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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 6 August, 2020

It's high time Caitriona Balfe got the kudos she deserves at home in Ireland

“Balfe has made it from Tydavnet to Tinseltown and become an international phenomenon. If that’s not worth celebrating, then I don’t know what is.”

LAST NIGHT, CAITRIONA Balfe won her first IFTA for her work on the drama series Outlander. It was her first time winning the award, having been nominated twice before.

After the ceremony, the Monaghan native posted a photo of herself clutching the statuette and wrote, “Years ago as a young drama student in Dublin I could never have imagined that I’d be honoured in a room full of my heroes. I’m so humbled and proud.”

Indeed it was quite the endorsement from a country that has been slow to appreciate the magnitude of Balfe’s accomplishments. While we have rightfully hailed the exploits of homegrown actresses like Saoirse Ronan and Ruth Negga, Balfe has flown under the radar somewhat.

She’s garnering Golden Globe nominations year in, year out, but mention her name to someone on the street in Ireland and it’s possible you’ll be met with a blank stare.

Caitriona Balfe started her career as a model. The story goes that she was collecting for charity outside the Swan Centre in Rathmines when she was approached by a model scout. She was soon whisked away to Paris and started walking the runway for Chanel, Miu Miu, Calvin Klein and Kenzo. She was even a Victoria’s Secret Angel for a time. Not bad for a gal with a self-professed “big bogger Monaghan accent,” eh?

After a few years plugging away as a model, she decided to give acting a go. She had studied drama in DIT, so it was a natural detour. Her first major role was in JJ Abrams’ Super 8. Before long, she was acting opposite Michael Caine in Now You See Me and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan.

Things really took off, however, when she was cast as the lead in Outlander, a television adaptation of a bestselling book series. The series follows Claire Randall, a happily married former World War 2 nurse, who travels back in time to eighteenth century Scotland and falls in love with a strapping highlander.

A time travel romance might sound a little daft if you’ve never watched it, but it has garnered huge acclaim, not least for its female-centred sex scenes.

As Huffington Post once wrote: “Outlander approaches sex in a way that’s only shocking because it isn’t shocking at all. It’s non-violent, sensual, natural, and the woman is framed as more than an object for male pleasure.”

For this reason and more, the show commands a fiercely passionate following. There are countless fan accounts, reams of fan fiction and thousands of Outlander-inspired goods on Etsy. As the show’s leading lady, Caitriona Balfe is hugely popular. She has nearly half a million followers on Instagram, two People’s Choice Awards and, most impressively, three (!) Golden Globe nominations.

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Flare Magazine @flaremag ❤️❤️❤️

A post shared by Caitrionabalfe (@caitrionabalfe) on

How is it then that a three-time Golden Globe-nominated actress from Monaghan isn’t a household name? It’s likely down to a few things. For one thing, Outlander hasn’t quite landed in Ireland owing to the fact that RTÉ has chosen to broadcast it at a weirdly late hour. (In an interview with The Sunday Times, Balfe joked that it was on “in the middle of the night” here.)

The fact that Outlander is a television show geared almost entirely towards a female audience shouldn’t be overlooked either. If Balfe was the lead in Game of Thrones, I suspect we wouldn’t hear the end of it. But because she stars in a show frequently dismissed as a frothy historical romance, she hasn’t quite managed to get the kudos she deserves.

There are signs that’s beginning to change. She’s just collected her first IFTA and is due to appear on tonight’s Late Late Show. It’s about time, too. Balfe has made it from Tydavnet to Tinseltown and become an international phenomenon. If that’s not worth celebrating, then I don’t know what is.

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Amy O'Connor

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