Maureen O'Hara marks 90

By Ray O'Hanlon

The first lady of Irish film celebrated her 90th birthday this week.

Maureen O'Hara was surrounded by family and friends at her home in Glengarriff, Co. Cork, on Tuesday.

The celebration was not only of the star's long life, but a legacy that could soon be the centerpiece of a center in the West Cork town celebrating O'Hara's long career and the story of the Irish of Hollywood.

"The celebration is primarily between family friends and a few invited guests," June Parker Beck, who runs the official Maureen O'Hara website, told the Echo.

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Born Maureen FitzSimons in Dublin, O'Hara graduated from the Abbey Theatre stage in Dublin to a screen career in Britain before moving to the U.S.

She changed her name to O'Hara on the advice of actor Charles Laughton who said that the name would fit more easily on the marquee signs above movie theater doors.

The name O'Hara would appear many times in movies including "How Green Was My Valley," "Rio Grande," "Miracle On 34th Street" and "The Parent Trap."

But it was her starring role opposite John Wayne in the John Ford classic "The Quiet Man" that would turn Maureen O'Hara into a household name in America, and most especially Irish America.

O'Hara has already donated personal memorabilia for the planned legacy center in Glengarriff which has a hoped-for completion date of sometime in 2011. As well as O'Hara, the center will also memorialize her late husband Charles Blair, a pioneering aviator.

Blair died in 1978 when the engine of his plane exploded while in the air. It was Blair who chose Glengarriff as a home because he was able to land his seaplane in the bay.

Though the center will pay particular homage to O'Hara and Blair, backers say that it will in effect serve as a Hollywood Irish Hall of Fame.