Gregory Peck, the Hollywood legend, will long be remembered for his Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and his roles in such classics as The Yearling, Gentleman’s Agreement and Roman Holiday. Here he recalls a visit to his relatives in County Kerry.
I love Wicklow, but I suppose if we ever rented or bought a cottage it would be in County Kerry. I went to visit my second cousin, Kitty Curran, who is still in East Minard, about 10 years ago. A modest house, and we sat around having a cup of tea, and she asked, “Would you be after saying hello to Himself?” I didn’t know who Himself might be, so I said, “Yes.” Upstairs we went, and Himself was lying out on the bed dressed in woolen trousers, flannel shirt, and a cardigan, wearing carpet slippers with a cap over his eyes, fast asleep. Kitty shook him by the shoulder and said, “Da, Gregory Peck’s here to see you.”
Himself, it turned out, was a first cousin and childhood playmate of my father’s. He opened his eyes and said, “The hell he is.” He was confused because my father had the same name as I do. They told him I was in the films, I was in Hollywood, but he couldn’t quite grasp that. But he came to, toddled down the stars, and they broke out a jug of poitín and we all had a nip.
Later, Kitty walked me down the lane and said, “These are the foundations of the farmhouse where your grandmother lived and your father lived as a boy.” It looked down the grassy, green slopes toward Dingle Bay. It was magical.
Did your father ever talk about his time in Ireland?
He did. He always had a bit of a brogue, and he loved to tell stories. He used to talk about being a boy in Ireland and say that there was no entertainment other than telling stories or singing a song, or once in a while going by horsecart to Dingle.
Your cousin Thomas Ashe took part in the Rising and died from force-feeding while on hunger strike.
He was a patriot. Multi-talented too. He wrote poetry, he was a bagpiper, he was a teacher. Once, years ago, we hired one of the carriages by the Plaza Hotel to ride around Central Park on my wife’s first visit to this county. The carriage driver said, “Mr. Peck, I’ve heard that you’ve got a bit of the Irish.” I said, “Yes, I have an Irish grandmother, and my father lived there as a boy.” He said, “That was County Kerry, wasn’t it?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, the portrait of one of your cousins, Thomas Ashe, is hanging in a place of honor in a bar in Queens.” I went out there, and sure enough, in this obscure bar in Queens, there is, not a very good painting, but it has in bold letters, “Thomas Ashe the Patriot.” – September / October 1997 ♦