I am sitting here on the edge of a continent overlooking the blue of the Pacific on a lovely sunny Malibu day.
I am often asked what I miss most about Ireland, and on a Californian day like this it’s certainly not the weather. In memory it feels as if it rained throughout my entire childhood, although I imagine that’s not entirely true.
Now when it rains in Malibu, I call it a “Derry day” and it feels as if an old friend has come to visit.
So here I am enjoying the ocean sounds that are like a constant massage of my brain and spirit.
I have always done my best thinking by the seaside. And I have fond memories of damp summer morning walks with my dad.
We’d book into a small hotel in Moville for a fortnight in August and take a walk along the strand every morning and again at the end of the day. I’d link onto his arm and feel the rough tweed of his jacket sleeve. Sometimes we’d talk and share stories and sometimes we’d just walk, easy in the silence between us.
My mother died when I was only ten and so my dad became the whole world to me. Unfortunately, he too passed away while I was in college. I mention it, not to become melancholy on this beautiful Malibu morning but because I know that I would not have immigrated with such ease if my parents were still alive.
But with both of them gone and the little house on Beechwood Avenue sold, I jumped at the chance to start a whole new life. I loved the adventure of it and I had big dreams.
With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I set sail in search of the American dream, and I found it.
I arrived in New York with very little money in my pocket, a dream in my heart and no fear of hard work. I went from coat check girl to Broadway star to TV Angel [Downey starred on the CBS hit Touched by an Angel from 1994-2003]. Of course, there was rejection and heartache along the way but the fun times and the rewards have been greater. I loved America; the freedom I found here and the encouragement to aim high and reach for the stars.
These days I find myself working a bit less and enjoying more time with my husband and raising our family.
I have a beautiful 12-year-old daughter Reilly (named after my late mother, Maureen O’Reilly), and marriage to my husband Mark Burnett has also brought two lovely boys into my life, Cameron who is 11 and James who is 15.
I have two magnificent Irish wolfhounds, Finn McCool and Maximus. Most mornings, after I take the kids to school, you will find me with the hounds walking the beach and enjoying the ocean.
Like everyone else, I am closely following the U.S. election and I am particularly interested this time around as I will finally have a vote. Within the last four years I have become an American citizen. (I hasten to add I remain an Irish citizen as well.)
During this citizen process I had to go to downtown Los Angeles to be interviewed. I had studied the questions on American history that I expected to be asked, and had all my paperwork in order, including the form to legally change my name.
As a baby in Ireland, I had been christened Rose Mary. My mother wanted to call me “Roma” after my grandmothers: Rose (Downey) and Mary (O’Reilly). She took me down to St. Eugene’s, my local parish, to be baptized. “What is the child to be named?” the elderly priest asked. “Roma,” my mother answered, beaming proudly.
Alas, it was not to be. The priest was horrified and refused on the basis that “There’s no saint by that name.” They christened me Rose Mary but they always called me Roma.
And so, after years of having no connection to the name on my passport, I decided that since I was about to become an American citizen, this would be a good time to officially change it.
A man came out into the crowded room and with his nose buried in his forms he called, “Rose Downey.” I stood up and followed him to a small office. Clearly, he appeared unhappy in his work and devoid of humor. He barely looked at me as he spoke: “So, it says here you want to change your name,” he mumbled. I nodded my head yes. “Change it to Roma Downey,” he said. Again I nodded, yes. He looked off into the distance as if trying to remember some long-forgotten thing and then staring straight at me he asked, “Isn’t there an actress called Roma Downey?”
“Yes,” I said, “there is.”
He took off his glasses, looked me right in the eye and said, in an almost challenging way, “So, are you a big fan of hers or something?” I laughed out loud and replied, “Yes, I suppose you could say that. I am her.”
His face turned 40 shades of red. “I am so sorry,” he said, his business demeanor now completely thrown as he hurried ahead. “Let’s move on to your questions. Um. Ahh. Um who is the current president of the United States?” I had expected to speak of Congress and the Senate, to name states and reveal how well studied I was, but after answering that George W. Bush was the President, there was no further conversation. He stamped my papers. Who says celebrity does not have its rewards?Roma Downey is a citizen of the U.S.A., and a registered Democrat.