The Avondhu - By The Fireside
“We try to spend almost every Christmas at Castlehyde” the world-renowned Riverdance star, Michael Flatley, told
Speaking from his home in Monaco, Mr Flatley had just returned after a series of sold-out shows in Paris where he received an award for the 25th anniversary of Lord of the Dance and was preparing to travel to Brussels to kick off yat another show.
Mr Flatley’s mother hails from Carlow, his father came from Sligo, both of whom emigrated to the USA where they went on to marry and raise their family.
With no known familial Fermoy connection, Mr Flatley explained how the historic Castlehyde came to be his home.
“I was house hunting in West Cork and I was in a helicopter flying down towards West Cork when I flew over this beautiful part of the world, The Blackwater River Valley and the Golden Vale.
“The pilot of the helicopter pointed out the roof of this fabulous old structure and I queried it and he explained that it was Castlehyde, it was the ancestral home of the first President of Ireland. He then circled the helicopter around across the river so I could have a look at it, and I fell in love with it at first sight.
“That’s kind of how it all started. I bought the house, I never made it to West Cork, and I’ve been happy ever since. Fermoy is such a warm, welcoming town. I think what makes Fermoy special is the people. Every time we go into town, people are so friendly and welcoming and they make us feel at home. What more could we want? It’s a very special place,” he said.
CASTLEHYDE - ‘AN ENORMOUS
On the banks of the Blackwater, Castlehyde House is the ancestral home of the first president of Ireland, Dr Douglas Hyde and dates back to the 1700s.
When purchased by Mr Flatley, the Georgian-style house with Palladian accents was in dire need of restoration and repair, a passion project that Mr Flatley dived head first into after purchasing the property in 1999.
“Of course, putting the house back was an enormous project and I’m proud to say we employed, almost exclusively, Irish tradesmen and local Irish tradesmen in many cases, to do the work. It was an enormous undertaking.
“We had to cocoon the whole house for two or three years. We had to remove the roof and take out all of the old dry dead timbers that had dry rot. The entire basement had to be dug out by hand because it had been flooding for many, many years. It needed to be waterproofed and hot-tanked. We had an enormous job on our hands but it’s done now, thank God, and it’ll certainly outlive me. I love the house, I love the area. It’s always been close to my heart,” Mr Flatley added.
Outside of the physical building, Mr Flatley claims that it was the ‘idyllic’ location that truly captured his family’s hearts, including the woodlands and riverside location.
At the time of purchase, the grounds surrounding Castlehyde House were also in need of some major works, another project that Mr Flatley turned his focus to.
“I had maybe ten tree surgeons there for the first few years just to clear back all the excess, dead timber and laurel to let the sun get in at the healthy trees that were there. We had to bring back the bird population and many other things. We stock the place with pheasant every year to try to get it back up to where it was originally.
“The position of the house, the way it’s facing the sun on the river, it’s idyllic. When I’m in residence, I try to get into the river every day, even for a few minutes. I find it’s such a refreshing and peaceful thing to do every day. It’s very good for your health,” Mr Flatley said.
ON THE BIG SCREEN
This year, Mr Flatley showed a different side of himself to the world, momentarily putting aside the dancing shows to ‘step’ into a new role in the film industry.
In September, his directorial debut film ‘Blackbird’ came to Irish cinemas, some 4 years after its premiere following a number of unprecedented delays due to Covid-19.
Within the film, Fermoy takes centre stage, a conscious decision Mr Flatley made in an effort to showcase the beauty of his home.
“I wanted to show Ireland at its very best and Castlehyde features prominently in the opening of the film, some beautiful footage along the River Blackwater there which I think is important for the world to see. I’m very proud of that and in fact, I’ve had many comments from people all over the world to say how much they loved that and that they can’t wait to visit Ireland having seen that film.
“Sadly, we got hit in the middle with Covid and everything came to a screeching halt so it’s only this year that we got to release it but better late than never. I think it was really good, we were very blessed, our premiere was in Dublin and there was a great mix of the average person, ticket winners from radio stations and also people in the film industry and we got a two-minute standing ovation for the film. I’m awfully proud of that.
“A lot of people in that film were people that I gave that opportunity to, that it was their first opportunity to be in a major motion picture and they all held their own and they all did a great job. In fact, one man flew over for the premier and he told me that he got five other projects off the back of Blackbird. That makes me very happy because that was my intention from the very beginning, to help others,” he said.
When asked whether the public can expect to see the Lord of the Dance star in more films in the future, Mr Flatley said ‘nothing’s impossible’.
“I have several other offers now on the table and there are some scripts being worked on. Never say never. Right now I’m incredibly busy. I’ve got six projects on the go simultaneously.
“I would love to do another film if I can find the time. I think it’s important to keep going and keep pushing the envelope. The big thing I want is to encourage all people of any age, from anywhere, not to second guess themselves or worry about what other people think. Just get up and go for it, just do it. If you keep doing things, I think you’re bound to hit success at some point. We never regret the things we do in life, I think what we regret is the things we never did, we never tried. That’s why I encourage everybody to just go for it,” Mr Flatley said.
‘THANK YOU, FERMOY’
When speaking to The Avondhu in mid-November, Mr Flatley was facing into a hectic schedule ahead of the Christmas period, with a number of commitments lined up in Monaco and around Europe, however, noted that he hopes to return to Fermoy and Castlehyde to spend Christmas with friends and family.
“My wife and I love to do the house up with all the Christmas decorations. We’ll have some friends and family over to spend the holiday. I love Christmas, I’m like a little child that way, I’ve just always loved it. We always try to get into town for Christmas Mass, wherever it’s possible. It’s a wonderful experience. It’s become a tradition now, for the last 20-something years that we do that.
“We love Fermoy. Thank you, Fermoy. What a beautiful home it has been since 1999 and it will continue to be sweet Castlehyde as one of a kind in the world. We’re in love with that old place and proud to be part of the local community,” Mr Flatley said.
Looking to the new year, Mr Flatley pointed to a number of projects he said he hopes to announce early to mid 2023.
“There are several other projects to be announced early next year and mid-next year that I’m working on. They’ll hopefully all come to fruition soon, but it’s all related to the spread of Irish culture and art and really just being proud to be Irish and showing that to the whole world. That’s my job as an artist, to bring Irish art and culture to the world and share it at the highest level,” he concluded.