Belfast Telegraph

Robert De Niro 'really does have Irish roots' and he's determined to find them

Heritage hopes: Robert De Niro
Heritage hopes: Robert De Niro
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

His name is as quintessentially Italian as spaghetti or cannelloni, but movie megastar Robert De Niro has revealed he is trying to trace his Irish heritage.

The 76-year-old Oscar winner, who has been promoting his new film The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese, has insisted that he is an actual Irishman himself.

And he wants to find his long-lost relatives on this side of the Atlantic.

The star of legendary movies like The Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas told reporters that he hitch-hiked around Ireland for two weeks in his teens.

He thumbed his way from Dublin to Galway in 1962 and took the ferry to the Aran Islands before travelling further south on the mainland.

De Niro said: “People gave me blankets for sleeping outside and I had breakfast with them in the morning. They were very friendly.”

In 1986, during a break in filming of the movie The Mission in England, his co-star and friend Liam Neeson took De Niro to his beloved Glens of Antrim where they were seen drinking together in pubs in the area.

For years afterwards there were sometimes fanciful stories that De Niro was looking for a holiday home near Cushendall — a rumour that the BBC’s One Show repeated two years ago on a road trip to Northern Ireland.

But the acting legend has said that his latest quest to dig up his Irish roots is genuine.

He told entertainment journalists that his mother was Dutch, French and German and that his father was Irish and Italian, hence the De Niro name.

He also said he thought that three of his four grandparents were descended from Irish emigrants.

“I’ve been trying for years to find relatives there,” he said.

“For some reason, it’s not easy. Italy was easier.”

Shortly after De Niro’s interviews appeared in newspapers in America, a couple of Irish genealogy experts, Kate and Mike Lancor from New Hampshire, said they had unearthed answers for him after using De Niro’s father Robert senior as a starting point.

The actor’s grandfather was half Irish from his mother Helen O’Reilly’s side of the family, and the Lancors were able to trace her ancestors to Co Tipperary.

The O’Reillys emigrated to America during the famine in 1840 and the actor’s grandmother married his grandfather Henry De Niro when she was 21.

The Irishman is to be premiered in New York next week and will be streamed on Netflix from late November.

It is about mob enforcer Frank Sheeran, who made a death bed confession that he played a part in the deaths of US President John F Kennedy and labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who is played in the movie by De Niro’s friend Al Pacino.

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