Maureen went out of her way to be friends with people of Glengarriff

November 5th, 2015 7:20 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Maureen O'Hara about to blow out the candles on her birthday cake as she celebrated her 90th in West Cork in 2010. (Photo: Tony McElhinney)

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‘AS with most people in Glengarriff, I considered Maureen O’Hara a friend.’ 

Donal Deasy, the owner of Casey’s Hotel said: ‘Most people would have considered her a friend because that is the way she was: Maureen was a person who went out of her way to be friends with people in Glengarriff.’

He confirmed that a book of condolences has been opened in the hotel and that it will be taken to the midday memorial service at the Sacred Heart Church in Glengarriff this Saturday where people are welcome to come and pay their respects.

Fr Michael Moynihan, the local parish priest, said: ‘Maureen was very much part of the fabric of life in Glengarriff. Though she was gone from the area for the last three years, she was very much part of the conversation.’           Other friends, Andrew and Mary O’Shea, said: ‘Maureen was a wonderful lady who was very much at home in her adopted home in Glengarriff. She is fondly remembered and will be sadly missed.’

Pauline Walsh, who was Maureen’s hair and make-up artist for a number of years, said: ‘She was wonderful to work with because she knew exactly what she wanted. She expected the best and that is what you gave her.

‘As a person, she was really good. She was down to earth. What you saw is what you got. 

‘She was a lovely woman who would never do, or say, anything to make anyone feel small. She was always appreciative of everything that people did for her.’

Maureen O’Hara was born Maureen Fitzsimons on August 17th, 1920 in the south Dublin suburb of Milltown – a place that was eternally dear to her. But by accepting the gracious welcome that local people offered her, Maureen made Glengarriff her home too.

Previously, in an interview about her career, Maureen recalled that it was the British director Charles Laughton who gave her first break and signed her to a seven-year contract that saw her transition from being an Irish schoolgirl to a Hollywood movie star.

She had come from a talented acting family: The six Fitzsimons children grew up in a theatrical environment that saw them putting on plays in their back garden.

Maureen continued that education at the Ina Mary Burke School of Elocution and the Abbey Theatre and, at the age of 18, she appeared in her first film ‘Jamaica Inn’ – a movie that had a West Cork connection given that it was adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s seventh novel ‘Hungry Hill’.

It was her appearance in the follow-up movie, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ that established Maureen as leading lady material. In fact, over a 20-year period from 1939 to 1959, she starred in 43 movies and, in the course of her career, made an incredible 63 feature films.

Maureen is on record as describing the movie ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ as being one of the highlights of her movie career, but there can be no denying the fact that it was a Mary Kate Danaher, the fiery Irish redhead opposite John Wayne’s machismo American in ‘The Quiet Man’ that became her most enduring on-screen image.

In 1968, Maureen married the former Pan-American pilot and pioneering aviator Charles F Blair and, five years later, they bought a house in Glengarriff. The couple divided their time between Lugdine House in Glengarriff – which has recently been sold – and the Caribbean where Charles had founded a commercial airline, Antilles Airlines.

When he died tragically in a plane crash in 1978, Maureen did something that one would might expect from one of the heroines in her movies – she took over the directorship of the company, thereby becoming the first and only woman in history to be president of a commercial airline.

In Glengarriff, people searched for an enduring way to honour Maureen because she was a legend to literally generations of movie fans so they formed the Maureen O’Hara Foundation in the hope of establishing a Legacy Centre in the village. It didn’t happen, but in the process of trying, Glengarriff witnessed a marvellous event – The Maureen O’Hara Film Festival in 2011.

The following year, Maureen O’Hara left her adopted home and moved back to the United States, where she died, aged 95, at her home in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday last, October 24th. 

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