As our beloved TG4 celebrates two decades on the air, we also celebrate 20 years with our adopted Galwegian, Hector Ó hEochagáin. Rebecca Reilly and GALWAYnow catch up with the nation’s most treasured redhead as he fondly recalls his prodigious journey and remarkable career to date, with all the oomph, enthusiasm and excitement that we have come to know and love.
“I sent my CV into TG4 on bright orange paper with bold black writing in 1996 after my wife, then girlfriend, Dymphna saw an advertisement for a new Irish speaking channel,” he recalls. The audacious move by the Navan native resulted in his first big television break. “I had nothing to lose. I was on the dole after returning home from travelling so I went in for a screen test to talk about fake tan for three minutes! To this day I don’t know what I said, but it worked!” Having travelled to over 100 countries, speaking his native tongue in the most far flung places in the world, you’d be forgiven for thinking this move launched his career into the stratosphere. Unfortunately, the industry is not so kind. “Six months after that I was back on the dole, but I kept plugging away, and soon things started to come together.” After a year with TV3, as the nation rang in the millenium, Hector scored his big break. “I started filming a travel show with TG4 – we went to America, Europe, Asia and all over the world. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Having attended St Patrick’s Classical School in Navan, alongside fellow funny man Tommy Tiernan, Hector got a taste for acting, ad libbing and improv. “Back then you could never tell anyone you wanted to go to acting school, they’d look at you like you had ten heads! I went to Trinity College, failed, and moved to the Aran Islands. In record time, I was a hippy with long red hair, wearing dungarees and listening to the Stone Roses!” Then it was on to the Basque Country in northern Spain for four years where he learned the local language. In addition to Spanish, the multilingual speaker attributes his fluent Irish to his beloved Gaeltacht. “My mother is from Tuam – a strong west of Ireland woman. She sent us to Coláiste na bhFiann when we were just eight years of age. It was intense back then. If you spoke one word of English you were sent home. I gained so much confidence and by the time I was 16, I was doing three months a year there.”
Hector has exported our native lanuguage to the four corners of the earth with “high quality Connemara Irish,” as he puts it himself. “I could be sitting with Hugh Hefner in the Playboy Mansion, I turn to the camera and the viewer has the subtitles but Hugh hasn’t got a clue what I’m saying! Irish is just another language abroad, but it’s one that I’m so proud of. Both my Irish and Spanish have stood to me well over the years.”
BACK ON THE ROAD
Hector and his boys – Evan, a producer from Mountbellew and Dubliner Rosco, the cameraman, are back on the road with Hector Central. The show tailgates the three lads as they trail through some of most perilous countries in Central America. “Between Narcos, the Olympics, the Zika virus and the corruption, Central and South America are seen as no-go zones at the moment – but not for us!”
With his fluent Spanish, Hector was able to successfully break down the communication barriers that stood between him and his comrades. “You have three white Irish lads with a van full of equipment, trekking through the jungle and into small villages – people are going to know! It’s up to me to ensure that the boys are kept in the loop. Our driver was getting phonecalls informing us that the gangs know we’re in the area, or that the mayor wants to bring us out for dinner. It was quite surreal. You’re hauling through these roadless jungles, not knowing whether you’ll come out alive. These are the routes where the gangs move their drugs – it’s seriously terrifying territory.” Unlike other travel shows, where folks are dining al fresco and rating the top health spas in the area, Hector and his crew are in the most dangerous countries in the world. “It’s not like TripAdvisor, it’s HectorAdvisor!” he laughs.
Alongside Hector Central, Ó hEochagáin has established a longstanding relationship with the Irish media across a number of forums. With television shows for RTÉ, TV3 and TG4 under his belt, as well as a number of radio slots on RTÉ and TodayFM, Hector has certainly mastered the media circus. “The last series I did was Hector Goes in my orange van! We picked a number of subcultures in Ireland and decided to immerse ourselves in them. I’m very proud that we were able to do that. Shows like Hanging with Hector and Chasing the Lions were received with great acclaim too thank God!” With his new radio show, Hector’s Sunday Sitting Room on Today FM, the sportsman seems eminenetly happy with his lot in life. “I love radio and I’m delighted to be back on the airwaves. What really rewards me is when you get a random person come up and say ‘Hector, your show got me through some tough times and I just want to say thanks’. That’s why you do it- you can’t buy that.” As well as being a media mogul, the four time IFTA winner has many strings to his bow – coaching his two boys in sport, doing the hoovering and cooking the odd casserole are not above the Navan man’s abilities.
“I don’t take things for granted. I’m so proud of my family and my shows and I hope I can continue to do more and more. I’m proud of Galway and of TG4 – there’s a great sense of intimacy within the station, the likes of which you wouldn’t see in the bigger stations. Where would we be without TG4? Well, we’d certainly be watching a lot less rugby and club hurling and football,” he laughs. “You definitely wouldn’t have seen me chilling out in the Playboy Mansion or slogging through the jungle without it!” With an abundance of plans to diversify into other realms of television, Hector is certainly not guilty of hordering ‘notions’ of any sort. “It means so much to me that TG4 are behind us, and that we’ve been doing this for so long. The station represents everything it is to be Galway – it’s something you can’t comprehend unless you live here, and it’s somewhere you’ll never want to leave.”