THE ability to vanish completely in Donegal has long made it a bolt-hole for celebrities.
Hollywood power couple Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick have a holiday home tucked away near Ardara while Big Bang Theory star Christine Barinski recently purchased a property in the hills around Lettermacaward.
One thing Donegal has never been short on is famous faces.
Another of those who decided to trade the 25 hour-a-day hustle of his native New York for a home on the edge of nowhere is Richard Noble.
To the general public the name might not immediately ring a bell but to some of the biggest stars ever to grace a cinema screen, it is very recognisable.
Clint Eastwood, Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, Saoirse Ronan, Bob Dylan, Robert Wagner – just some of those who have stood in front of Richard Noble’s lens.
These days the New Yorker’s pace of life is somewhat more pedestrian and his last few months have been spent in his country house between Letterkenny and Ramelton preparing for a new exhibition set to go on display at the Regional Cultural Centre tomorrow evening.
Richard’s relationship with Donegal began in the 1960s when he became friendly with Henry McIlhenny, American philanthropist and the last private owner of Glenveagh Castle.
The pair became firm allies, to the point where Henry invited his photographer pal to visit Donegal.
In 1970 Richard, a naive 26-year-old snapper from the Big Apple, flew into Dublin just as the North was erupting into all out war.
“I flew over and was picked up at Dublin Airport by Henry’s driver. Having just come in from New York, I was exhausted and I slept through the border all the way to Donegal. When I awoke, I was in this beautiful, quiet place in the countryside,” says Richard.
It was on that first visit that he was introduced to the house that he has lived in on a permanent basis since 1998. On seeing it, he immediately agreed to buy it.
“I saw it, I loved it and I said I would buy it and that was it,” the photographer reveals.
“I stayed in Donegal for a few days and it so happened that Henry and I were going to London on separate jobs. So we got to Derry and we drove into this checkpoint with British soldiers everywhere and all these bombed out buildings. I knew nothing of The Troubles and I honestly thought they were making a movie. So I asked, ‘Henry, what they are shooting?’ He replied, ‘They’re shooting each other’. That was my first taste of Northern Ireland and all I could think was that I’d just bought a home in a war zone.”
Richard Noble’s career began in New York in the 1960s when he set himself up as a freelance photographer, picking up work wherever he could find it.
The quality of his images brought him on the radar of some of New York’s biggest studios to the point where he was commissioned to photograph the biggest box office names in the business.
It was during the filming in 1982 of the depression-era drama Honkytonk Man that he got to spend time with Clint Eastwood and his son Kyle.
A few years later it was Liz Taylor who sought out his services. Famous for her humanitarian commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS, the legendary icon was putting on a star-studded fundraiser for her American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). She approached Richard about shooting a short film for the evening. He set off to speak to those living with HIV/AIDS, many of them in the final days of their lives.
The heartbreaking end product was met with immense critical acclaim and helped raise millions for the worthy cause. And despite the passage of time, more than 35 years, Richard still rates it as one of the most emotionally challenging photographic assignments he has ever under taken.
From New York to Las Vegas to Morocco, Paris, California and countless exotic locations in between, Richard Noble has lived, worked and partied in them all.
It is all a million, billion even, miles from the placid lifestyle he enjoys today. And while he very much sees Donegal as home, there is one aspect of it all that he continues to struggle with.
“I’m getting to the point where the weather does bother me,” he says ahead of his 76th birthday.
“In the winter my bones creak so I still try to spend a little time in Palm Springs each year, maybe a month or so to break it up, especially after Christmas.”
As to whether he feels like a Donegal man, he replies, “Do the people see me as a Donegal man? That is the question. I don’t know, I think they still see me as a blow-in.
“But I don’t see me leaving Donegal now. I will go travelling for a few days but then after a short period I find myself missing the peace and missing my trees and the view.”
Richard Noble’s last show at the Regional Cultural Centre was in 2016. A retrospective exhibition, it examined the body of work the photographer has built up during almost six decades behind the lens.
His new exhibition, ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’, set to go on display tomorrow evening, May 31, will be more than that. It will still feature some of his best known pieces, the Today mentioned in the title. But also set to be unveiled is a brand new collection of images featuring many well known Donegal faces given an historic makeover – Yesterday.
And finally a third prong, ‘WTF’, a series of photographs designed to stun the on-looker. The Tomorrow.
Not unlike the photographer himself, Richard Noble’s new exhibition will in equal part entertain, thought provoke and lift the soul.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Richard Noble will be launched on May 31 at 6pm in the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny. Entry is free and everyone is welcome to attend.