Fassbender — accompanied by his partner, the Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander, and his parents Adele and Josef — was led by a piper into the formal drawing room of the historic lakeside house where Queen Victoria stayed in 1861 during a visit to Killarney.
In an emotional acceptance speech, the 39-year-old, who was born in Heidelberg in Germany, recalled how his family — his father Josef and his Co Antrim mother Adele — were “actually immigrants”.
They moved to Killarney when he was two years old and his sister, Catherine, was aged six.
“Mom and Dad, I want to thank you take this opportunity for your wisdom and foresight in moving here and giving Catherine and myself roots in this very special place,” he said.
He also thanked his primary school, Fossa National School, and the teachers who had taught him with such passion. He paid tribute too to St Brendan’s College, his secondary school.
There was a special mention for the actor Donie Courtney, who introduced him to drama and who was “more responsible than anyone” for his career.
“It’s only because of this town and its people that I am in a position to receive this award. Thank you to Killarney and to everyone in Killarney,” he said.
“Through my work I get to travel all over the world. It’s one of the many perks — alongside kissing Alicia Vikander,” he said to laughter from the audience.
“I get to meet many different people, many different cultures but I always feel very proud and very lucky to say ‘I come from Kerry, I come from the Kingdom, I come from Killarney, I come from Fossa.”
Fassbender said always wore where he came from as a badge of honour.
“The support for me here in Killarney and Fossa and Kerry takes my breath away,” he said.
He felt like he had the whole county behind him when he took on a new venture.
It was a great honour for him to receive the order of Inisfallen — named after the monastic island where Brian Ború studied — which called to mind “the deep and ancient history of Ireland and of Killarney”.
And it was an island synonymous with healing, and education as well as one of spiritual significance, and he felt “very humbled” to be associated with that, he said.
Introduced as “the greatest ever and most handsome ugly sister” by master of ceremonies Michael Rosney, it was recalled that Fassbender’s first dramatic role, cast by his drama teacher, Donie Courtney, was as one of the aesthetically challenged sisters in Cinderella.
Josef Fassbender, a chef, arrived to work at the Liebherr-owned Hotel Europe but established his own restaurant at the West End, and for 20 years the family ran what developed into one of the town’s top places to eat.
Killarney mayor Brendan Cronin drew laughter when he said he too had attended ‘The Sem’, as the secondary school is known, and added: “There are similarities!”
On a serious note, Mr Cronin said of Fassbender: “He has never shied from his roots in Killarney you have always retained your links to Kilalrney. Welcome home!”
It was also recalled how Fassbender had served as an altar boy at Fossa Church.
His sister Catherine is a leading neuropsychologist based in California and his parents live in Killarney.
He was presented with a scroll and a special lapel pin at the ceremony jointly organised by the Killarney Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, the Killarney municipal council, and the Trustees of Muckross House.
Past recipients of the award include Isolde Liebherr, of Liebherr Ireland, Killarney’s biggest employer, and she was present at the ceremony last night.