‘We’re friends now I suppose’: Chance encounter to put Limerick man in spotlight after chats with Conan O’Brien

US television and podcast host Conan O’Brien with Jim Fitzgerald, in Galbally, Co Limerick. Photo: Galbally Community/Facebook.

IT WAS a normal day in the Limerick village of Galbally last Wednesday (January 10) before a Hollywood blow-in blew his way through town.

Galbally native Jim Fitzgerald was in the village picking up some shopping when a chance encounter with at US TV superstar catapulted him, and the village in south east Limerick, onto the  international stage.

“The whole thing was purely accidental,” Mr Fitzgerald,  a local historian in the east Limerick village, told the Limerick Post.

“I didn’t know he was coming and nobody else did either. I was getting my messages at Cummins’ and I saw this black bus pulling in, so I watched it for a few minutes thinking ‘what the hell is this?’,” Jim explained.

“People just started to pour out of it. There was cameras, there was booms, all the stuff you use for filming. And this big tall man got out and he walked down the street and I said ‘that’s Conan O’Brien’,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

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Conan was paying a visit to Galbally in an attempt to trace his Irish family heritage for a TV show that will be broadcast to US audiences.

The veteran TV host’s Irish connections root him to the townland of Lissard, along the border between Limerick and Tipperary, where his great-grandfather Thomas O’Brien lived before emigrating to the United States in the 1870s.

“I went over to my car, I didn’t know what was going on, so I just watched for a few minutes,” Jim said.

“I do the Galbally Community Facebook page and I’m always looking for things to put on it, so I said I can’t leave here without getting a photograph, so I went out with my phone and I went over to him and asked “is there any chance at all I could get a photograph of you?.”

After taking the now viral selfie, Jim and Conan got talking about the history of Galbally village and Mr O’Brien’s ties to the area.

The unlikely pair’s impromptu chat was then filmed for the TV show that will document Conan’s search for his Irish ancestors.

Jim said that Conan was a very personable man, with the two chatting and joking throughout their conversation. The duo spent a good bit of time around the village before Conan paid a social visit to Fraser’s, a local pub in the village.

“We seemed to gel, he kept calling me his friend, but sure I’m not his friend, but we’re friends now I suppose,” Jim laughed.

“I did know him pretty well from looking at him on TV, so I knew what he was capable of and I knew he was going to make a bit of craic out of something. He’s a comedian first and foremost, you know,” he said.

Despite Jim’s newfound fame, he says he just wants the village of Galbally to get the spotlight.

“It’s Galbally I’m concerned about because first and foremost, I’m a Galbally person and I like to see Galbally getting a bit of promotion, because it’s not me at all, I was only the conduit. I’d like to see Galbally getting the vote,” Jim proudly stated.

On his Limerick jaunt, Conan visited the site of his great-grandfather’s former home, now a green area outside Galbally village.

Looking over the same mountain view that Thomas O’Brien would have taken in before him, he said in an online post that he had “found my piece of the Auld Sod” and that it was “cool to be back”.