XL is celebrating its 20th birthday this year, and is marking this milestone in dramatic fashion! As of last month, the symbol group announced a new partnership with Irish language soap opera Ros na Rún; enjoying a presence in one of the best known local towns on Irish television. Gillian Hamill travelled to Spiddal, Galway, to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes
18 October 2017 | 1
Five facts about Ros na Rún
- The new XL shop was first unveiled in episode six of season 22, which was broadcast on 21 September
- Ros na Rún is shot on a custom-built studio lot in An Spidéal, which was recently acquired by Danú Media
- Ros na Rún is the single largest independent production commissioned in the history of Irish broadcasting, with past cameo appearances made by Stephen Fry, RTE’s ‘At Your Service’ star, Francis Brennan, TV3’s ‘Ireland AM’ presenter Alan Hughes and singer Nathan Carter
- Employing over 160 people including cast, crew, and scriptwriters, it’s a significant contributor to the local rural Gaeltacht economy, with a weekly viewership in excess of 150,000
- Ros na Rún airs two episodes each week on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 20:30 on TG4 with an ollchlár (or omnibus edition) on Sunday evenings, from September to May
Just as retailers are always thinking up new ways to keep stores fresh and relevant, here at ShelfLife we’re always on the hunt for a new journalistic angle to keep our store profiles lively. So when XL offered us the chance to step onto the set of its new store situated in the fictional village of Ros na Rún – aka Ireland’s only Irish language soap opera – how could we possibly refuse?
Filmed in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht in the coastal village of an Spidéal, Galway, the show is now in its 22nd season of broadcast. And throughout that time, Vince de Búrca, the owner of An Siopa, played by actor Paul McCloskey, has certainly enjoyed his fair share of colourful scenes. In fact, after hearing about his escapades, we couldn’t resist asking if he considered himself to be the most exciting shopkeeper in all of Ireland. “Well, I haven’t met all of the shopkeepers in Ireland,” Vince replies, “but I would think I have to be up there in the top ten!”
Indeed, that’s what the evidence would suggest! Ros na Rún, which is shown twice weekly on TG4 (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8.30pm with an omnibus edition on Sunday evenings) boasts a dedicated audience around the country and internationally with weekly viewership in excess of 150,000. A co-production between EO Teilifís and Tyrone Productions, the executive producers Siobhán Ní Ghadhra and Patricia Carroll, series producer Déirdre Ní Fhlatharta and the entire team, make a real point of keeping the show’s loyal audience consistently entertained.
Just as in real life, where XL’s nearly 250 stores nationwide are a hub for local communities, so too is XL Ros na Rún a convenient spot for the show’s writers to plot out timely character meet-ups. “It’s one of those areas that facilitates meetings,” actor Paul McCloskey tells us. “If there are two characters, and the scriptwriters are putting them together,” the shop is the ideal place for them to bump into one another. “Lots of the time, I’m not directly involved with what’s happening in a storyline, but will come across it as it happens in the shop.” And his character Vince has definitely witnessed a lot of action; “all sorts of shenanigans”, from robberies to amorous encounters in the store room, no less!
A varied career!
What’s more, Vince enjoyed a colourful career progression before getting into the retail game. When he first joined the show in its fourth session, he was living the high life (literally!) as an Aer Arann pilot. However this job proved to be less than ideal from the scriptwriters’ perspective. “They didn’t like me having a job outside of the village because they couldn’t incorporate my personal life and my work life together,” McCloskey explains. “Any time Vince was going to work, he got in the car and left so you couldn’t write for him outside of the village.” Vince subsequently decided to retire from Aer Arann and take up a new pursuit. However, as the saying goes, ‘the path to true love never did run smooth’ and so it was with Vince’s entry into retail. Before joining An Siopa, he pursued a variety of roles, including taxi driver, photographer, garden centre assistant, and Samaritans helpline councillor. Like many of the country’s successful retailers, he clearly has a broad skill set!
But alas, even a talented man like Vince isn’t without his weak spots. “He’s kind of an ordinary Joe in a lot of ways,” says McCloskey, “I think he’s a fairly decent man, he’s made a lot of boo-boos in his life as you do, but that’s life and that’s soap life. He’s an ordinary, decent guy who wants to do the right thing, and wants to look after the people around him, but doesn’t always get it right. He’s had a few lapses of judgement in terms of the ladies.”
Memorable Siopa storylines
And here we get to the nub of the matter! Such lapses of judgement actually led to one of Vince’s most memorable storylines, the ‘Grace’ saga. McCloskey outlines the juicy details, telling ShelfLife: “It was a time when I was working in the shop with Bríd, my then girlfriend and we hired this woman who was infatuated with Vince and decided that she had to have him!” Things became ever more dramatic as Grace decided the way to Vince’s heart was to more closely resemble Bríd’s appearance. Her outlandish strategy pays off when the duo strike up an affair. However things gradually take a more sinister turn, building up to a grand finale when Bríd has to rush in to save her philandering partner from a grizzly end at the hands of his unbalanced mistress. Exciting times indeed!
Working with props
As well as salacious storylines that keep the audience gripped, McCloskey has more practical considerations to pay attention to within his XL store. Care has to be taken with props to make sure they aren’t distracting. “If you have a box of cornflakes, they won’t let you lift them across your face for example,” McCloskey says. “Or if there are plastic bags, you can’t be speaking on a line when you’re rattling plastic because sound will be giving out to you, or opening the till. You get better at it as an actor, and when you’re working with other actors who are used to this kind of stuff,” he says. “You’ll open the till, and then do your next line; you won’t do the two at the same time. It’s a conscious thing but it also has to be sub-conscious, otherwise it looks like you’re wooden. It is quite technical; it’s not as simple as it sounds.”
Another aspect of soap land that’s harder than it looks is the infamous party scenes. “I suppose people who don’t work in television, what they don’t understand is that big scenes like that with lots of crowds and parties and drinks and food, they take a long time to film. Trying to keep the energy up can be hard. When you see it on TV, it might seem like it lasts for a minute and a half and everybody’s having a great time and we’re all laughing and singing and dancing. However, that could take five hours to film and you’re doing the same thing over and over again. That’s the challenge for the actors, crew and directors, to keep that energy alive.”
Such days are fun from the actor’s perspective though as they have a chance to work with a broader circle of characters from the show, instead of just their immediate circle of family and close friends. That said, McCloskey adds: “We have to behave ourselves because time is very tight on set so you have to be focused; you can’t be laughing and messing up takes, because the director won’t have it.”
“In soap operas, the timeframes are tight,” he adds. Whereas in movies, actors often have the chance to relax in their trailers before the next scene, it’s all-go in soap land. “The difference in soap is huge but it’s a great way to work in a lot of ways here; it’s very focused and you learn a lot,” he says.
Another area where McCloskey has certainly learnt a lot is in his proficiency in talking os gaeilge. It may surprise readers to learn that he wasn’t a fluent Irish speaker when he first joined the show. However, he benefitted from something of a natural advantage by growing up in Salthill and learning the language in school. “The late, great Joe McDonagh, a Galway hurling captain who has since passed away, was my Irish teacher,” he explains. “He made sure we did our lessons!”
Symbol group success
Describing himself as “arty since I was a kid,” with a lifelong interest in photography and music, McCloskey’s acting career began in the late 80s, when he was working as a photographer and musician with spectacle and street performance group, Macnas in Galway. They suggested he take a role front of stage, his first one being in none other than a gorilla suit! His career has bloomed from there, and now when the actor plays with his band, Pyramid, fans of the show frequently ask for “a selfie with Vince”.
Indeed, these days, we suspect McCloskey is something of a method actor. When asked why Vince decided to partner with XL as his symbol group, he gives a most convincing answer. “Because they were the most supportive and one of the growing convenience stores in Ireland and I really love turquoise blue.” Well, we can’t deny that it suits him and XL definitely seems to be adding a splash of colour across village life in general!