DO YOU know how many Ford Anglias were sold in Ireland?” asks Ardal O’Hanlon. “Practically every farmer in Co Monaghan seemed to be driving one when I was a child. Thursday was market day and the town used to look like an Anglia convention. All in various states of disrepair. Windows and doors missing. I’ll never forget one fella getting out and locking the driver’s door … but there was a big hole where the back door should have been.”
O’Hanlon — still remembered as nice-but-dim Father Dougal from the 1990s comedy Father Ted, and currently soaking up the sun in the BBC’s Death in Paradise — grew up in Carrickmacross, 60 miles from Dublin. “There wasn’t a lot of money about and family cars were a rarity,” says the 53-year-old. “My dad was a doctor, so he needed one — a beautiful Wolseley — but none of my mates had cars. If you needed to go anywhere, you walked or hitched.”
Even drink-driving was treated with indulgence, he recalls, in rural Ireland when he was growing up. “It’s shocking, isn’t it?” sighs O’Hanlon, who now lives just outside Dublin with his wife, Melanie, and their three children. “We’re only going back 35 years. Driving home from the pub was the done thing. It was all so casual. Nobody batted an eyelid. Nobody got arrested. It’s totally different now. Thankfully! A whiff of alcohol and you’re in trouble.”
With no real need for a car, O’Hanlon didn’t bother putting in for his test until well into his twenties. Even then, he couldn’t afford to buy one. It was only after he moved to London in the early 1990s and was gigging every night on the stand-up circuit that he decided he needed transport.
“I had a cousin who worked in the motor trade and I managed to scrape together 500 quid. I said, ‘Find something that’ll get me up to Newcastle and back.’ This is going to sound ridiculous, but my first car was a Daimler Sovereign.
“It was only six or seven years old, but had a quarter of a million miles on the clock and was falling apart. Literally. As you drove along, things often fell off. But I loved it. Newcastle and back? No problem. Except that all the money I got for the gig went on petrol.”
“My Daimler Sovereign only lasted a year, bits fell off and I spent all my gig money filling it with petrol, but I loved it”
The Daimler lasted only a year, but all that leather, chrome and walnut gave O’Hanlon a taste for luxury motors. The little Citroën runaround that replaced it was a bit of a come-down, so he swapped that for a second-hand Mercedes 200. Then he moved on to BMWs and back to Mercs.
“That’s all I’ve owned for more than 30 years,” he grins. “Mercs and BMWs, but mainly Mercs. I wasn’t buying them new. God, no! They were second-hand, a bit shabby with a few miles on the clock. But I liked the trimmings: comfy seats, decent stereo.
“I don’t think I bought my first brand-new car until about 2006. A Mercedes CLS 320. That shape and those gorgeous lines. Totally impractical, of course. We had three kids and only two seats in the back. Whenever we went out, we had to leave one of the kids and get a babysitter.”
Now he owns a more sensible Mercedes E 220, but O’Hanlon admits that he still likes the sound of those “silly” cars.
“I’d love an Aston Martin,” he says, rubbing his hands with glee. “A Lambo or a really old Jag. An emotional car. Thinking about it … the kids are grown up. I don’t need to worry about them. Maybe there’s time for one more rash purchase, one more rush of blood to the head.”
Ardal O’Hanlon is touring the UK and Ireland with The Showing Off Must Go On ()
Ardal O’Hanlon: my life in cars
- 1994 Daimler Sovereign
- 1995 Citroën AX
- 1996 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (E200)
- 2002 BMW 5 Series (520)
- 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class (CLS 350)
- 2009 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (E320)
- 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (E220, pictured)
- My dream car Any Aston