Maureen O'Hara being presented with the freedom of Kells by Cllr Brian Collins in 2012.

Death of actress maureen ohara

The legendary Hollywood actress and Freewoman of Kells, Maureen O'Hara, has died at the age of 95.

Best known for her role as Mary Kate Danaher in the Oscar-winning ‘The Quiet Man’ with John Wayne, she lived in Cork for many years before returning to America in recent years. She died this morning peacefully in her sleep at her home in Boise, Idaho, surrounded by family.

In 2012, she received the Freedom of her father's hometown, Kells. In her memoirs, ‘Tis Herself', Maureen Fitzsimons, to use her original name, recalls her father Charles Stewart Parnell Fitzsimons, as a decent, honest man, born to farming folk outside Kells.

“It was a country farm and many hands were needed to keep it running smoothly,” she wrote. “Daddy, when he was a young lad, was one of 13 sons who helped his father work the land.”

Her father’s real passion was soccer. He played Gaelic football until he was caught at a soccer match once and he was kicked off the team, victim of the infamous ‘ban’.

“He later bought into Shamrock Rovers, and swore he would never go to another Gaelic football match again,” O’Hara says. “He never did.”

The actress often returned to Kells in later years to visit her uncle Frank, a blacksmith on Farrell Street, and meet her many relations, some of whom still live in the area.

Charlie Fitzsimons married Dublin girl Marguerita Lilburn. “Of course, Meath and Dublin were mortal Gaelic football enemies, so it was a bit of a miracle that my parents ever married,” the actress says. “Mammy was a city girl and Daddy was from the country. She was a Protestant and he was a Catholic. She eventually converted.”

When they married, they moved into a six-bedroom house in Ranelagh, the house in which their six children were born, of which Maureen was the second oldest, born on 17th August 1920. She went to elocution and drama school, singing and dancing classes, and when she was 10, joined the Rathmines Theatre company.

She began winning amateur acting competitions and feis events, and by 13 was hired to perform classical plays on Radio Eireann. In 1934, she joined the Abbey, starting at the bottom of the ladder, painting scenery, building sets and sweeping floors, and eventually three years later was cast in a lead role.

She never got to play it, as she was spotted by American singer Harry Richman who brought her to London and introduced her to Charles Laughton, who, having seen her in a screen test, immediately signed her up with Mayflower Pictures on a seven year contract.

It was the start of a film career which was to see her become one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, playing opposite all the leading men of the day from Tyrone Power and John Wayne to Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart.

Maureen O’Hara was last year given a prestigious Honorary Oscar Award from the American Academy.

The Award was presented at the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Governor’s Ball in Hollywood last November as acknowledgement of a lifetime body of work by an extraordinary Irish woman.

 

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