the character continue to be one of those bad boys. Because bad boys always get knocked off or written out or something.”
“So, number one, that was a plus for me as an actor,” Pól says with a bit of laugh that says it’s always good to be in work.
But beyond that he has enjoyed playing a character who “As an actor, to get to play somebody who constantly has this niggly little thing in the back of his mind that he has done these bad things, and he knows that people might question him is great”.
Looking ahead Pól didn’t want to share too much about where Colm is going, but he and Mo are on a new lease of life after she beat cancer last season.
The lovebirds are engaged to be married, but one new character coming in will remind Colm of his life before prison and set a cat amongst the pigeons.
A legacy of decades
Most shows that are well into their third decade can’t boast that they still have have their original characters around.
But Ros na Rún has plenty of old hands who connect the show to its past while welcoming in the new characters and cast members who keep the show fresh.
Caitríona Ní Loideáin has been a staple of the fictional village at Loinnir beauty salon from day one, and the edge hasn’t come off her tongue in all the years since.
“She’s still a bit fickle and self absorbed and all that,” Máire Eilís Ní Fhlatharta says about her character. “And you have to keep that, because I think that’s what people love to hate about her”.
That said she does have a softer side, “She’d do anything to protect her little girl, and she has a great relationship with Vince”. Máire adds. It’s not that Caitríona is devoid of empathy, it can just be hard to see sometimes.
Caitríona is the sort of character who will be the one to come out with the things that people are thinking, but are too embarrassed to say out loud is Máire’s take.
She says she sometimes feels embarrassed for her own character’s mouth, “But you know what, I get great lines.”
But when she started with this new rural-focused soap opera, Máire had no idea that it was going to become such a fixture of Irish culture.
“When I started 24 years ago I had no idea of the longevity of the programme. I really thought it might last a few seasons.”
As for the decision to try out herself, “I had always liked acting so I thought, why not?” It helps that she is from Spiddal, so it wasn’t much in the way of a commute.
She was young, and her parents gave her the thumbs up to just “go for it”, and here she is over two decades later. Maire laughs at the notion herself, “I’m still waiting to get my real job when I grow up.”
That said, Máire says she has become very proud of Ros na Rún and the lengths that it has come in the years since, and more than a little protective of her character and the legacy of the show.
Rebel without a cause
Not even the back end of Connemara can escape the ravages of rebellious youth, and such was the role of Sorcha Ní Chonchubhair when she first appeared on our screens in season 20.
Returning after a season away, Caitríona Ní Domhnaill, the actor who plays Sorcha, is excited for the coming year because it will see her with a much more central role than in the past.
Sorcha has had a stop and start appearance on Ros na Rún up until now, with a one-storyline introduction before vanishing for extended periods of time.
After a brief period where it looked like she might have gotten her life on track, through jam making no less, Sorcha’s since gotten herself deeply enmeshed in more drama, the consequences of which will carry forward.
Last season saw her return to her original form; stealing from others and having a one night stand before she and her partner were part of a hit and run in the finale.
“They kind of got involved in a hit-and-run situation and now they have a secret that binds them together,” Caitríona says.
“That was a great one for me because it was my first story that planted me in the middle of Ros na Rún”.
“She’s not a malicious character,” Caitríona explains of Sorcha, “She really cares abut her mother and the things that she does are spurred on by that”.
Ros na Rún is an incredible place for a young actor to come into their own Caitríona says, becasue alongside the old hands there always new faces coming in every year.
“I think it’s a great place for some who’s training, not just as an actor but for crew.” With all the new faces faces she says that “everybody is used to looking out for each other and giving advice because it happens every year.”
In a world of its own
For a show about a rural Irish village, the production of Ros na Rún certainly went all in on the authenticity.
The shows films on its own custom made lot in Spiddal with cast and crew usually bustling between two main studios or clustered in front of the facades for outdoor shots.
On the morning when I visited the set, production had just broken for lunch and there was a bit of a bustle to get things done before shooting needed to resume.
Filming any kind of movie or television show is a practice in controlled chaos. You may have a plan about what order things are going to take place in, only for conditions outside anyone’s control to toss that plan out the window.
‘Weather willing’ is close to a prayer in Galway, and that’s certainly reflected here. Marion says that with some of the most beautiful scenic locations in Ireland right on their doorstep the show tries to make use of them as much as possible, but sometimes you just have to stick away from the rain.
Walking through two floors of sets in the main studio Michael Óg Brennan, who manages the show’s social media, takes me through some of the scenes that get used most commonly.
At one point he stops and scuffs his foot against the ground of an apartment floor. It looks like wooden floorboards but it’s actually just a painted surface on concrete.
All of the floors are like that Michael explains to me, launching into a story about a friend of his who is an uber-fan of the show but dutifully restrained himself from begging Michael to show him the set.
When Michael finally did decide to bring him on a tour, his friend was crushed by the false floors and doors in scenes that don’t actually lead anywhere, such is the fandom that Ros na Rún maintains.
Some of the most heavily used scenes need their floors constantly kept up by the art department because of foot traffic and the weight of the cameras wearing through the paint.
In fact, after the end of season 22 they had to complete redo every set, making them look exactly the same but with a much higher fidelity of detail in order to withstand greater scrutiny from the camera that came with the shift to HD.
Downstairs shooting is getting back underway after lunch. They’re filming a scene with main man Tadgh having an intense conversation with Padraig O’Loinsigh in his empty pub.
In the main corridor outside the set, crew members are clustered around a monitor showing a live feed from the cameras while the floor manager softly barks the occasional command into a mic.
Filming moves at a breakneck pace for a soap like Ros na Rún. While we might be accustomed to high profile dramas dropping a ten episode season every 18 months, things move a little bit faster here.
Broadcasting twice a week for 41 weeks a year, every season of Ros na Rún now comes with 82 episodes running from September to mid June.
Between February and August, well before the current season has finished, the story group and scriptwriters are back in laying the groundwork for the next one already.
That certainly makes for a very busy schedule for Marion as head honcho, not even finished one season before she’s on to the next. But she is helped by her long experience in every aspect of the show.
“I have been in and out of Ros na Rún for 17 years in various departments,” Marion acknowledges. Having worked as a Director and more on the show in the past has certainly stood her in good stead taking on the role of circus master.
The insight that Marion gained into how everything works has been an invaluable aid in managing everything from pre-production, scripting and filming, to the post-production before broadcast.
But there must be a magnetic quality to this soap because “more often than not, they come back to Ros na Rún” Marion says.
Working on such a semi-isolated set out in Spiddal, with many cast and crew members enduring for years, helps everyone work together with a closeness that makes the magic.
“Some of us are here since the very beginning and we’re very close and we’re on to each other all the time,” Máire Eilís says.
“But it’s great when new people come, especially young people and you might take one under your wing. And others you might not work with so much.
“The with other people you might not work so closely with them. But you know we’d still catch up in the green room or socially, because everyone has their own lives.”
That family extends to the crew and “we hate to see anyone leave, there’s always a going away party. But then someone new comes, so there’s that”.
Pól agrees with her that the people working on the show are what make the environment so good “We all get on so well and you’re just welcomed with open arms, and everyone is there to look after you.”
“Everyone takes the time to make sure you feel comfortable and don’t feel like a newbie, so to speak. You feel like instantly you’re part of this cliched family.”
That cliche has turned out a level of television that has kept audiences and everyone making the show hooked for years to come.
And if it doesn’t then the twists and turns coming for the next seven months of season 24 are sure to do the trick.
Ros na Rún broadcasts on TG4 every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:30pm with an omnibus on Sundays.