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Why West Cork still holds a special place in celebrity hearts and minds

Saturday, 9th September, 2017 11:50am
Why West Cork still holds a special place in celebrity hearts and minds

Supermodel and Gone Girl actress Emily Ratajkowski in Bantry in 2015;

Why West Cork still holds a special place in celebrity hearts and minds

Supermodel and Gone Girl actress Emily Ratajkowski in Bantry in 2015;

Brian Moore looks at the huge number of Irish and international high profile names who just can’t stop loving our wild Atlantic ways!

IT seems you can’t cross the road without tripping over a well-known celebrity or two in West Cork these days. 

Of course, this influx of movie stars, writers, artists, musicians, politicians – even royalty – is nothing new, as this little corner of Ireland has for decades attracted both the famous, and sometimes even the infamous.

It seems that being far-removed from the capital, along with the general nonchalance of the locals when there’s a celebrity in their midst, creates what’s needed for the ideal ‘getaway’ location.

Among the familiar faces who have set up permanent bases here are honorary Corkman and Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, whose lovingly restored Kilcoe Castle overlooks Roaringwater Bay.

The people of Durrus recently mourned the death of US actor Robert Vaughn of The Man from UNCLE, who was a local resident for many years. And how could we forget Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara, who adored Glengarriff where she was warmly welcomed, during her many years living at the pretty extended cottage Lugdine?

Of course, multi-award winning film producer and former Columbia Pictures chief executive David Puttnam has lived in Skibbereen with his wife Patsy, for over two decades.

And BBC chat show host Graham Norton comes ‘home’ to Ahakista every summer, and many other times during the year, to recharge his batteries.

And more stars of stage and screen have recently visited these parts, even if they are not lucky enough to have property here. 

Star Wars legend Mark Hamill was a familiar face at O’Sullivan’s Bar in Crookhaven during the filming of The Last Jedi last summer, where Daisy Ridley was also to be found, while co-star Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan, was spotted soaking up the atmosphere outside the Corner Bar in Skibbereen during the celebrations to welcome home the Olympic Silver medallists, Gary and Paul O’Donovan – now celebs in their own right. 

Even The Simpsons have made their way to West Cork. Both Mr Burns and Ned Flanders have decided to leave Springfield and set up home with the man behind many voices in the legendary TV series and Spinal Tap – Harry Shearer – last year picking up a new home for himself and his singer wife Judith Owen, also in Ahakista.

As for novelists and poets, West Cork’s rugged beauty has become a mecca for those looking for inspiration, or for a place to find space for writing.

Booker prizewinner JG Farrell lived – and died tragically young while fishing – in Kilcrohane, while Casino Royale (1967) screenwriter Wolfe Mankowitz lived closeby in Ahakista. 

Indeed the Sheep’s Head peninsula seems to have a huge attraction for award-winning writers, as novelist Zadie Smith and her husband Nick Laird have also found their little piece of heaven on the northside, overlooking Bantry Bay.

Many renowned musicians have also made their way to West Cork, with Christy Moore making his home in Ahakista for many years and Damien Dempsey – who admits liking to swim off the pier in Kilcrohane – to name just two. 

Then there is Gone Girl actress and Blurred Lines video star Emily Ratajkowski, now a major supermodel, who is often found out and about in Bantry where her parents have a home, while true blue New Yorker, fashion icon and writer Alice Carey has called Durrus her home for over 25 years. And while Pippa Middleton (sister of the Duchess of Cambridge and future Queen of England, Kate) enjoyed crisp sandwiches at the Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff just a few weeks ago, Queen Mathilde of Belgium has often been seen shopping in Schull.

As for politicians, West Cork has been, and continues to be, a favourite summer destination. Minister Simon Coveney is a regular in Baltimore, opposition leader Mícheál Martin spends most summers in the Courtmacsherry area and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is also a regular visitor to Belgooly, where both his parents were born and reared.

He also has cousins in Bantry and has been spotted there too.

Canadian Ambassador Kevin Vickers has family ties with the Kingstons of Bantry, and visited West Cork recently, while Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan can often be found around Glengarriff, where she has family connections. In fact, she was recently photographed at the Bere Island Heritage Centre, despite tabloids saying she had ‘jetted off’ on holidays to avoid the glare of the media.

The world of business is also well represented in West Cork, with Ronan Harris, head of Google Ireland, setting up home in Baltimore, while one time billionaire Tony O’Reilly was frequently seen at his home in Glandore, although it was sold in recent years. 

The Musgrave family, owners of Centra & SuperValu, had a bolthole close to the village in Baltimore for many years, before selling it recently. Singer Gemma Hayes, married to Stuart Musgrave since 2014, is also a fan of West Cork, through her connections with the supermarket gurus.

Chef Darina Allen and her husband Tim have a home near Lough Hyne and spend their ‘downtime’ in the West, away from their busy life at Ballymaloe in East Cork. Daughter-in-law Rachel is a regular visitor to their home, too.

Vodafone’s Anne O’Leary is often out and about in Skibbereen and recently celebrated her birthday at her home in Lisheen, and RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes spends most weekends visiting her family home in Drimoleague although her permanent base is above the village in Glandore.

One of Ireland’s best known businessmen, Sean O’Driscoll of electrical giant Glen Dimplex, is from Drimoleague originally, and spends much of his free time in Schull where he has a home.

Schull is also home to art patrons, the Bollinger family, who have been very generous to the area and are big supporters of the Fastnet Film Festival there every year. Indeed, the film festival itself is a big draw for big names, who love the fact that such a tiny town, with no cinema itself, has the wonderful audacity to host such a successful film festival.

This year alone, guests included former BBC chief Greg Dyke, producer/director Jim Sheridan, director Lenny Abrahamson, costume designer Joan Bergin and director Stephen Frears. The stars of hit movie Sing Street even gave a short concert in the Schull Harbour Hotel when they appeared before a screening of the movie there last year. 

And singer Ed Sheeran was spotted breakfasting in the same hotel last summer after a local wedding. He is no stranger to West Cork, as he has cousins here.

British comedian and actor Steve Coogan has been a regular visitor to the festival in Schull, as his aunt lives nearby, in Ballydehob.

Irish radio and TV stars are no strangers to West Cork, either. Anchorman Bryan Dobson spent many summers as an instructor at Baltimore’s Glenans sailing school, and celebrity doctor Pixie McKenna regularly heads for The Cove in Baltimore, where the family have had a home for some time.

Cork city actor Cillian Murphy, star of Batman and Intermission, had his 40th in Connolly’s of Leap last year where he was joined by Transformers star Jack Reynor and comedian Dermot Whelan.

Kinsale has naturally attracted several celebrities over the years, not least of all the chef Keith Floyd but George Michael, Michael Jackson and Julia Roberts have also been spotted there. 

Closer to home, journalist and TV presenter Brendan O’Connor usually spends a week or two of his summer in West Cork, and was spotted at Lough Hyne this year, along with the Beara peninsula, while Ray D’arcy and Ryan Tubridy broadcast their shows this year from West Cork - not for the first time.  

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