Batman star Michael Keaton became the unlikely adoptive father of a young boy from Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles, the Daily Mail reports. James Dawson was ten years old when he first spent six weeks of his summer in the American actor’s New York home as part of the charity scheme Project Children. The charity, which first began in 1975, paired host families in the US with children in Northern Ireland, offering them a summer in America safe from the violence of the Troubles. Taking in Dawson during the summer of 1990, Keaton was to welcome the young boy back for a further six consecutive years as a father-son relationship developed between the pair.

Dawson, now aged 36, has recently revealed the extent of time he spent at the former caped crusader’s home, stating that his acting hero introduced him to a touch of Hollywood glamor during his stays there. Referring to him as his “American Dad”, Dawson tells how he was initially supposed to spend just six weeks with Keaton and his ex-wife Caroline McWilliams when the actor was at the height of his Batman fame, but this evolved into a seven-year friendship, during which time he met the likes of Danny DeVito and Courtney Cox, whom Keaton spent some time dating during the ‘90s.

"I was a youngster from a housing estate in west Belfast. Paramilitaries, conflict, and terror were normal. Private planes, luxury mansions, hanging out with Batman and superstars on film sets was not,” said Dawson, who now works as a firefighter controller in Lurgan.

"While the glamor was great, what mattered was that from day one I felt loved.

"Michael referred to himself as my American dad. He was a father figure to me. It is hard to explain how that strength transforms a 10-year-old child. Their kindness and openness stunned me."

During his time with Keaton and his family, Dawson became very close with their son Seán who was seven years old when he first began to visit. The pair remained close and Seán acted as Dawson’s best man when he married. Keaton also attended the wedding.

"He sat quietly at the back of the church, forever the gentleman," Dawson added.

Dawson claims he also remained close with the family during the death of McWilliams in 2010, which he says left him devastated.
Keaton, who generally aims to keep his private life under wraps and whose mother is of Irish descent, has kept his work with Project Children quiet. Irish actor Liam Neeson is also a supporter of the charity and narrated the film “How to Defuse A Bomb: The Project Children Story” which premiered in the US in November. The documentary tells the remarkable story of New York policemen and brothers, Patrick and Denis Mulcahy from Co. Cork, and how they paired 23,000 Northern Irish children with 16,000 host families over 40 years. The brothers looked to bring both Protestant and Catholic children out of harm's  way for their six-week summer holiday, providing travel and accommodation expenses, and starting out with just six children.

"Everything made more sense; being a Protestant or Catholic became irrelevant," Dawson said of his own time with Project Children.

"It was not just an individual act of kindness. They made me part of their family. I was a kid who felt hanging out with my favorite stars was normal - Danny DeVito, Andy Garcia, Geena Davis. Michael started dating Courteney Cox and I loved spending time with her.

"My life and perspective changed. When I first arrived I'd never once seen a different color or race of people in real life."

H/T: Belfast Telegraph

Batman actor Michael Keaton. Gage Skidmore / WikiCommons