From Taylor Swift to Kanye West, A-listers have long enjoyed the Irish public's general indifference to them, writes Lucie McInerney
In one of the stranger tales to emerge from the ongoing pandemic, Hollywood heartthrob Matt Damon is living out lockdown in Dalkey, a coastal suburb south of Dublin city.
Apparently Damon was filming his latest film in Ireland when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that the country was effectively shutting down.
It might sound dreadful to be trapped so far away from home during such a terrifying time but hold your tears on Damon’s behalf: Dalkey is one of the swishest neighbourhoods in Dublin, reported to have one of the highest proportions of millionaires living in the area. Both U2 frontman Bono and trad-music superstar Enya are neighbours.
Not only is he in a stunning home with his wife and children: they have teachers for the children with them. So basically the guy is in a beautiful multi-million-pound pad (with an outdoor swimming pool – in Ireland?) in a gorgeous neighbourhood by the sea, with no work to do and he doesn’t even have to bother with the home-schooling. That, my friends, is one man who is, to coin a phrase, “winning at life”.
When I first heard that the star of Good Will Hunting, the Bourne trilogy and the Ocean’s 11 franchise was holed up in south county Dublin for the duration of the lockdown, I assumed it was one of those urban legends one hears every now and then: it could be true, but there’s not much detail so it could just as easily not be.
So I did what anyone would do and Googled it straight away, only to discover that it appeared to actually be true: there was a photograph of Matt Damon standing on steps of a local swimming spot, grinning into the camera while clutching a shopping bag from Irish grocery chain SuperValu.
Ireland has long hosted famous faces keen to get away from the paparazzi hordes that hound everyone of notoriety in the UK and the USA. And the Irish have long boasted how they couldn’t care less if all the famous people in the world showed up. Sure, why wouldn’t they? Isn’t Ireland the best place in the world?
But this laissez-faire attitude really masks the population’s most ardent desire in this situation: not to give the celebrities the satisfaction of recognition. “You wouldn’t want to be giving people notions,” the Irish would say. If someone’s done well for themselves: “Fair play, but don’t go getting a big head now, mind.”
Because the fact of the matter is, while we might not have hundreds of snappers with telephoto lenses riding pillion on mopeds to get images of all these famous faces, we definitely love to tell ourselves and the world how much the great and the good love the Emerald Isle because they’re left alone and no one pays them any mind.
To a certain degree this is definitely true. The summer before last I spent a week with my family in West Cork, a popular part of the country for holidays. One evening as the six of us, plus toddler, squished ourselves into a table set for four in a small Italian restaurant, a tall, slightly shabby-looking man was shown to the table behind us – accompanied by his Jack Russell who settled in quietly under the table.
After placing his order, this chap promptly got up, left the restaurant and went into the pub across the street… only to return a few minutes later with a perfectly poured pint of Guinness. As he walked past our table, I glanced up and realised “it’s only Jeremy bloody Irons”.
Irons lives in the area in a 15th-century castle he lovingly restored with local craftsmen. When I told my mother (who is a fan), her eyes almost popped out of her head and she had a quick glance. Then, to be honest, we didn’t give it another thought. No one approached Irons that night. The staff seemed to know him well – there was a sense that this is a regular routine; a bowl of pasta and a pint from over the road.
It highlighted another side to the Irish psyche in these situations. We’ve now heard for so long about Ireland being somewhere people can escape to that national pride demands the Irish make sure that these poor famous people get the peace they’re craving.
Taylor Swift spent Christmas 2018 in Limerick, where she drank in the local pub (the pub owner hadn’t a clue who she was) and bought tickets for a raffle in the GAA club. Sarah Jessica Parker has a holiday home in Co Donegal, Angela Lansbury has one in Cork and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West spent their honeymoon touring parts of the country.
So when I heard that a Dublin radio station had launched a search for Matt Damon, I must admit, I cringed. This was a betrayal of the unspoken commitment of a nation to leave these stars alone. Was Matt Damon the one star who pushed us over the edge? Would our rep (somewhat self-determined though it is) for not caring a jot for superstars be left in tatters?
In the end, the radio station pulled off a small coup when Damon himself called in. Apparently Bono told him he was being “hunted”. Upon listening to the interview, it becomes patently obvious that the actor is in his element and not bothered in the slightest by the attention he has thus far received.
In fact, he describes Dalkey as the best place one could hope to lock down due to one’s proximity to the ocean (we just call it “the sea”, Matt love) and the forests (I mean, I’ve never personally seen a full-on forest that close to Dalkey, but we’ll go with it).
The two hosts of the radio show are clearly reeling from the fact they are literally on the phone to Jason Bourne. It’s heartwarming for anyone to hear a stranger speak so glowingly of your hometown so their obvious glee is completely understandable. I felt proud to be “a Dub” when I heard this Hollywood star – who has been all over the world several times over – say such nice things about where I’m from. I know I wish it’s where I got to lockdown too.
This article first appeared in The Independent