Hollywood, Keeper Hill, North Tipperary, Ireland
Did you ever realize how many connections North Tipperary has to Hollywood; it’s true and I’m not just talking about bit-part players or yer wan down the road who just happened to be on some B-Movie set. I’m referring to some major players from the world of Hollywood, who have visited North Tipperary again and again, and some who have made their homes amongst us. So who are they? Well I visited this subject a number of months ago, but since then I’ve added a few names to the previous list. This week I’m going to take another look at some of these world famous names, because you’d never know who’d you meet in and around the highways and byways of North Tipperary.
Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock
So, first of all I’m going to start with the big man himself. Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock, later to become known as Rex Ingram, was born in Rathmines in Dublin. As a young man his family moved to North Tipperary, whereby his father was employed as a verger in the Borrisokane Church of Ireland and also the Nenagh Church of Ireland. He lived for approximately eighteen months in Nenagh and it was here where he viewed his first moving picture. That was in 1901 at a traveling circus. The experience obviously stuck with him, because as we all know, Rex went on to become one of the great pioneers of Hollywood in the silent era. A plaque in his honour was erected in the town at the house where he lived by the Nenagh Silent Film Festival Committee in February 2013. He died on July 21st 1950.
Gene Kelly in ‘Singing in the Rain’
The first of a couple of Hollywood musical greats to be mentioned is the great Gene Kelly – he of Singing in the Rain fame. Gene Kelly loved Ireland and his Irish roots and he especially loved Puckane village. After his wife, Jeannie, passed away in the early 1970’s, Gene Kelly escaped what has been termed as a ‘Hollywood that was buzzing with curiosity and sympathy‘ to Puckane, near the shores of Lough Derg in North Tipperary. That was in 1973 and he spent the best part of a month in the area. There is a wealth of stories about Gene Kelly’s time in his ‘ancestral home’ including one regarding a man named Peter McGrath. Peter walked into Paddy Kennedy’s bar and having stopped momentarily to take in the appearance of the stranger at the end of the bar counter, he then approached him and said: “Did anyone ever tell you that you look a lot like Gene Kelly?” Gene Kelly enjoyed that and jumped up immediately and performed a dance routine to prove his identity.
Photographer unknown – Can anyone educate us on this?
Another musical genius, who had a fondness for North Tipperary was Bing Crosby. The famous crooner was a visitor to Nenagh town during the 1960’s and it is obvious that the town was filled with excitement when word spread around that the Hollywood great was staying within their midst. The full story of this visit is that back in 1961 Bridie Brennan, who was a Borrisokane native that was living and working in Nenagh town, answered an advertisement for a nanny for Bing Crosby and his wife, Kathryn. Over the following years, Bridie became very close to the Crosby’s and even became an adviser and travel companion to Kathryn. A few years after Bridie took up the position, during 1965, Bing Crosby was visiting Ireland to see how a horse named ‘Meadow Court’ of which he had a third share in fared in the Irish Sweeps Derby at the Curragh. Bing stated at the time that he didn’t bet on the horse himself, but he had placed a wager of £2 on the horse for Bridie. Meadow Court was to win the Irish Sweeps Derby that year. While in Ireland, Bing Crosby had decided to travel to Nenagh town in recognition of what Bridie meant to the Crosby’s and he also wanted to see where Bridie had lived. Of course news of his visit to O’Meara’s Hotel spread like wildfire and a number of photos were taken of the visit. Bridie Brennan passed away in the Crosby residence, where she had been greatly cared for, in San Francisco on April 23rd, 1973. Bing Crosby, who regrettably had been unable to attend the obsequies after Bridie’s remains had arrived back to Ireland for burial, arranged through Interflora to have a carpet of flowers delivered to the grave.
Martin Sheen in ‘The West Wing’
So who’s next, well you see, there’s more than one president connected to North Tipperary (see President Barack Obama of Moneygall, which is on the border of County Tipperary and County Offaly and is just 12 miles from Nenagh town) and also (President Ronald Reagan of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary). The world renowned Hollywood actor and star of The West Wing, Martin Sheen, has very strong connections to North Tipperary. His family roots are from the Borrisokane area and it was from here where his mother emigrated to the United States. Martin is a proud son of North Tipperary and is a regular visitor to the area.
And it doesn’t end there; in fact I’m only starting as there is another famous Hollywood actor who lives within our midst here in North Tipperary. Patrick Bergin lives in a castle that is situated near Cloughjordan. Patrick has plenty of form as an actor including Sleeping with the Enemy, in which he wouldn’t leave poor Julia Roberts alone, and of course Robin Hood along with a number of very impressive titles. He is regularly seen in Nenagh town and other North Tipperary parishes.
And then there’s Charlie! Charlie Sheen, son of aforementioned Martin Sheen has, through his father and then of course his grand-mother, strong connections to the North Tipperary locality. Martin is very well known as a major Hollywood actor and American television star. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you’ll never know who you might meet around about North Tipperary.
Now I couldn’t leave it at that about the Sheen clan. There’s also Martin‘s other son Emilio. He may have taken the name his father was christened with, but like his brother and of course his father, there is still North Tipperary blood running through his veins. Another major Hollywood connection for North Tipperary. Emilio has a wonderful career in his own right with some wonderful productions behind him like Young Guns, St Elmo’s Fire and The Breakfast Club to name just a few. He also has a career as a director, screenwriter and a producer.
Now Johnny Depp hasn’t being able to find roots to North Tipperary as of yet, that I know of, but he was reported to be in the Toomevara village graveyard searching for his ancestral roots a few years back. But Johnny is no stranger to Nenagh town and the North Tipperary countryside. He’s a very close friend of Shane MacGowan, who is from and lives a few miles from Nenagh and he’s a regular visitor to the area. We’ll just have to dig a little deeper and I’m sure before long we’ll find his true Irish roots in the heartland of North Tipperary, but let me provide you with what is possibly a bit of an exclusive here: I’ve been led to believe, from a very reliable source, that Johnny Depp will again be visiting Nenagh town at some stage over the coming months (October probably). The thing about Johnny Depp’s visits is that he is gone before you’d know he was there, but I’ll keep an eye on that one.
There is also Frank Thornton, who played Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served? and also other productions like Crooks and Coronets, (1968); Spike Milligan’s The Bed-Sitting Room, (1969); No Sex Please We’re British (1973); The Three Musketeers, (1973); Steptoe and Son, (1974); The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones, (1975); and Gosford Park, (2001). Frank Thornton made his professional debut at the age of 19 in the old Confraternity Hall in Thurles town in a production of Terence Rattigan’s play “French Without Tears”.
There are quite a number of other connections to the world of film and television and this is something we are very proud about. To name just a few more, there’s George Clooney who has been reported to have visited North Tipperary in the recent past in search of his own roots. Then there’s Brigie de Courcy (Executive Producer of Fair City and formally Producer on Eastenders), who is married to Nenagh man Kevin McGee (Award-Winning Playwright, Director, Producer, Irish television script-writer). And there is Kevin’s brother Noel, who is also an Irish television script-writer. There are countless others and if you want to remind me of them please leave a comment in the Comment box below. So until the next time …, that’s a wrap!
Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee