Maureen O’Hara – one of Ireland’s greatest Hollywood stars – has died at the age of 95. Her family said she passed away peacefully in her sleep at her home in the United States.
The star of such classics as the Quiet Man and How Green Was My Valley was at the peak of her career during Hollywood’s golden age of the 1940s and 1950s, often appearing with legendary figures like Henry Fonda and John Wayne, who was one of her closest friends for many years.
Her family issued a statement saying: “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 favourite movie, The Quiet Man.
“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. Later in life, she became the first woman president of a commercially scheduled airline in the United States.
“As much as Maureen cherished her privacy, she always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life. She especially loved it when children recognised her from her role in Miracle on 34th Street and asked her: ‘Are you the lady who knows Santa Claus?’ She always answered: ‘Yes I am. What would you like me to tell him?’”
“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 honour Maureen, we have a simple request: visit Ireland one day and think of her.”
President Michael D Higgins heard the news while on an eight-day official visit to the United States. He said: “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.
“She received her early training at the Abbey Theatre (in Dublin), and went on to become an artist whose talents were recognised and appreciated all around the world.
“I especially remember with affection her recent visit to Áras an Uachtaráin, when we discussed among other things her great love of Ireland and her strong family links to Shamrock Rovers (soccer team).”
Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys described Maureen O’Hara her as one of the most internationally acclaimed Irish actors of the 20th century.
She told RTE: “Maureen O’Hara left Ireland to carve a successful life in America but in the hearts and minds of every Irish person, Maureen was the quintessential Irish success story. She went on to become one of the icons of Hollywood’s golden age at the height of her career.
“Maureen had a hugely successful career spanning over 60 years. She will however be best remembered for her fiercely passionate roles in classic films and in particular the films she made with her great friend John Wayne.
“It was in her role as Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man, the iconic film made over 60 years ago and still very much celebrated in Ireland and abroad, that we were first alerted to her natural beauty and talent.”
Ms O’Hara’s manager Johnny Nicoletti said she had “a wicked sense of humour and never took her good fortunes for granted. “She was a classy, warm, feisty, funny woman and she was always so proudly Irish.”
He told the Irish Times that she kept her promise never to reveal what she whispered in John Wayne’s ear at the end of The Quiet Man to make him give that look of shock and surprise.
The film’s director John Ford asked her to say a particular sentence that would knock Wayne off his guard. Only the three of them knew what it was and they all promised never to reveal it.
Mr Nicoletti said “I tried to get it out of her but she said, ‘We all made a promise.’ She held it and took it to the grave. All three of them took it to the grave.”
Ms O’Hara will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC, next to her husband, Charles Blair who died in a plane crash in 1978.
Some of Ms O’Hara’s major roles included The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Miracle of 34th Street, the Parent Trap and Only the Lonely. But she will perhaps be best remembered in Ireland and among Irish Americans for her performance alongside John Wayne in the Quiet Man. It helped to catapult the tiny village of Cong, where some of the film was made, into tourist attraction visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year.