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Acting President Returns Home

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Original content from The Guardian in Tipperary, Ireland, May 29, 2003.

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Acting President returns home
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Francisco Estaves
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Martin Sheen signs autographs.
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Mary Anne Phelan-Estaves.By Cian McCormack
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Children at Kilbarron National School meet with Martin Sheen and his brother Frank.

The "acting" president of the United States, Martin Sheen, returned home and rolled through North Tipperary with an entourage of family and friends this week.

The Hollywood star, who plays US president Josiah Barlet in the television series The West Wing, visited Kilbarron National School, opened McKenna’s bar in Borrisokane, castigated George W. Bush and met with anti-war protestors.

Sheen, who stayed at a rented cottage at the lakeside haven of Terryglass, commemorated the one hundredth birth of his mother with his immediate and distant family members.

Mary Anne Phelan [1903 – 1951], mother to Ramon Estevez – more commonly known as Martin Sheen, originally came from Borrisokane, but emigrated to the United States where she married Francisco Estevez [1898 – 1976].

Tuesday – The American President returns home

The American president arrived to Tipperary boasting he was “back home” at 3pm on Tuesday evening.

Sheen, who always keenly declares that he is Irish, has been visiting his cousins, family and friends in Borrisokane and Kilbarron for the past thirty years.

Sheen arrived home to Borrisokane with his brothers Frank, Joe, John and Carlos Estevez and his grandson Taylor (Emilio Estevez) and sister Carmen.

Arriving on Tuesday, after a long trip from Los Angeles, the star proclaimed his excitement and said he always got a good welcome when he returned home.

Speaking at his cousin Ann Sullivan’s home in Borrisokane, Sheen said he didn’t want to put anyone out by his visit.

Wednesday – President does coffee and shopping in Nenagh 

The president was working on an ad hoc itinerary. Locals and journalists, attempting to track his moves, were unaware of his location.

Phone calls were made, attempting to organise a meeting with the Hollywood actor.

By 11 am no calls had been returned from the president’s closest contacts. However, luck prevailed and a telephone call came, not from Sheen, or anyone related to him, giving a tip off that the star, and one or two of his brothers, had been spotted drinking coffee at A Country Choice – a Bridgestone approved eatery in Nenagh. But by the time this reporter reached the premises, the actor, and his American entourage, had disappeared to some other part of North Tipperary.

Walking through Nenagh, evaluating how the president could be pinned down, a local lady grabbed this reporter by the arm excitedly.

The woman declared she had seen The West Wing president buying raincoats at a local sports store – A Sportsman’s Dream.

Within seconds a mobile phone tingled. “Hi,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “My name is Taylor Estevez, I am Martin Sheen’s personal assistant.”

“Oh, you’re Martin Sheen’s grandson, Emilo Estevez’s son,” this reporter replied. “Yes”, replied the 18 year old. “I believe you were looking for an interview with Mr Sheen.”

“He is not doing interviews this week,” said Taylor. “He is over with his family and wants to relax.”

With no other plans, meeting with the president was becoming a more difficult task.

Thursday – President meets local children

An anonymous call came in the early afternoon. The Hollywood star was preparing to visit Kilbarron National School.

Just after lunch the medium build of the acting American president, dressed in a black Nike golf sweater, walked from his cousin’s home, flanked by his brother, Frank – a retired social studies teacher from Ohio - towards Kilbarron National School only a few hundred yards away.

There, at the village cross, surrounded by a pub, a church, and a shop – the whole village of Kilbarron – Sheen agreed to talk to this reporter.

Entering Kilbarron National School, which school children told the president needed a cash injection to improve their educational facilities, the actor explained what brought him back to Ireland.

“My family attracts me here but so does the country. It is an extraordinary country,” said Martin Sheen.

The Hollywood actor talked to the school’s children, between 40 or 50 in total, assembled to talk to the American president. Some asked him were daytime temperatures warm in the United States while others, less pragmatically enquired: “How much do you earn, do you make as much as the real president?” Sheen finished his visit to the school by signing his autograph on small pieces of paper for the children.

Wednesday night hosted the main event of Sheen’s visit. The actor, his family, and friends held a special commemoration mass for his mother, Mary Anne Phelan–Estevez at The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Terryglass at 7pm.

There, over eighty family and friends celebrated the life and legacy of Sheen’s mother. A local priest, and a second cousin of Martin Sheen’s, Fr Paddy Cleary celebrated the special mass. The ceremony opened with the hymn “Queen of the May” and closed with “Holy God We Praise Thy Name”.

The commemoration was followed by a family get together, with food and wine, at the Derg Inn Restaurant and Bar in Terryglass Village.

Thursday - President pardons protestors and opens pub

At 6pm, Sheen walked alone towards McKenna’s Bar in Borrisokane. There he met with protestors charged with criminal damage to a US warplane at Shannon in February.

Meeting the five accused - Karen Fallon, Deirdre Clancy, Ciaron O’Reilly, Damien O’Moran and Nuin Dunlop – all part of the Pit Stop Ploughshares Group and the Catholic Worker Movement, he granted a pardon as "acting" president of the United States.

The Irish-American actor, a close friend of Father Daniel Berrigan, a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, said the actions of the five protestors were “brave and committed” and showed “moral courage”.

He said that as a fellow Catholic peace activist he was compelled to support the protestors and their struggle for peace and social justice.

“I urge the Irish Government, which still enjoys the highest level of moral ascendancy in the world, to grant these brave young Irish and American peace activists a fair trial by permitting their legitimate defense on moral grounds supported by the Nuremberg principles,” said Mr. Sheen.

“If that does not work, in accordance with the power vested in me as the acting president of the United States I am prepared to grant them full pardon,” added Mr Sheen.

He said he would not be in Ireland when the Shannon protesters would be under trial. “I will be following it from the States,” said Mr Sheen.

Speaking before the press conference Mr Sheen said: “It was a courageous move. These are peacemakers, they are ploughshare people, and their action was heard around the world. It was very powerful.”

The Emmy Award winning actor, and star of the Francis Ford Coppola antiwar classic Apocalypse Now, expressed his anger on American foreign policy in the Middle East.

He said the setting up of an American led regime in Iraq was “devastating”. 

"We have substituted our foreign policy and diplomacy with military and I think we have used our power, political and economic, to intimidate the whole world.

“We are living in a very dark time. Unfortunately, it is going to get much darker and much more serious. I think that this man in the White House at this time began his re-election campaign with the invasion and destruction of Iraq.

“If you have real power you don’t have to show it off.  When you are really confident and secure with who you are, where you come from and what you stand for, you do not have to pound people over the head with it,” said Sheen.

The actor said he had been intimidated because of his antiwar sentiments. “Those of us who have spoken out have been in the least intimidated and in the worst condemned,” said Mr Sheen.

After the meeting with the antiwar protesters Sheen joined family and friends for a meal at McKenna’s Bar. There, the bar, formally know as The Yank's Bar, marked its official reopening after an extensive refurbishment with Sheen’s presence.

From 6pm the bar filled with locals, and others from throughout the county, hoping to catch a glimpse or even a handshake, with the Hollywood star. At approximately 10pm the president slipped away quietly, without fuss, leaving locals to celebrate late into the night.


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