‘I don’t know if it has given me renewed fame but lots of people have seen it and spoken to me about it’

Every now and again a TV advertisement comes along that hits just the right tone, at just the right time. It becomes iconic, a statement of the times we live in.

Like the Harp lager ad in the 1980s and the Irishman working under the hot sun abroad thinking of all he misses from back home; friends, a cooling pint of Harp, the countryside as well as Sally O'Brien "and the way she might look at you". It struck a note because back then so many were abroad.

Then there was the Kerrygold ad of the 1990s that contained the intriguing question: "Who's taking the horse to France?"

More recently there has been the Three Mobile communications ad featuring Kellsman John Olohan where he is the bearded grandfather talking through the iPhone to his grandson. The youngster, who is in bed with his tablet, is telling his grandad about the the monsters that had invaded his room, particularly the "ginormous green, slimy one."

"Where is?" asks grandad. "Is he under the bed?" The youngster hold his tablet under the bed for grandad to investigate. "No, nothing under here you must have frightened him off," he says reassuringly down the line.

Then they laugh, both grandad and the youngster, enjoying it all in equal measure. A precious moment shared. Communication at its best.

John Olohan lives in Rathfarnham with his wife Catherine Byrne (the well-known actress) - and it was in their home the now famous Three ad was shot.

How it was done and the quality of the final product left John marvelling at the wonders of modern technology. It also highlighted how the world of acting has in some ways changed radically over the years - yet in other ways stayed exactly the same.

Because of technology Olohan could do the ad without, for instance, ever meeting his 'grandson.' He doesn't even know the youngster's name.

"The lockdown had started but they had phoned me up to see if I would do it. Sure. It was an experiment, normally they would ring me up to do an ad in the studio but this time they said no, we're are going to film it in your home," he says as he embarks on explaining how it all came about.

"So on the day of the filming two technicians arrived, two great guys in a van, they handed my wife and myself all the equipment, two big arc lights, a camera stand and two iPhones. A place was selected in my sitting room and they remained in the garden, they weren't allowed in the house.

"The director was in the south of France, he wasn't even in the country. He was on one phone looking at me, directing me and the other phone was recording me, it showed me to him. That's how it was filmed on an iPhone and it took about 45 minutes. It's amazing the magic that can be done."

The youngster was filmed separately in Kildare. "I never even spoke to him, it showed the magic that can be done. I never even thought about the ad until I saw it, I was amazed by the quality of it, it was, after all, filmed using two phones. I don't know if it has given me renewed fame but lots of people have seen it and spoken to me about it."

While the technology was clearly a big factor in the production, the two actors - 'grandad' and 'grandson' - still had to do their stuff; they still had to breath renewal and freshness into the words, bring a character to life, just as they did back in the days of Sophocles and Shakespeare.

They still had to create the magic - something Olohan has been seeking to do in plays and films most of his life. That's both the challenge for him - and the reward.


The day John Olohan spoke to the Meath Chronicle he had just shaved off the beard he had sported for four our five years. Nothing unusual about that, says John down the line, it's something he has been doing all his life. Growing a beard, shaving it off, growing it again, according to the role he is playing.

Even though he is now in his seventies, a youthful looking seventies at that, he has no intention of retiring. You suspect asking him to stop acting would like asking him to stop breathing.

He's now sure when he first wanted to be an actor but he did. Young John recalls how he was reared in John's Street in the town before his dad, Jack Olohan, opened up the Railway Bar close to the GAA grounds in the mid 1960s. The place was a popular local hostelry for years. As a youngster John would be brought down by his father to sing a song to customers. It was his first public performances.

John went to UCD to study science but it was never for him. He dropped out. Other forces were drawing his attention. In his youth he dabbled in music forming a band with a number of local lads including Eamon Carr who went on to help form Horslips.

Olohan learned the guitar and went on to play in another band that also included "four beautiful girls". The called themselves the Rite of Spring. He recalled how they won a big-shot talent competition in Navan in the 1960s.

They sang songs from the likes of the Mammas & the Pappas and Simon & Garfunkal.

Something compelled him to follow the acting route. After three auditions for the Abbey School of Acting he got in. He was on his way. Over the years he has played many roles, in plays written by all the big names - Shakespeare, John B Keane, Brian Friel, Hugh Leonard. He has acted in films too and popular sitcoms like Fr Ted, Glenroe and Ballykissangel.

Yet by its very nature acting is an uncertain, precarious profession. Does he regret not taking his science degree, going on to find a job that was secure, safe, pensionable?

"I've never regretted a day of it. It has been great, great fun. I saw the world on different tours to places like America, several times, Australia twice, New Zealand, China, places you would never otherwise have went."

He talks about how acting can be "a tough business" especially when you can't get work but he's been lucky. Usually he or Catherine are working at different times, or at the same time. Last year the couple celebrated 40 years of marriage. When asked what sustains a good marriage he pauses for a few seconds: "Love and respect," he said. There was no need to say more.

Catherine and John have two sons, Max, who works in a bank, and Jack who has also an office job. Jack, however, also writes and is producing, as a hobby a series of short films - 'The Cruellest Game of All.' He too clearly has the acting bug.

Considering that Jack Olohan worked in the Railway Bar well into his eighties, it is hardly surprising that John, has no intention of exiting stage left just yet. He is currently working on the Druid Gregory Project that involves the staging of a series of short plays written by that powerful personality of Irish theatre - Lady Gregory.

The plays will be staged at outdoor venues in September and October in places such as Coole Park, Clifden, Galway University, Roundstone and Oughterard. John is clearly excited about the prospect of once more getting out there and doing what he does. It's an excitement mixed with apprehension.

He says acting doesn't get any easier as he gets older but then, he adds, it was never easy. He still experiences "degrees of terror" constantly questioning if he is tackling a role in the 'right' way. It's all part the pain, but he knows one thing, when it works it's worth it. That's where the juice is.

"Work helps to keep you young. If you are having a laugh and enjoying yourself I think that's part of the whole energy thing, it keeps you going." As American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman once said: "It's not worth it if you are just in it for the money. You have to love it," Clearly, John Olohan does.

Then there are, every so often, the little surprises; the unexpected twists and turns such as the sudden request to take part in the Three Mobile ad that has put John Olohan's face back out there; back in the limelight, centre-stage.