Legendary Irish actress Maureen O'Hara celebrates her ninetieth birthday next week. Best known for her unforgettable turn as Mary Kate Danaher in the Oscar-winning 'The Quiet Man,' she now lives in Glengariff County Cork.
In her memoirs, 'Tis Herself’, O'Hara fondly recalls her father Charles Fitzsimons. He was a decent man, she writes, born to farming folk outside Kells in County Meath.
'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.'
But her father's real passion was sports. He played Gaelic football until he was turned in for attending a soccer match once and was kicked off the team, victim of the Gaelic Athletic Association's infamous foreign sports ban.
'He later bought into Shamrock Rovers, and swore he would never go to another Gaelic football match again,' O'Hara says, referring to the counterproductive GAA stratgedy. '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. 'Meath and Dublin were mortal Gaelic football enemies, so it was a bit of a miracle that my parents ever married,' the actress wrote. '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 17 August 1920. She went to elocution and drama school, singing and dancing classes, and when she was 10, she joined the Rathmines Theatre company.
She began winning amateur acting competitions and festival events, and by 13 she was hired to perform classical plays on Radio Eireann, Ireland's national radio station.
In 1934, O'Hara joined the Abbey, Ireland's national theater, starting at the bottom of the ladder, painting scenery and building sets and sweeping floors, and eventually three years later was cast in a lead role.
But she never got to play it. Instead she was spotted by visiting American singer Harry Richman who brought her to London and introduced her to the actor and impresario Charles Laughton. After seeing her in a screen test, Laughton immediately signed her up with Mayflower Pictures on a seven year contract.
It was the start of an extraordinary 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.
It was her role in ‘The Quiet Man’ opposite John Wayne which secured her fame however.She became one of the biggest names in Hollywood as a result.
Where does the term “the luck of the Irish” come from?