Last time we saw Simon Reeve, he was investigating voodoo and marijuana farms in the Caribbean. In the last decade, he’s made a name for himself as British TV’s most adventurous presenter. He’s hunted with the Bushmen of Kalahari, hung out with biker outlaws in Australia and been taught to fish by the president of Moldova.
But in his new series, Reeve has chosen to explore the less exotic environs of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Which begs the question…
Like a lot of people, I thought I knew Ireland. A bit like parts of Blighty, you take it for granted. And that’s obviously such a disservice to a place but it’s a trap we can all fall into. Don’t ignore the obvious. Don’t ignore the local.
I was incredibly surprised by the place. And certainly I had stereotypes and clichés.
What was the biggest surprise?
How bloody beautiful it is. Don’t tell people but it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The landscapes in the inner Inishowen peninsula in the north for example, which is just a short drive from Derry/Londonderry, stand muster with anywhere I’ve been in the world.
Where else would you recommend?
Connemara National Park, most of the West coast of Ireland, the South-West, the Northern Ireland coast as well, the Wicklow mountains just outside Dublin – it’s like having the Scottish Highlands closer than Watford! They’re wild, they’re rolling, they’re relatively unvisited.
And the second biggest surprise?
People say that it rains in Ireland, but I’m going to talk to the tourist board about this – I think we could have a class-action lawsuit because I saw very little evidence of it. I think other tourist boards might be putting it out!
We got sunburnt. Not once but on more than one occasion. Even for somebody who spends a significant amount of time filming in the Tropics, it was warm.
Visit the Wicklow mountains, Kilkenny and Wexford with Radio Times Travel
So what stereotypes and clichés did you have?
I suppose I thought it would be more cut-off, more reserved, more conservative, more conventionally backward. It’s like being in America and believing that London is still covered in smog – it’s outrageous to believe that.
I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that’s changed so dramatically in such a short space of time.
What initiated that change?
Globalisation. Capitalism. The decline in the faith in the church is a major change in the Republic. People said to us from the very beginning: “We’re thinking for ourselves now.”
Things have really shifted. And that’s not just some muppet TV presenter’s idiot observation. The number of people going to mass has plummeted. The Irish are still a people of faith but they’re not obeying the strictures of the church as they did in the past – and you’ve seen that obviously with the fact that they’ve become the first country in the world to vote in a popular referendum for equal marriage.
Is there any truth in that other cliché…?
Yes, I’m sorry to go with the stereotype on that because I like to overturn them. But it is true: the Irish like a drink, they like a giggle, they tell a good tale. The fiddle comes out quite often. The young might turn their nose up because they’re far too cool for that, but when you get outside the towns and you’re in a village pub somebody will get the bloody fiddle out.
You also explore the legacy of the Troubles. Were your cameras always welcome?
Everywhere. The only bit of bitterness or anger I experienced was when a riot kicked off in Belfast and we were amongst loyalists. Some older ladies tried to cover up the lens with a Union flag scarf. That really p***ed me off, frankly – the idea that they would use our national symbol to try and prevent us from filming in our own country. This was on 12th July, which is the big day in the Protestant/Loyalist/Unionist calendar.
That was the only moment when they said: “You’re not welcome here”. And it was only for a moment.
In the majority-Catholic community of Bogside in Derry, Northern Ireland, apartment buildings display politically-motivated murals known as the People’s Gallery
Is it ok for tourists to visit the People’s Gallery, or the Peace Wall in Belfast?
It’s almost a requirement. If you’re going to visit Londonderry/Derry or Belfast – and I would utterly urge you to because they’re fascinating and fantastic – why on earth would you want to ignore the history and the story of those places? They’re also a tourist attraction and you’ll find every taxi driver keen to take you.
Did you attempt the accent?
Once or twice. They are such lovely folk that they even put up with my pathetic attempts.
Visit Galway, Connemara and Ireland’s West or Ireland’s stunning South-West with Radio Times Travel
Ireland with Simon Reeve begins on Sunday 22nd December on BBC2 at 8pm