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Popular adopted son of West Donegal Conall takes on a new challenge

BY SEÁN P. FEENY
A NEW lifestyle programme co-produced by a Falcarragh native and starring two well-known Irish language presenters hits our television screens this Thursday at 10pm on TG4.

WWOOFÁIL follows Mairéad Ní Chuaig and Conall Ó Máirtín, as they step out of the studio and into the real world, ready to get their hands dirty in search of new adventures.

Pól Penrose from Falcarragh was involved in the upcoming programme for TG4 as co-producer with Stirling Film & Television Productions Ltd and it is aimed at those who wish to travel and learn new skills during the recession.

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WWOOF is an organisation which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It began in the 70s and the concept is that WWOOFers travel to participating farms to exchange their labour for bed and board.

Today there are approximately 11,000 affiliated hosts in over 50 countries. Participants choose their routes according to the seasonal climate and farming cycle.

Novice WWOOFer Mairéad Ní Chuaig is better known as one of the glamorous TG4 weather girls, with a keen interest in fashion.
Her WWOOFing companion Conall Ó Máirtín is one of the channel’s sports pundits, with a great sense of adventure. The Tyrone man is a very well-known and popular face in West Donegal.

Conall’s family have a house between Dunlewey and Gweedore and his father has been the chairperson of the Loch an Iúir Irish College since 1978 and so he spent much of his childhood and youth around Loughanure and Rannafast.

Conall has been involved in the college all his life and following in his parents’ footsteps worked there as sports leader/ teacher and then principal. So strong is his affinity to the area that Conall married his childhood sweetheart Catherine Doris in the chapel in Dunlewey, and the reception was held in An Chúirt.

Catherine is from Tyrone also, a mile from where he grew up, and would’ve spent a lot of time herself in Donegal when she was growing up, in Knockalla outside Portsalon. But Conall said she is now converted to the Gaeltacht.

The former Tyrone player said even his name has proud Donegal roots. His parents were 60’s Irish hippies who called him after Donegal (Tír Chonaill) and Tyrone (Tír Eoghain) – Conall Eoghan O Máirtín.

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But now back to the programme. Throughout the series we follow their journey to six WWOOF farms, where they spend five days at a time.

We witness their highs and lows both in Ireland and abroad, as they meet new friends, learn new farming and lifestyle skills and experience what it is like to be a WWOOFer, an activity which so many people enjoy and benefit from throughout the world every day.

The six half-hour episodes will be sure to keep the viewers intrigued as we see Mairéad and Conall learn about vegetable growing and ecology in Sligo, Buddhism and spirituality in Cavan, building houses and surfing in the Algarve, cooking and milking goats in Seville, horse-riding and folk music in Sweden, and olive picking and peacocks in Morocco.

Series director/producer Grainne McCotter was keen to illustrate throughout the series that people, no matter what age (although a minimum of 16 years old), can still travel and learn new skills during the recession on a budget.

“WWOOFING is a free ticket to an incredible life experience. Not only do you get to volunteer on farms, where you learn to be organic & self sustainable, but you also get 3 home cooked meals every day and a bed to rest your weary head at the end of the day – all in exchange for 4- 6 hours work on the farm! The bonus is getting to travel the world – sampling the local culture, food and landscape of each farm on your days off”.

Stirling TV Productions received funding from the Irish Language Broadcast Fund and TG4 for the production.

Don’t miss the first episode of WWOOFÁIL this Thursday, March 21, at 10pm, on TG4.

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