When Entertainer Conan O’Brien Spoke Irish on Ireland’s National TV

This article is in partnership with Day Translations.

Who knew that Conan O’Brien is Irish? He never mentions it! But seriously, US entertainer Conan O’Brien, who hosted his own late night TV show for 30 years, was a writer for ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘The Simpsons’, and then launched a successful podcast (Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend), visited Ireland briefly in 2024 for a special travel show.

In interviews Conan had often referred to the fact he is 100% Irish by heritage but that he hadn’t studied the Irish language at school or during his career. That was about to change during his travelogue ‘Conan O’Brien Must Go’ in Ireland, as he appeared in the Irish soap opera Ros na Rún which translates as “Valley of the Secrets”.

O’Brien celebrated his 60th birthday by launching his travel programme and by starring in an Irish soap opera. His ancestry traces back to County Limerick.

To prepare for his short cameo role in Ros na Rún, the production team briefed Conan on how to pronounce Irish words phonetically. Conan had professional linguistic coaching on the Gaeilge language from Kevin Hussey. With no previous experience of speaking Irish, Conan accepted the challenge to learn lines of dialogue with the help of written prompts.

This had all been arranged in advance as the national Irish broadcaster TG4 had received a request from O’Brien’s team to take part in Ros na Rún back months before Conan travelled to Ireland.

In the Irish TV series Conan plays a delivery man who exchanges a few words in Irish with a publican while bringing some balloons for a party.

Irish Language on TV

Irish language is an integral part of culture in Ireland and this TV series is only one example of many programmes that are broadcast in Gaeilge.

If you live or travel through Ireland you will hear Irish being spoken, mostly on public transport and sometimes on radio and television. While the majority of radio and TV programmes are in English, some channels and stations are dedicated exclusively to the Irish language. Road signs are both in Irish and English, while in some locations could be either in Irish or in English only.

TG4 is an independent Irish TV channel that launched in 1996 and it has programmes that are exclusively in Irish to preserve the language and ensure it stays current. 1.2 million people watch TG4 programmes each week (out of a total population of about 5 million in Ireland). Over the course of 2023 more than 3.6 million people watched TG4 programmes.

Irish language broadcasts include the TV series Ros na Rún, major sports event such as rugby matches and music including the annual Fleadh festival.

According to the latest Census report, only 40% of people in Ireland can speak Irish at various levels of fluency.

TG4 has been investing in independent productions to support regional economies within Ireland.

Using popular TV programmes can help to get more people to study or freshen up their knowledge of the Irish language, preserving it for posterity.