By: Heather Quinlan
October 29, 2022

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of favorite killed-off TV characters. Series edited by Heather Quinlan.


Dermot Morgan as Father Ted


The Irish Good-bye: a time-honored tradition of leaving the party without telling anyone. I’d done it repeatedly before I knew what it was, a trait that was probably passed down along with my green eyes and general misanthropy. I’ve been to so many get-togethers with my fellow Celts that I swear I’ve seen several of them vanish. I hope one day they’ll tell me how it’s done, but for now I have to rely on stealthily heading toward the door, jacket in tow, thrilled after I realize no one’s noticed I’ve crossed the threshold. Then annoyed no one’s noticed.

This genetic enhancement that makes us Houdinis possibly originated with Proverbs 16:18, which describes that sin known as pride. We want to be the center of attention until we don’t. We love a grand entrance but can’t bear the exit. Pick a contradiction, any contraction, they don’t make any sense but they do.

In life and in art, Father Ted was full of contradictions. For one, it was a show set in Ireland but produced by UK’s Channel Four. For another, it’s titular star, Fr Ted Crilly, was a Catholic priest who wasn’t particularly interested in the priesthood. For him, it was not a calling, more like a life sentence.

But at the same time Fr Ted Crilly was the kind of priest you wish the Catholic Church had more of — charming, witty, and resourceful enough to get out of any situation the writers threw at him, even when he was at his bumbling worst. And while always longing for his big break, he did have that sin of pride — but is it really a sin if it never bears fruit?

Fr Crilly’s religious convictions weren’t strong but his heart was. The self-exalted Bishop Brennan was a sanctimonious pain in Crilly’s tuchas who was always haranguing him for his sinful ways — while hiding a family in California. But Crilly always tried to do the best he could stuck in nowheresville, Ireland. You see, Brennan had banished him to Craggy Island (the name says it all), along with two “irredeemable” priests, drunken Father Jack and simple Father Dougal, who refers to the Wedding Feast at Cana as “that mad story about the loaves and the fishes.”

Crilly’s crime was “borrowing” funds meant for a child’s pilgrimage to Lourdes in order to finance his pilgrimage to Vegas. (“That money was just resting in my account!” was his repeated explanation.) The child ended up stranded. Ted ended up banished.

But Craggy Island needed Fr Ted. Who else could lead his fellow clergymen — trapped in the terrifying maze of the ladies’ lingerie section — to the mall exit? Who else could reluctantly head a protest against the screening of a “nudie” film called The Passion of St Tibulus? A protest that led Passion to become a smash, and whose vague warning signs — “Down with this sort of thing” and “Careful Now” — became famous in real life (according to my cousin Gary in Galway, “Down with this sort of thing” is still seen at protests in Ireland nearly 30 years later).

And who else but Dermot Morgan could fill that role? Already known in Ireland for his satirical radio show Scrapdown Saturday, Morgan had that twinkle in his eye, he conveyed that passion (like St Tibulus!) for adventure, romance, a life beyond what the priesthood could offer. It would be a passion forever unfulfilled on TV, because in the series’ last episode, Fr Crilly — finally offered the opportunity to move to L.A. — decides he belongs on Craggy Island after all. His eternal penance. And the day after filming the finale of Father Ted, Dermot Morgan, the show’s heart and soul, died of a heart attack (his full head of white hair belying his youthful 45 years). As Frank Kelly, who’d played Father Jack, said, “I think he was a kind of comedic meteor. He burned himself out.” Dying is easy, comedy is hard. This is the Irish good-bye.


KILL YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Heather Quinlan | Max Alvarez on LANE PRYCE | Lynn Peril on PETE DUEL | Miranda Mellis on LISA KIMMEL FISHER | Trav SD on COL. HENRY BLAKE | Russ Hodge on DET. BOBBY SIMONE | Kathy Biehl on PHIL HARTMAN| Jack Silbert on MARTY FUNKHOUSER | Catherine Christman on MRS. LANDINGHAM | Kevin J. Walsh on YEOMAN JANICE RAND | Heather Quinlan on DERMOT MORGAN | Adam McGovern on LT. TASHA YAR | Nick Rumaczyk on BEN URICH | Josh Glenn on CHUCKLES THE CLOWN | Bart Beaty on COACH | Krista Margies Kunkle on JOYCE SUMMERS | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on DENNY DUQUETTE | Marc Weidenbaum on SGT. PHIL ESTERHAUS | Michael Campochiaro on GORDON CLARK | Fran Pado on EDITH BUNKER | Mark Kingwell on OMAR LITTLE | Bridget Bartolini on ALEX KAMAL | David Smay on VANESSA IVES | Tom Nealon on JOSS CARTER | Michele Carlo on FREDDIE PRINZE | Crockett Doob on AUNT LOUISE.