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Friends remember Michael's special fondness for Ireland

He performed onstage to millions across the globe; entire generations grew up listening to his words, watching his every move. And yet, as the world mourns the loss of one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived, his sudden death has left his audience with one cold realisation. We never really knew him at all.

This weekend, as fans reel in shock at the news of Michael Jackson's tragic death, Irish friends of the star have begun to piece together a rare picture of the man behind the mask.

A restless soul who found the tranquillity he desperately craved in the Irish countryside. A gentle spirit who loved Flahavan's porridge, indulged in hot apple tart and cream and who only really came to life in the quietness of a Cork woodland.

These glimpses of the private Michael Jackson have materialised among dozens of tributes which have poured in from well-known Irish personalities as the world mourns the loss of one of music's greats.

For the first time, castle owner Patrick Nordstrum, who hosted Jackson during his 2006 stay in Ireland, has spoken fondly of the star he personally came to know.

Speaking about the entertainer who lived with him for two weeks at his home, Blackwater Castle in Co Cork, Mr Nordstrum described private chats that the pair had about the singer's feelings towards the vulturistic world he lived in.

"I don't think he ever had any kind of peace or normality since he was a child. I would see him as a restless soul but he felt quite homely here. He was very careful about who he trusted. He once told me how he had gone to stay at another castle to seek out privacy and he had just landed in the helicopter a few minutes when the owner took him straight inside, opened a door and there was a hundred or so people waiting there to meet him. So he was understandably very wary."

He also described how Jackson, long vilified for dressing his children in black veils and hiding them away from the world, was in fact a model father who placed his children's interests above all else.

"His children adored him and he was a very good, loving father. He brought them here because they had been hunted down in Disneyland Paris and they were looking for a place to escape. He raised them to be very well mannered and very polite and all his decision's centred on the children's best interests."


Recalling some light-hearted memories of his time with Jackson he said, "My wife Sheila is very much into her healthy food and she had a bowl of porridge every morning so she gave some to Michael, he loved it and he insisted on having a bowl every morning from then on."

Meanwhile, magician Liam Sheehan, who was brought in to entertain Jackson's children during his stay at the castle, described his sadness upon hearing the news.

"The man that I came to know was kind-hearted and a gentleman. It is tragic that he spent his life being hunted. I hope he has found his little piece of heaven now."

He went on: "His children adored him. They would ask me if I would race their dad and tell me proudly that he would win because he was so tall and fast. You could tell they really looked up to him."

And Mr Sheehan spoke of the disciplined way in which Jackson reared his offspring. "Even at the end of their stay, when they were leaving for home, the children jumped into the limousine and Michael made them get out again and come over to thank each and every one of us for our hospitality."

Painting the picture of an ordinary character who enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, he said: "His real personality only really emerged in the privacy of the woods. The shyness left him and I saw a much more boisterous and loud spirit who loved playing with his children. That quiet-spoken Michael that you would see in the media instantly disappeared.

"He loved apple pie and ice-cream and really enjoyed being in the privacy of the castle grounds and I know he loved the friendliness of the Irish people."

Jackson played concerts in Cork in 1988 and Dublin in 1992 and 1997. Promoter Oliver Barry, who brought the singer to Ireland twice, said the music industry has lost one of a kind.

"On stage he was amazing. It is a huge loss for the business. He was a true professional. I saw Elvis Presley twice, I saw Sinatra, I saw the Beatles, the Stones, and without a doubt, when he was in his prime, he was the best I have ever seen. He had whatever the 'X' factor is times a thousand."

Paddy Dunning, who owns residential recording studio Grouse Lodge, near Moate, Co Westmeath, was host to Michael Jackson and his three children in October 2006.

The pop icon caused a sensation when he moved into the Georgian estate at Rosemount, just off the Dublin-Galway road.

"Michael had originally only intended staying in Westmeath for a month, but ended up living here for five months," says Dunning who's abiding memory of the star was how he casually displayed his immense musical genius.

"Michael was an amazing guitarist, he was incredible on the drums, he stunned everyone when he got behind the piano, but most of all, you can't overstate his singing voice."

Dunning became a close confident to Michael during his stay and was in contact with the Jackson family after his death was announced. He confirmed this weekend that Jackson loved his time in Ireland so much he'd even pledged to return this autumn to open the National Wax Museum in Dublin.

"He told me that he would definitely pop over when he came for his gigs in London," Dunning said.

"He would have settled down here for while, I have no doubt about that, he loved Ireland and Westmeath."

Hollywood neighbour and friend of the singer Michael Flatley also joined the country's mourners in paying their respect to an icon that shaped a generation.

Speaking from Las Vegas, the dancer, who hosted Michael Jackson in his Cork home, Castlehyde, near Fermoy, described the star as a "wonderful" person who fell victim to unfair treatment by the world's media.

"I knew Michael as a man, not just a performer, and he was a great man. The world will miss this wonderful person and his moving performances. My heart goes out to Michael's family."

He went on: "I was shocked and saddened to hear the devastating news. He was a genius as a musician and a dancer. The press at times was horribly unfair to this man. Unfortunately, the media tend to make fun of things they cannot understand."