| 7.1°C Dublin

'I'm proud of my family's IRA past' -- Sheen

Actor Martin Sheen once declared Ireland "the safest place on Earth" so he had no qualms about spending time in a cell in Kilmainham Gaol where his late uncle had been incarcerated.

The Hollywood star, with strong Irish roots, declared himself proud of his uncle's IRA past but relieved to discover he did not have any part in the assassination of revolutionary leader Michael Collins.

Sheen, whose mother hailed from Tipperary, had been trawling through family history to take part in the US version of the hit genealogy television series Who Do You Think You Are?

As part of the programme, the 71-year-old visited the gaol to spend time in the cell where his mother's brother, Michael Fieland, had been imprisoned for fighting against the Free State during the 1921 Civil War.

Admitting he was "concerned" about what the show might throw up, Sheen discovered instead he was "enormously proud" of his uncle.

"I would like to hope that if I had been here in Ireland at that time, I would have followed him and I would have been as committed as he was.

"I was afraid he might have been in on the plan to assassinate Mick Collins but as it turned out he was in prison when Mick Collins was assasinated and I was deeply relieved."


The actor, best known for his roles in Apocalypse Now, Wall Street and the TV series The West Wing is the son of Mary-Anne Fieland, who was born in Borrisokane.

She emigrated to the US during the War of Independence and Sheen believes she was sent away to protect her from the intense hostilities.

"She was meant to come back when the fighting stopped and the Republic was established in 1923," he said but instead she married, stayed in the US and had 10 children.

Sheen fulfilled a life dream by returning to his mother's homeland to study in 2006 when he took a place as a mature student at the National University of Ireland in Galway.

He registered as an arts student taking classes in English Literature, Philosophy and Oceanography and also learned how to use a computer for the first time. The Hollywood icon has been a regular visitor to Ireland since 1973.