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Remembering Albert Finney... and Madonna hanging up on Shaun

It was the summer of 1991, or as I remember It, the most memorable summer in North Cavan, in part thanks to a Mr. Albert Finney. North Cavan, Butlersbridge to be specific is the quiet, little part of Ireland which I come from. That summer I was getting ready to come to NYC for the winter, but it was also the summer that word started to spread a major film was being filmed about eight miles from our sleepy little area.

As the Derragarra, the bar my father (who you all know as Papa John) had when I was growing up, was well known, it became the place for the film people, location scouts, prop guys, the drivers and the crew and even the author of the cane to hang out. Even the author of the movie, called The Playboys, who was a local man called Shane Connaughton, came to call The Derragarra home during that summer.

We had a private room at the bar. Overlooking the river, that room became very popular with the movie people.

One evening I remember, we got a call from security asking a million questions about access. Turned out that one of the stars in the movie Robin Wright was dating Sean Penn. They stopped by after security cleared us. That was the first of many that Sean spent at the bar — drinking pints of milk! He loved to talk about Brendan Behan, as he was researching a possible movie role. His parents and his brother Chris also came in. I enjoyed Sean and he was nothing like he was portrayed in the media. I also had the pleasure of taking a call from his ex, Madonna who quizzed me on his whereabouts. I guess it was the first time I ever used the “what happens here stays here” line. She hung up on me!!!

But Sean may have been the biggest Hollywood star on set, but it was the Irish guys who made the biggest impressions.

There were two stars who didn’t want to be in the private room. One was Aidan Quinn and the other was Albert Finney.

They both liked to pony up to the bar and have a few pints with the local folks. The Slieve Russell where the stars were staying sits about two miles outside Ballyconnell. Albert liked to walk into town and have a few pints with the locals as opposed to drinking at the hotel. He became one of the lads.

I loved to hear him tell stories. And I never knew where his stories would end up. Once he ended up asking me to get him a helicopter to take him to see one of his horses race. That was no small feat in Ireland in the early 90s. I got him the helicopter but the races were canceled so he never got to go.

When the movie was wrapping up Albert asked to be remembered at the Derragarra. He wanted his own parking spot. Dad obliged and to this day, Mr. Finney’s parking spot is still there, marked by a sign.

I was saddened to hear of his passing this week. RIP Mr Finney. It was an honor to meet you and thank you for a summer of unforgettable stories.

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