Original content from The Guardian in Tipperary, Ireland, May 29, 2003.
Pictures are articlespics/irisharticle1 and irisharticle2
Tipperary is Sheen’s favourite
place in the world
Martin Shen and his brother Joe at the Ormond Point-To-Point
races at Ballingarry on Sunday. Pic: John Long.By Cian McCormack
Martin Sheen with Geraldine McKenna, after he officially
opened the refurbished Yanks Inn on Friday night. Pic: John Long.
It must have been a hard week for Martin Sheen, especially with a reporter from a tabloid following his every move, asking
people what he ate, what he did and what he said.
That Sunday tabloid’s newsgathering method leaves a lot to be desired, especially when it borders on a total invasion
But despite the intrusions it is easy to see why Ireland, and more specifically areas like Borrisokane, Kilbarron and Terryglass,
is this Hollywood actors “favourite place in the world”.
Driving from Nenagh to Kilbarron the journey reveals a beautiful landscape populated with natural greens intersected intermittently
by winding rural roads.
But to be honest the roads that lead to Kilbarron village provide the ultimate travel conundrum for unfamiliar travellers
with the directional sense of a drunk and misguided carrier pigeon.
Within minutes of arriving, and after receiving numerous directions from locals, Martin Sheen walked toward Kilbarron’s
car park, the location where this reporter was scheduled to meet the actor.
After introductions, and walking toward Kilbarron National School, Sheen’s ease was clear, he was utterly at home
in the North Tipperary village.
For the past thirty years he has visited the area, his ancestral home. Sheen was back home to commemorate the one-hundredth
birthday of his mother, Mary Ann ‘Babe’ Phelan, with his brothers Frank, John, and Carlos; his sister, Carmen
and his grandson Taylor.
Before I met the Hollywood star he had visited his first cousin Teresa Bourke (nee Phelan) in Kilbarron.
Teresa’s father, the late Michael ‘Bob’ Phelan from Mill Street in Borrisokane, and Sheen’s mother,
Mary Ann Phelan, were brother and sister.
Standing outside Joe Hannigan’s pub and passing The Village Shop, and walking towards the school this reporter asked:
“Well, are you happy to be back home?”.
“Oh, I am always happy to be in Ireland. It is my favourite place in all the world”.
“Your favourite place in all the world?”
“Yea, Yea,” Sheen replied. “I’d live here if I could get work here”.
“Maybe you could set up a studio or something?”
“Oh, God! no, no,” laughed the actor.
“Do you try to keep in touch with Ireland?"
“Oh yea, yea, this is my family.
“What attracts you here?" “My family attracts me here but so does the country. It is an extraordinary country,”
said Martin Sheen.
“It is the one free country in the world because people are not intimidated. People are free here and it is one of
the best educated countries, per capita, in the world,” he added, as he moved to talk to children who were emptying
from the school excitedly.
“People know and have a sense of themselves and morality and they don’t separate their politics and their morality.
And it is very clear, anywhere in the world you go, Irish men and women are always welcome because they didn’t plant
the flag anywhere, they never ever conquered any other nation. They fought for England and the United States in various campaigns
but they never went into any country to conquer it. So you can go into any country with an Irish passport, which I do and
I am terribly proud of. I am an Irish citizen and as an Irish citizen you are welcome everywhere because nobody has a grudge
“Where would like to be buried, in Ireland or the States?” asks this reporter. “Oh, be god, no, no, I
get buried ever time I talk to a reporter,” laughs Sheen.
This reporters first encounter with Sheen was during a college film studies course when the Francis Ford Copolla classic,
Apocalypse Now, was analysed, turned inside out, and written about extensively.
With that film in mind Sheen began to talk about the film, a film that reflects his anti-war sentiments. But it was his
sentiments on war, and American foreign policy, an issue the actor feels strongly about, that guided the conversation initially.
Before the American and British assault on Iraq Sheen was pictured at many anti-war demonstrations in the United States.
“I am a pacifist,” explained the actor,
“American foreign policy is devastating. The military has become our foreign policy and it is devastating and there
is great, great concern about it in the States,” said Sheen.
“Unfortunately this man [George W Bush] is more popular now than any president in a similar time in office and so
the way it looks is that this war was the beginning of his re-election campaign.
“So he made a political issue out of what should have been a diplomatic situation. He could have easily solved that
problem. They have not found any weapons of mass destruction because there are none, and if they do come up with them I would
be suspect that they would have been planted,” added the actor.
“The Americans are very hard put to accept any criticisms of their President. What happened after 9-11 was unprecedented
in our history, so we have become paranoid.
“We went from protection to paranoia in a year. In September, 2001, we got very defensive and by September, 2002,
the policy of first strike, including nuclear first strike, was issued and that is what allowed us to go into Iraq.
“I fear for all the other hotspots in the world. They were all talking about reducing terrorism with this gulf war
and stabilising the Middle East and bringing peace to the Israelis and Arabs – nothing could be further from reality.
“We have created more terrorists than we can imagine through or actions in the Middle East. Violence is violence
and violence begets violence, I didn’t make the rules it is just the nature of things.
“I am a Radical Catholic. That is what motivates me – my faith and not my nationality. I did not make the rules,
they were established when I arrived, so I have just got to obey them.
“Today in America when you speak the truth it is going to cost you something so as long as you are willing to pay
the price, then you do it. For me I have been doing it for many years,” says the actor.
With that this reporter and Sheen were standing in the schoolyard of Kilbarron National School. Children from the school
had assembled in the yard and were waiting for the actor to address them. After explaining his ancestral relationship to the
Kilbarron and Borrisokane area Sheen invited questions from the school children.
“How did you become famous?” enquired one probing little mind.
“Oh Lord, I don’t know. A big accident I guess. Actors in America, if you are working, and if people like you
and they want to see you play you keep working,” replied Sheen.
“How big is your house?” piped up a little boy called Jack. “It is actually very small. We live in the
same house that we have lived in for 30 years, where my children grew up in California,” said Sheen.
“How many body guards have you?” asked another child. “None I have the Holy Spirit looking after me,”
“Can we have homework off tonight,” said a pragmatic little character.
“I am going to give a dispensation,” said Sheen. “When special visitors come they are allowed to grant
amnesty,” said Sheen as he granted the wish for free homework.
But then from the back of the assembly piped up a brave little voice: “Will you give us money for a new school?”
“We were promised a new school and we never got it,” a teacher explained to a bemused Sheen.
“Oh you’ll have to do a fundraiser. I’ll come for the fundraiser,” said the actor.
After signing autographs on small slips of paper for nearly every individual child Martin Sheen left the school.
“How do you feel after that?” asked this reporter.
“Oh I love it, it is a mighty blessing”, replied the actor. “They gave to me a mighty blessing, Irish
Children are the best behaved children in the world”.