Love Island in the rain, with a light drizzle of the Irish language on top. That’s the pitch with Grá ar an Trá (Virgin Media One, Monday, 9pm), in which 10 young singles move into Oyster Bay Lodge in Woodstown, Co Waterford, hoping to find love – and improve their Irish.
What’s that – improve their Irish? Such is the gimmick wodged unceremoniously into this fun dating show, and while it undoubtedly sets it apart from something you might see on ITV, it also makes Grá ar an Trá more confusing than necessary. Imagine if the competitors on Love Island were expected to master theoretical physics on the fly. Not a terrible idea – yet hardly a formula for winning telly.
The format doesn’t make much sense to the contestants, either. After a few days of solid flirting, they are surprised when Gráinne Seoige parachutes in as “Cinnire”. She quizzes them on their Irish and then threatens to boot one couple out. It’s a fake-out on Seoige’s part – nobody is going home – but there’s something dispiritingly Irish about a dating show in which the competitors receive a telling-off for not having enough Gaeilge. Fun for fun’s sake would be just too much: it’s Ireland so there has to be some guilt and tutting in there too.
The finger-wagging is a shame because Grá ar an Trá's heart is otherwise in the right place. The 10 hopefuls are divided between fluent Irish speakers and those who are just starting (or have actively regressed) on their journey with the language. There’s a carrot, as well – the couple whose Irish improves the most will walk away with €10,000.
The couples are, in the best way possible, the anti-Love Island
This is all well and good, and it’s encouraging to see Irish presented in a contemporary and fun context. Yet the producers don’t seem to have entirely worked out the show’s rules, and the Irish component feels tacked on. This is why it’s unfair when Seoige swoops in and starts the interrogation. “Have you spent more time flirting than learning?” she asks Ciara, who is paired with fluent speaker Dónal (they have already had a sneaky snog).
The couples are, in the best way possible, the anti-Love Island. Someone mentions “ick” at one point – otherwise, though, they communicate in everyday language rather than the made-up lingo through which we have to wade in the ITV villa (“grafting,” mugged off”, etc).
Seoige also seems to be enjoying herself alongside bubbly presenters James Kavanagh and Síomha Ní Ruairc. Plus, there’s potential for drama later in the season. “I’m a pretty jealous person – what’s mine is mine,” says Saoirse from Dublin, whom the producers pair with Femi from Dundalk. “He’s very handsome ... I’m surprised it’s going so well,” says Megan from Carlow, who is put with Seán from Galway.
There is a bombshell at the end when a new couple enters the house. But is this actually a shock? On Love Island, new contestants are introduced to stir things up: will a loved-up Love Islander ditch their partner for the newcomer? Here, the new couple are already together – so where’s the tension? That said, fresh arrival Zak and his mullet deserve a series all their own.
To complain a dating show doesn’t have a clear rule set might seem fastidious. However, with €10,000 at stake, it seems only fair contestants understand the terms of engagement. Grá ar an Trá is great fun, and everyone involved enters the spirit. But there is a suspicion throughout that Virgin is making the whole thing up as it goes.