Tragedy and a one-way ticket set Roma Downey on the path to become TV's leading angel
Touched by an Angel star Roma Downey has described how the tragic deaths of her parents compelled her to leave Ireland as her world fell apart.
The star in one of America's best known TV series, explained how, at rock bottom, she bought a one-way ticket to New York.
Three decades later, and listed on Variety's 100 Most Powerful Women in Hollywood, Roma has brought her 'angel's touch' to a number of epic dramas that have been watched by over 100 million people worldwide.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, she said: "My mum died when I was only 10 and my father when I was in college, so when the opportunity to emigrate came up, I thought I had nothing to lose.
"I asked myself, what is the worst thing that could happen?
"Back then, I thought, 'If I move to NYC and don't like it, what's the big deal?' As long as I had the price of a return ticket, I would be alright."
She continued: "All these years later, I still have the price of a return ticket - I have just never needed it. I am so fortunate that it all worked out for me."
Roma was speaking as she prepares to receive the inaugural 'Irish Diaspora Award' - which will be presented by the Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA).
She now travels back home each year to spend time with her remaining family and friends in Derry.
"There are no friends like the old friends. I still get together with the girls I went to primary school with; girls I have known for over 40 years.
"We always have a brilliant laugh together, sharing a few drinks and catching up. Our lives are different now, but we share a bond. I have never forgotten where I come from."
Having Irish blood in Hollywood has significant bonuses, she says: "Americans genuinely love the Irish, there are so many Americans of Irish heritage. After all, we helped build the USA. I have always felt very welcome in the States.
"I am grateful to all the Irish who went ahead of me and paved the way. Now, I am paving the way for others... It's important to create opportunities for others to rise up [and] to encourage the dream in the [next] generation."
The actress spoke about the Irish-centred projects currently in production.
"At MGM, we film Vikings in Ireland and we are developing other projects that we hope to shoot in Ireland, including an amazing story about the Irish Famine.
"The story is based on the bestselling books from author Mary Pat Kelly, Galway Bay and Of Irish Blood, which I optioned from her and we are currently developing them into a dramatic, heart-wrenching series that will tell this story of the Great Hunger in a way it's never been told before."
The IFTAs will take place on April 9 at the Round Room of Dublin's Mansion House.