‘The day we heard she died we had been reminiscing about the first Maureen O’Hara Foundation tribute at the Eccles Hotel in 2010 and about how beautiful she looked and astute she was.’
In the conservatory that day there were a small group of people gathered – people who shared Maureen’s life, including her family, friends and neighbours.
Carolyn Murphy, Maureen’s long-time friend and assistant, told The Southern Star: ‘It was just hours before we and the world heard of the news of Maureen O’Hara’s death.’
They had been speaking about how they, as care assistants, were like a family and how wonderful she was to all of them.
‘At that tribute in The Eccles, I remember Maureen giving a speech that spoke directly to young people about following their dreams. She told them that anything was possible – all they had to do was put their minds to whatever it is they wanted.
‘She appealed to parents to “please support your children in whatever they want to do because they are the future of an ailing world and we need them to be strong”.
‘It was a mesmerising event and just one of the many show-stopping appearances she made in West Cork during the 40-plus years she lived here,’ said Carolyn.
Each had a strength that kept her stimulated and interested in life: Maureen, for example, used to help one of the care assistants with her college work and Carolyn said that Maureen, in typical fashion, told her: “When you are conferred, I want to be there because I helped you to earn this”.
Some were interested in music and others stimulated her intellectually, but all of them felt privileged to be in her company.
Everyone knew Maureen O’Hara to be feisty, professional and a real perfectionist in her work, but Maureen FitzSimons Blair was known for the enduring love she had for her husband, Charles F Blair, and the romantic time they spent together in West Cork before his untimely death in 1978.
‘Maureen loved her family, and Charles Blair family. The Blairs were a big part of her life and Charlie’s mother was a mentor to her. And, on the occasion of her 90th birthday in Glengarriff, she had the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren around her and she was overjoyed.
‘Charlie used to always tell her that she was his queen on earth and during his time in West Cork he helped a lot of local youths and kept them fascinated with the workings of his seaplane, which was always a signal to locals that they were home.
‘Anyone who knew Maureen FitzSimons would know that she was, at heart, very gentle, but she didn’t always want to show that gentle side of herself – at least not in public and certainly not at public engagements. People came to see Maureen O’Hara and she never disappointed them. ‘
Carolyn, who is originally from Michigan in the US, was a friend of Maureen’s for 25 years before she became her care assistant in 2005 when Maureen was ‘grounded’ in Ireland after suffering a stroke, which meant she could no longer make transatlantic flights.
‘We were girlfriends. We shared our sorrows and our joys. We sang, we laughed and we cried. We both had great humour and great fun together. And, from time to time, she’d ask to go through “The Little White Book”, in when we would write a lot of sayings – a book we’d kid ourselves that we were one day going to publish.
‘Sometimes – more often than is good to admit – we’d bring home clothes ‘on appro’ and have a fashion show in her bedroom, complete with accessories. It gave us endless hours of enjoyment.
‘We had opera nights too: One night we were listening to La Boheme, and Maureen sang the whole thing. But when it came to “Mio Bambino Caro” she sang it in such a magnificent way that it made the hairs on the back of my head stand on end.
‘Maureen’s mother was an opera singer, her sister Margaret Mary was an opera singer who became a nun, and Maureen always wanted to be an opera singer but became an actress instead.
‘Every Friday night we would go to Casey’s Hotel in Glengarriff for dinner and she’d call it our “Friday night date night”. It was a wonderful tradition. She loved it.
‘When she woke in the morning, she always looked so young and beautiful. What I mean is that she had such a natural beauty that it could quite overwhelm you.’
One of the most poignant memories that Carolyn has of her time with Maureen happened when they got together at Carolyn’s house to watch Maureen’s last movie, “The Last Dance”.
‘Maureen told me that I’d need a box of tissues because it was a real tearjerker. In the movie, her husband, who was called Charles, dies in the war and, in the end, on her deathbed, she sees him and has a last dance with him.
‘It’s a story about a young couple who were denied a lifetime of happiness together – which speaks to the happiness she had with her own husband and his untimely death after just ten years of marriage.’
Carolyn said: ‘I loved Maureen. I love her still. I will be her forever friend.’