Hector Ó hEochagáin meets the people for whom Irish is ‘more than a language’

The high-octane travel TV presenter talks to people who have moved to Ireland from abroad

Hector Ó hEochagáin with Deji and Yemi Adenuga

Hector Ó hEochagáin with Deji and Yemi Adenuga

 

Hector Ó hEochagáin is the shaggy-mopped Marmite man of Irish language travel television. Some viewers adore him. Others will consider his high-octane pratfalling an acquired taste.

Yet his enthusiasm for the Irish language cannot be faulted. And it’s on full display in his energetic new series, Hector – Éire Nua (TG4, 9.30pm), in which he interviews individuals from around the world who have made their homes in Ireland.

Irish people are perpetually fascinated with those who have relocated here from abroad. There are so many questions. The first invariably being: why would you want to live in Ireland?

Éire Nua takes that question and adds to the mix the livewire Ó hEochagáin. It’s makes for thoughtfully rambunctious television. It’s striking, in particular, to encounter those from outside Ireland who are far more enthusiastic about the language than many who grew up with it.

An exploration of that often deep-seated and reflexive loathing of the language could fill an entire seminar – or a therapist’s couch. But Ó hEochagáin is here to celebrate rather than to psychoanalyse and his journey takes him the length and breadth of the country.

He starts in his native Navan, where he meets Nigerian ex-pats Yemi and Deji Adenuga, who moved to Ireland because they found their home country simply too dangerous (you may recognise them from Gogglebox Ireland). In Lucan, he stops off for hurling training with New Yorker Jeaic, who speaks fluent Irish and considers himself, not without justification, a proud “gael”.

Elsewhere in Dublin, he dallies with a Mexican mariachi band. And he talks with Ola Majekodunmi, one of the few black students at her local gaelscoil and today an Irish-language radio presenter. Also in Dublin he meets nurse Patricia who moved from Ghana in 1978. She’s always been made feel welcome, though things have recently taken a turn for the worse.

“I never met any kind of animosity,” she says. “Only in the last five years have I come across racist remarks.”

A grittier documentary might have paused there and drilled into the rise of extremism in Ireland. However, Ó hEochagáin is a travel presenter – this is the first time in 20 years he hasn’t been reporting from abroad for TG4 – rather than a current affairs journalist. And so the tone remains brisk and upbeat.

But that isn’t to say Éire Nua doesn’t have a message. In Kerry, Ó hEochagáin meets another enthusiastic Irish speaker from abroad. Irish is more than a language says Victor from Russia. It’s a new way of engaging with the world.

“It teaches you to see things from a different perspective,” he says. “You become a different person in a way.”