Fred Astaire’s Cork Connections

By Martin Gleeson

Fred and Adele

The American singer and actor Fred Astaire is widely regarded as the most influential dancer in the history of films. Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1899, Fred’s parents and his sister Adele moved to New York in 1905. Both Fred and Adele trained as dancers. Soon they broke into the vaudeville circuit as a “brother and sister” dancing act. The Astaires made their debut on Broadway in 1917 and this was followed by huge successes in many shows.

Lismore Castle

In 1932 Adele married Lord Charles Cavendish and ended her 27-year dancing career with Fred. The couple moved to the Cavendish estate of Lismore Castle in Co. Waterford. Fred was a regular visitor to the castle and the village, too. A memorial plaque on the wall of Madden’s Summerhouse Café honours Fred’s many visits there. Lord Cavendish died in 1944 and Adele moved back to the United States. However, she kept up her ties with Ireland and spent her summers in Lismore Castle until the end of her life. When she died in 1981 some of her ashes were scattered near the castle.

Fred and Ginger Rogers

Fred’s first film with Ginger Rogers was ‘Flying Down to Rio’ in 1933. The made nine films together. Fred danced in 30 musical films in 25 years. His last major musical film was ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ in 1968.

Finian’s Rainbow

Although this film was shot in a number of locations in California, Fred adopted a reasonably good Irish accent to play Finian McLonergan, a feisty Irishman who goes to America with a pot of gold stolen from the leprechauns. Irish people will still remember Petula Clarke singing ‘How are things in Glocca Morra?’ in the film.

The Purple Taxi

Playing a small-town Irish doctor, Fred acted in the 1977 French-Irish-Italian film ‘The Purple Taxi’. It was shot at the Ardmore Studios and on locations in Kerry, West Cork and Cork Airport. During filming in Eyrie’s, on the Beara peninsula in Co. Cork, Fred spent much of the time between takes in Bella Connell’s pub and seemed very much at home with the locals.

Fred’s Daughter Ava

In 1933 Fred married Phyllis Potter and they were happy together until Phyllis’ death from lung cancer in 1954. They had two children, a son Fred Jr and a daughter Ava. Ava married an artist, Richard McKenzie who came from Santa Cruz in California. He was a renowned painter and gallery owner. Ava and Richard married in 1970 and five years later they moved to Castlepoint, near Schull in West Cork. There they raised two children and were often visited by Fred who loved West Cork. In 2011 they sold their cottage and moved to Palm Springs, Florida to be nearer their kids and grandchildren. While in Cork, Ava had written a book about cooking and entertaining called At Home in Ireland.

The Late Late Show

In 1977 Fred and his daughter were interviewed by Gay Byrne on ‘The Late Late Show’. When asked about his love of Ireland, he replied: “I’ve always thought that Ireland was the most unbelievably beautiful country.”

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