Maureen O’ Hara is one of that very rare species; a twentieth century Hollywood screen icon. A living legend from the golden age of cinema, she remains a true force of nature. As Mary Kate Danaher in the technicolour dreamscape that was “The Quiet Man”, she touched a nerve so strong that it has become almost impossible to decipher between the her and her alter-ego. That then, is the essence of her talent surely; the power to conjure up from within her own imaginings a character of such magnitude. Then to weave a spell across her audience in such a fashion as to make her appear “real” before your very eyes. So real, she remains within your consciousness long after the taste of cinema popcorn and cola have subsided. That is a power within the gift of the very few. Yet, distinguishes the very many actors – and actresses – from what we term: STARS.
What separates O’Hara from the rest of that Hollywood set of the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s was not just her ability to work hard and achieve Success in such a rarified atmosphere, but also her ability to survive its many pitfalls. At the ripe old age of 91 today she is the very epitome of a survivor – and still possesses bona fide star quality in abundance.
Maureen O’Hara lives up to the ‘larger – than – life’ persona she projects from the silverscreen. What impresses one though, is the humility and grace with which she bears herself. Her frank and honest account of her life in the autobiography – ”T’is Herself” – bears testimony to the fact that she has had to cope with more than her fair share of heartbreak, despite leading a life of seeming privilege. What is also clear – is that she was more than up to the task of surmounting any challenges in either her professional or personal lives, ultimately enjoying more success than sorrow. She is – in every sense – a living testament to the triumph of good people over the downright bad and an inspiration to those who value the wisdom of experience.
Feminine to her fingertips, she takes great satisfaction in the fact that she held her own against such macho giants as John Wayne and John Ford. If anything, it was O’ Hara’s presence in the classic ‘Quiet Man’ film that saved the film from sinking without a trace. Her influence on Ford ensured that the film didn’t pander just to the worst excesses of his Irish-American sentimentality, but that it also retained a credible amount of levity. Most films of that era defined Irishness in dramatic terms, heavily reliant on the mock-nobility of the slain freedom fighter. O’Hara steered Ford away from this element of the original story fearing that he could inadvertently trivialise Irish republicanism and detract from what was otherwise a very credible romantic-comedy in its own right. Today, just as 60 years ago, it retains all of its charm. Purely because it sought to entertain rather than inform its audience. Left solely to his own devices Ford’s production could have been a more divisive movie and all the poorer for it.
To what then can she attribute her prolific success and her longevity? She can lay claim to it herself -as she is want to do – regularly and without the slightest hint of false modesty either! This – she does – with the confidence of a typical Dublin lass rather than the implied bravado of a “returned Yank”. She can thank – in no small part – the spirits of Wayne and Ford. Or Charles Laughton who plucked her from certain obscurity at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Her family have been and continue to be a great source of strength. Lady Luck of The Irish merits a mention, but she herself unreservedly lays the credit at God’s feet for continuing to give her a great life.
For our part, (here in Kells County Meath), we can be proud that we can lay claim to her as one of our own.She is spawn of the same gene-pool which has given us the FitzSimonses. Her father (named in honour of Charles Stewart Parnell) was born and reared in Kells. His mother – in turn – was a Mrs Tormay. Throw a stone in Kells or thereabouts today and you will surely hit a descendant of either the Fitzsimons’ s or the Tormay clans. By a confluence of happy events the composer of the signature tune to “The Quiet Man”, Dick Farrelly was also born in Kells. His composition “The Isle of Innisfree”, was recorded in instrumental form by Victor Young and his orchestra. It is this version which Ford and O’Hara appear to have been influenced by and similarly compelled to pen their own lyrics to it( apparently oblivious to Farrelly and his superior sheet music). Not so, Bing Crosby who had one of his biggest hits with it a few years after the film was released !
Next month, May 26th to be precise, Maureen FitzSimons / O’Hara will return to her fathers hometown of Kells for one hell of an Irish family reunion which will include a civic ceremony and parade in her honour. You can watch her movies on tv any time, but you will only get a chance to see a living Hollywood icon from the golden age of cinema once ,if you are lucky. Bring your children and your grandchildren out to give this lady the dignified reception that she undoubtedly deserves and you will give them a day they will remember for the rest of their lives. (Noel Shine, Meath Today)
See Meath Today on Facebook for daily pictorial updates on this and other Meath-related material.