Following his sexual abuse case of 2005, the King of Pop Michael Jackson retreated to his hide-out in Co Westmeath where he lived with an Irish family and was sheltered by locals.
A 2013 RTÉ radio documentary "Michael Jackson's Irish Driver" revealed how the village of Moate in Co Westmeath helped to hide the world-famous pop superstar for six months following a court case that garnered international press.
In 2005, Jackson was found not guilty of molesting a minor after charges were brought about in 2003. (Earlier, in 1994, Jackson settled out of court with another accuser for $25 million. In this instance, criminal charges were not brought against Jackson.)
In 2006, Jackson and his family left the US and headed for the Midlands in Ireland. There, the Jacksons were put up by Grouse Lodge owner Paddy Dunning and had a personal chauffeur, Dubliner Ray O’Hara.
“I was told two days beforehand and thought ‘no way’, there’s no one more famous, I couldn’t take it in," O'Hara said in the 2013 documentary "Michael Jackson's Irish Driver."
“When it came to the first day you wouldn’t believe how nervous I was. I was shaking.
Keeping Michael Jackson a secret in the Midlands
No matter where the King of Pop went in the Irish village, his whereabouts were kept secret by the townspeople. And even when it was finally revealed that he was in Moate, locals purposely gave reporters wrong directions to keep him safe.
Said Paul Lawless, owner of Egan’s pub: “What we did was we had a pre-opening and Ray pulled up with the van and he came straight in.
“I showed him what we had and he had a glass of wine.
“I never asked for an autograph. My thing is they’re the same as you. People don’t hound you or don’t go after the artist. They give them their own space, it’s unusual.”
Michael Jackson living with a Westmeath family
Although Jackson arrived after the child molestation charges, Paddy Dunning said he had no problem with him staying with his family.
“He came down on a bus with his family, the kids, and a nanny.
“His kids were playing with my kids within hours. It was all happy families.
“He had received death threats but I think he found solace and comfort, he was living with an ordinary family.
“The whole pedophile thing but I don’t think he was one of those predators.
“I wouldn’t let him down to my house if I had any inclination that was the case.
“When I met him I got the impression this guy has been made into a monster – that’s my opinion.”
Jackson also went to a kids’ center called Jumping Jacks in Tullamore, Co Offaly. The locals there didn’t believe it was really the pop star.
“I was a bit surprised to think he would come here to pay, delighted to have him, of course," said owner Brenda Carroll.
“The first night they came, it closed so they had it to themselves but when they came bowling others were there.
“They let him bowl him away and no one looked at him, they left him be.”
The shoes Jackson played in have pride of place in the center.
Carroll said: “Straight away we brought them into the office, we put them into the glass case. They’ve been there ever since.”
Michael Jackson died a few years later on June 25, 2009. In February 2010, Jackson's personal physician Conrad Murray was charged with involuntary manslaughter. In November 2011, Murray was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum four years in prison, but was released in October 2013 due to overcrowding and good behavior.
You can listen to the RTÉ Radio One's "Michael Jackson's Irish Driver" documentary from 2013 here.
* Originally published in 2013.