Tuesday 20 February 2018

Kiss them, they're Irish (sort of): 10 celebrities who claim Irish roots

Did you know Bruce Springsteen has Irish ancestors? What about Mariah Carey? Our reporter unearths some surprising links

Emily Ratajkowski at the Gone Girl premiere
Emily Ratajkowski at the Gone Girl premiere
Mullingar roots: Bruce Springsteen
Actor Johnny Depp. Photo: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Mariah Carey
Ed Power

Ed Power

St Patrick's Day always brings with it the annual deluge of green beer, "kiss me I'm Irish" T-shirts and strap-on leprechaun beards.

This is naturally also the time of year when celebrities like to brag of their Irish ancestry. Of course, some are more Irish than others. Here are 10 celebs whose connections to the old country run deeper than you might expect.

1. Johnny Depp


As with many Americans, the actor's heritage is a mixed salad of ethnicities. He's part German, Italian and Cherokee. But hell-raising and conducting yourself like an "outlaw" are seen in the US as quintessentially "Irish" qualities and, not surprisingly, Depp has proudly laid claim to Celtic origins.

He has, in particular, toiled hard behind the scenes to bring JP Donleavy's Anglo-Irish classic The Ginger Man to the screen and was actually spotted tucking into a pub lunch in Mullingar in 2013, having just called upon the author's country pile.

"I'd really like to [trace Irish roots]," Depp commented. "Because there's a part of me that says, hey, I might be related to Phil Lynott or someone great like that."

2. Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey

"Carey" is obviously an Irish name and no prizes for guessing where the ancestors of the singer's mother, Patricia Hickey, hailed from. Indeed, growing up on Long Island, Carey was as aware of her Irish background as of the African American/ Venezuelan heritage that comes from her father's side.

"My mother's white - she's so Irish, she loves Ireland, she's like, yay, Ireland! Waving the flag and singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. And that's great. I appreciate that and respect it," was how Carey quantified her Irishness.

3. Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro

The world's most famous Italian-American actor is also partly Irish. He spent a lost summer here in the 60s hitchhiking across the midlands and sleeping in barns. A decade later he would memorably portray a weirdo in a green donkey jacket in Taxi Driver. We're not saying the two are connected but let's just say weirdos in donkey jackets weren't exactly unheard of in the midlands at the time.

"I was around 19-years-old and it was one of those trips that changes you," he later recalled. "I slept in barns and fields and was taken into some people's homes, where they gave me food and a roof over my head. It was lovely. I was this kid from New York who knew absolutely nothing and they were so kind."

4. Emily Ratajkowski

Actress Emily Ratajkowski arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

The American model became instantly famous when she appeared in the video to Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines. But her exotic looks belie her down-to-earth childhood, a significant chunk of which was passed in Bantry, west Cork, where her father has an art studio.

"I absolutely love Ireland," she said in 2015. "It's one of the most beautiful places on earth and I have strong ties here. Both my grandmothers are from Ireland and I have spent every summer in Bantry since my father, who is an artist, had the romantic idea 20 years ago to buy an old farmhouse on the west coast and renovate it.

5. Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera will perform at the NBA All-Star Game

The singer-turned-reality television coach is regarded as a high-profile Latin-American. But her mother, Shelly Kearns, is of proud Irish lineage and the young Christina grew up in Irish-American communities in Staten Island, New York and Rochester, Pennsylvania.

"A lot of people get all in a fuss about Christina wanting to explore her Latin side and not mentioning her Irish side much, but that's only logical," Kearns told Irish America magazine. "She has no need to go exploring her Irish heritage because she has always known it."

6. John Travolta

John Travolta
There's a lot to be said for growing old in a dignified way and there's not too much dignity about John's hair piece.

The Pulp Fiction star attributes the "emotional, romantic, whimsical" side of his personality to his Irish heritage.

"I'm half Irish. My mother's people came from Kenmare in Co Kerry and I've been down there to research where they lived," he said in 2010.

"We're related to Burkes and Murphys on her side, and I researched all the connections that there were. It's a beautiful country, just gorgeous and I've said many times I would love to make a movie there. You know, all it would take is the right script. I would love it. It would be great."

7. Bruce Springsteen

Mullingar roots: Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen may be popular all over the world but he is especially adored in Ireland, where his two Croke Park concerts this summer sold out in a heartbeat. The connection runs deeper than meets the eye: Springsteen's great-great grandmother, Ann Garrity, was from Mullingar, which she left for America in 1852. She settled in Freehold, New Jersey, the same town where Springsteen was to be born 97 years later.

8. Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen has hit the headlines in recent times over his private life

The hard-partying movie star/living soap opera arguably embodies the dreariest Irish American stereotypes. His actor father, Martin, is a citizen of this country by dint of having an Irish mother (Mary Ann Phelan). Charlie has not often acknowledged his "Irishness", though he made a memorable trip to Dublin in 2013 to introduce a concert by his pal, guitarist Slash. "You sound like you're all winning," he told the crowd, adding that he'd come to Ireland for a "pint of the finest Guinness our ancestors brewed" and "to remind Colin Farrell I'm still alive".

9. Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep. Photo: Reuters

The elder stateswoman of American screen acting affected a reasonably convincing Donegal accent in the 1998 adaptation of Brian Friel's' Dancing At Lughnasa.

But she later revealed that the shoot had been quite a trial as it went on longer than initially planned, forcing her to temporarily relocate her young children to Ireland.

In preparation for the part, Streep delved into her lineage and discovered a great-grandmother, Grace Strain, born in Donegal in 1865 - after whom she named her own daughter.

"I want more time in Ireland. I feel the need to do real scientific work on her ancestry," Streep said.

10. Billy Idol

Billy Idol at Vicar St. (Pic: Colm Kelly)

The swaggering, tall-haired rocker grew up in Bromley in London and adopted the persona of an English wide-boy early in his career.

But his mother is from Cork and he has always been proud of his heritage - donning a Cork City shirt when performing on Leeside last summer.

Irish Independent

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