Irish Examiner View: We’re stars at it already, ask Matt Damon

THERE has been a lot of talk about the difficulties that we Irish, as a nation of huggers, talkers and nosey parkers, are having with social distancing. Yet, in one respect, we have practised it for generations. Ireland has seen its fair share of famous people and celebrities come and go here. Some have bought castles, built homes or stayed for a long time, mostly because they are left alone unle
Irish Examiner View: We’re stars at it already, ask Matt Damon

Photo: Justin Farrelly.
Photo: Justin Farrelly.

THERE has been a lot of talk about the difficulties that we Irish, as a nation of huggers, talkers and nosey parkers, are having with social distancing. Yet, in one respect, we have practised it for generations. Ireland has seen its fair share of famous people and celebrities come and go here. Some have bought castles, built homes or stayed for a long time, mostly because they are left alone unless they choose not to be.

Little wonder that Hollywood actor Matt Damon is having the time of his life in Dalkey, Co Dublin where he and his family are happily marooned through the Covid-19 crisis. Damon, who has been in Dalkey for the past two months, has said life in quarantine in Ireland is "like a fairytale". In a rare radio interview scooped by Dublin station Spin 1038, he said he "laughed so hard" when he heard of the attempts by locals to deflect press queries about him.

His interviewer confessed trying to infiltrate a Dalkey Facebook group to get some gossip on the movie star but was spotted and barred. "That is when I realised how great this place was and how protective everyone here is,” said Damon, who rang the station himself to arrange the interview.

We have a long history of welcoming famous people by respecting their personal space, keeping a polite distance and treating them as normal human beings who need privacy. From Jane Ayre author Charlotte Brontë who spent her honeymoon here in 1854 to uber celebs like Posh and Becks who were married here in 1999, to royalty like Britain's Queen Elizabeth who, on a visit in 2011, shared a hearty laugh in Cork's English Market with fishmonger Pat O'Connell as locals cheered while keeping a respectful distance.

Hollywood stars, in particular, welcome the mixture of homespun friendliness and polite social distancing. In the 1970s, actress Angela Lansbury wanted to get herself and her family away from the drug scene in Los Angeles. While driving around County Cork, she saw a house for sale in the village of Conna, and bought it almost immediately. The 94-year-old actress, famous for her role in Murder She Wrote, still spends most of her time in East Cork and is now an Irish citizen. She is quoted as saying: “I’m left alone there. On the street people say, ‘hi how are you,’ and I say ‘I’m grand, how are you?’ It’s a very easy going place to be.”

Being a movie star can be a crushing experience in many places, but not here. Matt Damon can go to his local Supervalu without being accosted; Sarah Jessica Parker can gorge on 99s while holidaying in Donegal without the paparazzi annoying her and Jeremy Irons can walk his dog in the grounds of his castle in West Cork without fear of an invasion by fans.

Locals will take their cue from the visitor, allowing him or her to decide whether to engage or not. Mark Hamill, best known as Luke Skywalker, enjoyed pints and bags of Taytos in Portmagee, Co Kerry while filming Star Wars, comfortable in the company of locals who were friendly but not intrusive.

This is social distancing by way of politeness, respect and empathy. Perhaps we should try to channel those motives in our current predicament rather than practise  social distancing as a kind of penance dictated by fear and trepidation.

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