Maureen O’Hara, actress and icon

By Ray O’Hanlon

So long Maureen. We loved you and we’ll never forget you.

This sentiment was being reflected in myriad ways today after the weekend news that screen star and Irish American icon, Maureen O’Hara, had passed away in her home in Boise, Idaho.

The famed actress was 95.

“It is with a sad heart that we share the news that Maureen O’Hara passed away today in her sleep of natural causes. Maureen was our loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. She passed peacefully surrounded by her loving family as they celebrated her life listening to music from her favorite movie, ‘The Quiet Man,’” said a family statement.

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The passing of O’Hara, who will forever be remembered as Mary Kate Danaher, her role in “The Quiet Man,” is but a moment in the story of the Irish in America.

That’s if O’Hara is considered solely as an actress.

In the eyes of many she was far more than that.

Indeed, if Irish America had an uncrowned queen it was the red-headed beauty who could tell John Wayne to take a hike, and be wildly cheered by movie audiences for doing so.

“I have learned with great sadness of the death of the actress Maureen O’Hara. She will be remembered as an outstanding and versatile actress, whose work, especially in film, will endure for many years to come,” said President Michael D. Higgins who, as it happens, is in California this week, not far from where Maureen O’Hara blazed her trail through Hollywood in an acting career that covered all or part of eight decades.

O’Hara had moved to Idaho from Glengarriff in County Cork in recent years to be closer to family.

In their statement following O’Hara’s passing, the family urged her countless fans around the world to pay tribute to her by visiting Ireland.

"Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real life. She was also proudly Irish and spent her entire lifetime sharing her heritage and the wonderful culture of the Emerald Isle with the world.

"While we mourn the loss of a very wonderful woman, we also celebrate her remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world, especially in Ireland, to work hard to make their dreams come true and to always have the courage to stand up for themselves.

"For those who may ask what they can do to honor Maureen, we have a simple request: visit Ireland one day and think of her."
In an interview to mark her 90th birthday in 2010, O'Hara revealed she would like to be remembered as "a Dub and a fan of Shamrock Rovers, and a good performer and actress and maker of movies.”

O’Hara was born Maureen FitzSimons in Ranelagh, Dublin in 1920 and trained at the Abbey Theatre.

After being spotted during a London screen test by Charles Laughton, her first film was “Jamaica Inn” (1938), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Laughton cast her opposite him in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939), and she then starred in “How Green Was My Valley,” which won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Picture.

In a 2009 interview with the Irish Echo, O’Hara said it was Laughton who suggested changing her name to O’Hara because it would fit more easily in the signage above movie theater doors.

In 1947 she made one of her best-remembered films, “Miracle on 34th Street,” today an annual small screen Thanksgiving favorite.

O’Hara starred alongside John Wayne in five movies, “Rio Grande,” “The Wings of Eagles,” “McLintock,” “Big Jake” and “The Quiet Man,” which was directed by John Ford and filmed in and around Cong in County Mayo.

Wayne starred Sean Thornton, an Irish American boxer who returns home to rediscover the simple life his parents had. O'Hara played Mary Kate Danaher who gave Thronton the fight of his life before the two, of course, pledged their mutual love.

O’Hara, who become known as the “Queen of Technicolor” because of her red hair, green eyes and radiant complexion, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

But it was the awarding of a Lifetime Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2014 that set the seal on her place in Hollywood’s pantheon.

The award was formally presented at the academy’s Governors Awards gathering in Hollywood on November 8, 2014.

“The Governor’s Award allows us to reflect upon not the year in film, but the achievements of a lifetime,” said academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, in a statement announcing the honoring of O’Hara.