Love Island - without the notions.
After many, many months of anticipation, the Irish version of Love Island (unofficially) finally hit our tv screens last night to fill that heart shaped hole in our lives.
You'll forgive how often I compare this show to Love Island - it's hard not to given the premise and the many nods that are made to the ITV production, none more obvious than the coloured bean bags where the boys debrief on their respective lánúineacha (or couples if you don't want to pop that into Google Translate, which is exactly where I got it from).
Still, despite the obvious inspiration that has been taken from LI (the slow motion walk into the house, the cringey couple pans, the named water bottles) the Gaeltacht setting, the host of Irish heads, and the packets of Tayto crisps and Brennans bread that may or not be product placement assures us we're on home soil, in the best way possible. The same way we get excited every time we hear any Irish accent on LI (thank you Dami, Maura, Yewande, and Greg for your services), there's something tickling about hearing a whole cast with the many lilts that makes up the Irish inflection.
— Philip Nolan (@philipnolan1) September 25, 2023
Grá ar an Trá sees ten singles couple up and attempt to garner the most focail to win a prize of €10,000 (and here we were complaining about the £50,000 being too little on Love Island) and be crowned the Rí agus Banríon of the Trá (clearly my own Gaeilge is nowhere near up to scratch with how it would need to be for this show - let's hope our contestants did better in their Irish Leaving Cert oral than I did).
— Cúán Mac Conghail (@CnMacConghail) September 19, 2023
The catch? Only one in each couple is fluent in Irish, and is tasked with teaching the English speaker as much of the language as possible. Couples who aren't excelling in this area may not be get a letter sent home to their parents as was the case when attending the Gaeltacht as a teenager, but they will be sent home (not quite dumped from the island, but you get the idea).
Much like LI, the contestants arrive in jeeps, although they don't quite get one to themselves. They roll up to a house that moreso resembles the abodes of the Geordie Shore cast mates than a Mallorca villa, and it's complete with bunk beds that will bring people over a certain age right back to the days of Tallafornia.
The Red Room, or Seomra Dearg, is thankfully nothing like that from 50 Shades of Grey (for the contestants, as well as the viewers) but instead where Gráinne first couples the group up and delivers important news (one may even compare it to the fire pit).
— caroline 🫖 🌈 (@caroliiiine25) September 25, 2023
Of course a show called Grá ar an Trá is going to have trá, and the beach is where the group have their first Love Island style challenge (thankfully no exchanging of half masticated food, just a simple sports day), and the winners of the said challenge, Donall and Ciara, get to go on a picnic date as a result - again, there's no Spanish seascape to act as the backdrop, and what we get instead feels more like First Dates in a garden, but I'm personally here for it.
The first episode of Grá ar an Trá was fast paced and thoroughly entertaining. While there were of course moments of cringe whereby your neck disappears into your chest cavity with second hand embarrassment, there was a lot less of this than I was anticipating.
There are some all too familiar phrases thrown around - "it's still early days" being my personal favourite - but in general this show is a lot more honest and a lot less performative than the likes of LI. That we're one episode in and we've already had a couple "shift" instead of neck on is something I truly didn't expect of a show that prioritises the Gaeilge over the grá.
The co-hosts of Grá ar an Trá are allowed to show their personality, another welcome change from LI. If they're reading from a pre-approved script, it's not nearly as obvious, and the reasons James and Síomha were chosen for this show naturally shine through.
— Alex (@AlexBasmati) September 25, 2023
A hugely welcome aspect of Grá ar an Trá is that there are several references to the €10k prize in this initial episode; we're in a cost of living crisis after all.
There'll be no accusations of game-playing because everyone is openly playing the game - plus the fact that the couples are solidified and seemingly can't be changed via a "recoupling" adds an extra level of chaos to this recipe - what happens if Loman decides he fancies Megan more than Laura? Can he stray, or does he have to hide his feelings? I for one can't wait to find out.
I also worried this show was going to be a little PG but the contestants' first night is complete with a little ice-breaker game that resembles that of LI - what's your favourite sex position, to which one girl simply says missionary (none of this fake names shite to seem cool, we love to see it), what's the weirdest place you've had sex (the trá, but not on this show), and the cast are surprisingly honest with one another, comfortable in this fairly strange setting they've found themselves in.
Perhaps the best part of this show is how refreshingly normal the cast are - Séan starts hoovering halfway through the episode like the well brought up young man that he is.
— Eoin Ó Catháin (@EoinKeane101) September 25, 2023
The show is a little bit confusing as a premise. Where in Love Island the strongest couple romantically is the one to watch, it's the couple with the most focail that will take the prize in this reality show. However, while Cinnire Gráinne is keeping a watchful eye over the group, and the Bean and Man an Tí are present for challenges, how each couple's progress is measured is somewhat of a mystery. For the most part, as the viewer, which couple is doing best is completely unclear, and we have to be told in the final portion of the episode who is coming out on top (Femi and Saoirse seemed to be this week's winners).
Another confusing element is the timeline - what appeared to be no more than a 24 hour period was actually a couple of days based on discussions of the non-Gaelgoir's progression - while this is only a five episode series, and we have a lot of time to cover, I think more could've been done to demonstrate how much time has passed - perhaps that will become more apparent in the upcoming episodes.
Now despite all that, I am still excited for next week's shenanigans, especially as it seems there's a bit of trioblóid in Paradise brewing - and sure the drama is the real reason why we get bet into these shows in the first place.
No one was more surprised than me when I felt myself actually worried for one of the five couples we'd just met an hour ago at the idea they were going home (they were not, and in a Maya Jama twist of fate, a sixth couple joined the ranks to spice things up). So if that doesn't spell out my investment, I don't know what does.
— Ardilaun Hotel (@Ardilaungalway) September 25, 2023
Will we continue watching?
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't already hooked and rooting for different couples. While Michelle and Andrew were my initial winners, Saoirse and Femi and Donall and Ciara are creeping up on me as potential faves. On the other hand, you can't convince me that Loman is there willingly, and I fear Laura is already too attached to him.
So will we continue watching? You bet we will. Grá ar an Trá episode two will air on Virgin Media next Monday at 9pm.
Header image via Instagram / James Kavanagh