The iconic cottage, in Maam Valley, Galway, has long been at the center of dispute and has been allowed to fall into ruin. However, now that the Galway County Council has deemed it a protected structure and a new petition to have the cottage restored has been launched, following O’Hara’s death last month, it seems that the cottage is closer than ever to being given a second chance at life.
White O’Morn Cottage was purchased by a Canadian businessman, George Ebbitt. However, Tiernakill farmer Pat Keane, whose family runs a nearby guesthouse, has grazed animals on the land and has unofficially maintained access to the cottage.
He told the Irish Times that he too has a claim to the cottage grounds.
“My father, who farmed before me, wasn’t aware that the cottage had been put up for sale by the Joyces when it was purchased by an English buyer,” he said.
The owners, Walter and Bridget Joyce, were paid during the 1952 movie’s production to use the outside of their home and rose garden for filming. The interior shots were recreated back in Hollywood. The house's owners built a larger new house for themselves on the proceeds and let the cottage slip into ruin. Then, as the years went by, it seemed that who actually owned the land, which Keane was helping to maintain, was unclear.
Keane told the Times his father “had a good relationship with the new owner. We looked after him when he broke his arm after he fell off the roof. However, he didn’t tell us when he decided to sell it to Mr Ebbitt.”
In order to establish squatter's rights a person must prove they have been using the land exclusively for twelve years although they are not the registered owner. Earlier this summer Keane spoke to the Connacht Tribune, but said he would not comment on the case.
At the time Ebbitt said he’d hired a Dublin-based legal firm to fight Keane’s claims saying that he and Keane had entered into a “gentleman’s agreement” with his neighbor allowing him to graze his cattle on the land during the 1980s in return for maintenance on the land.
He told IrishCentral at the time that he felt betrayed and had spent years trying to restore the cottage.
Ebbitt said, “I’ve spent a fortune on architects and engineers, but I’ve never got anywhere. It’s been like hell trying to get this thing off the ground and I’ve started to feel that there’s a big conspiracy to take this property off me.
“I don’t trust anybody any more. I really don’t. I’ve never made a penny from this property and I’ve probably spent over $100,000 in it ever since I bought it,” he said.
Although the ownership of the property remains a contentious issue, what’s certain is that the majority of people hope to see the cottage restored.
As Keane said, “I’d definitely support its restoration – it is a mortal sin to leave it the way it is.”
Since Maureen O’Hara’s death hundreds of people have stopped by the cottage, which is now just marked with a handwritten sign on the farm gate. Now just one gable wall of the cottage remains and most of the other stones have been removed by visitors.
Finally, this past July however, thanks to the backing of Maureen O’Hara along with Liam Neeson and Michael Flatley, White O’Morn cottage was officially granted status as a protected structure by the Galway County Council. Now fans are calling for it to be restored in memory of O’Hara.
Patrick McCormick, founder of the White O’Morn Foundation told IrishCentral, “I made her a personal promise that I would do everything I could to, one day, get the cottage restored. I want to keep that promise now more than ever.”
Already their petition has over 2,000 signatures of the 2,500 they’re seeking. Once they’ve reached their quota, the letter, titled “Galway County Council: Please have 'The Quiet Man' cottage restored in honor of Maureen O'Hara,” will be submitted.
McCormick said, “Maureen did live to see the cottage put under state protection (and was delighted with the news) but, sadly, she did not live to see one of her dearest wishes realized – seeing her 'wee humble cottage' and movie home with John Wayne restored to its former beauty.”
To sign the petition click here.