Irish Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne says Ireland's friendly image in America has been blown away by the church sex scandal.

The actor told Irish radio that Americans were deeply shocked by the depth and nature of the abuse. "The day the Ryan report (about church pedophiles ) was published, I was in a cafe reading the paper. It was on the front page of The New York Times.

"That means that everybody who read the New York Times was confronted for the first time, more or less, with that information. They were shocked," said Byrne.

"A lot of people who live in America, and it's not their fault, have a stereotypical view of Ireland. You get a movie like 'The Quiet Man' and people arrive at Shannon airport and expect to be met by Barry FitzGerald.

"Like everybody else, I felt words that now seem inadequate to describe the horror of it. I felt this tremendous pain and hurt for my own country. A man in the cafe with me said to me: 'I didn't know they had concentration camps in Ireland.'

"I felt I am a product of that culture and that country. The man questioned me as to how I could live in a place like that.

"He said the Taliban are a horrific group of people and it sounded like I was raised like that. I said to him that it wasn't really like that. I said I knew it looked really bad here, but it's a very complex picture."