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Martin Sheen poses next to a statue of legendary Irish writer James Joyce in Dublin Photo by: Niall Carson/PA

Martin Sheen's 'in love' with all things Irish

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Martin Sheen poses next to a statue of legendary Irish writer James Joyce in Dublin Photo by: Niall Carson/PA

He was, we’d have to assume, one of the oldest undergrads at University College Galway when he studied English and philosophy there for a semester beginning in September of 2006, but actor Martin Sheen still has fond memories of his time in the Irish college.

“As a scholar I did not succeed, but I came away with a lot of interesting experiences,” the 68-year-old told Pat Kenny on Ireland’s "Late Late Show" last Friday night. “I’m in love with all things Irish.”

That’s for sure! Sheen’s mother emigrated from Tipperary to the U.S. in 1921 and Sheen is the proud holder of an Irish passport. He’s traveled to Ireland on numerous occasions in the past; last week he was in Dublin in his role as a special envoy for the human rights group Frontline to present an award to an activist working in Guatemala.

In addition to playing a president on the late TV drama "The West Wing," Sheen is a well-known activist himself who’s been arrested close to 70 times. At the award ceremony he wasn’t shy about sharing his feelings on a number of topics, including the Middle East conflict.

"That is a very critical area where we need to encourage truth to speak to power, because unfortunately any criticism of Israeli policy is considered anti-Semitic, which is foolish -- it's not the case at all," said Sheen.

"On the contrary, I believe in the old Hebrew adage: choose your enemy well for he is what you will become. I think that the Israelis have to face up to the fact that they are not serving their own people well by serving the Palestinians so poorly."

Sheen, as usual, was quite entertaining on the "Late Late Show." It’s a fact that Martin Sheen isn’t his given name – he was born Ramon Estevez, as his father was a native of Spain – but did you know that he never legally changed his name to Martin Sheen, and that all of his legal documents such as his passport still say Ramon Estevez?  

He told Kenny that when he was starting out in the acting world in the 1950s his name was too Hispanic sounding and would hamper his ability to break in to the big time. The surname Sheen came from an archbishop, and as it sounded Irish he decided to use it.

“I still regret having changed my name,” he told Kenny, adding that his father would likely be hugely disappointed.

But surely, Mr. Estevez would be proud of his famous son’s many achievements, and he’s not done working yet. He plans on returning to Ireland this summer to film a project called "Stella Days," about the man who brought cinemas to Ireland in the 1950s. 

"It a story about a guy who was a canon in my mother's home village of Borrisokane, who established the first cinema in the town. He was an extraordinary man, He loved cinema, so this is his story and they want me to play him, so I'm delighted and there's talk of getting it done this summer,” he said.

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