Maureen O’Hara funeral recalls her ‘fiery spirit’

Hollywood actress never ‘lost her simplicity’ nor forgot Irish roots, mourners told

Ireland’s first Hollywood movie star Maureen O’Hara was remembered at her funeral in the US as an untameable and fiery spirit who never forgot her Irish roots throughout her famous career.

Speaking at her funeral in St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church near Washington DC, Irish priest Fr Gerald Weymes recalled O'Hara as "very intelligent and multi-talented," a tribute paid to her by their mutual drama teacher in Dublin, Ena Mary Burke.

“Maureen was also witty, humorous, beautiful, compassionate, outgoing, strong-willed, courageous with fiery spirit of the Vikings and the untameable spirit of the Normans with a little smidgin or pinch of eros — all the qualities that one would expect in any Irish colleen,” said the priest, a pastor based in Chantilly, a Washington suburb.

"Not even 'The Duke' in McLintock! was able to tame our fiery heroine," he added, referring to her famous co-star John Wayne and their 1963 film, one of several films they appeared in together.


Even after she became famous, she never forgot their teacher, "Burkey," he said, and each time she returned to Dublin from the US she would take her to the Shelbourne Hotel for dinner. "Maureen never lost her simplicity and was always cognisant of her origins," he said.

O'Hara - real name Maureen Fitzsimons Blair - died on October 24th at the age of 95,

Her remains were carried into the church in Arlington, Virginia to accompanying music from 45-strong Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band from Chicago who played music from one of her most popular films, The Quiet Man.

O'Hara had heard the pipe play for the first time 12 years ago at the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum in Winterset, Iowa, according to the band's manager Bill McTighe.

Among the chief mourners were O'Hara's grandson Conor Fitzsimons with whom she lived in her final years in Boise, Idaho.

Mr Fitzsimons was joined by fellow pallbearers, his cousin Kevin Fitzsimons, O'Hara's manager and biographer Johnny Nicoletti and three people who travelled from Glengarriff, Co Cork where the star kept a home for many years: Donal Deasy of Casey's Hotel, and Jim Lyne and David O'Sullivan, both of Glengarriff Golf Club.

O’Hara was a proactive fundraiser for the golf club helping to transform the club from “a box of a clubhouse,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

"She became a big part of the community for a very long time," remarked Mr O'Sullivan who said one of the readings at the mass, as did one of O'Hara's long-time friends from Ireland, Sally Ryan.

Mourners walked past mounted portraits of O’Hara taken from some of her most popular film roles as they entered the church.

In a tearful remembrance, Ms Fitzsimons told about 200 mourners that his grandmother was going to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband US Navy pilot Charles Blair, who died in a plane crash in 1978, and Margot, "one of her favourite sisters."

He recalled how Maureen and Margot shared a room at home in Dublin and that they remained close throughout their lives, travelling and spending summers together in Glengariff.

“One thing my grandmother taught me was, ‘when the times get tough, that’s when the Irish get going,’” Mr Fitzsimons said.

That is something that always stuck with him, he said, no matter what was happening in her career or how many fans she had. “She loved her fans and her fans loved her,” he said. “The one thing that I think my grandmother was proud of most was being Irish because that meant to her something that nobody could take from her. It was in her heart. It was in her soul. It was in her spirit. Ireland was her heart.”

Margot’s son David Edwards, who travelled from Tennessee, described his famous relative as “my aunt who made movies and was a movie star.”

“She was very opinionated but I would say that is true of all my aunts and uncles on my Irish side,” he said. “She always had an opinion about anything you asked her and it was a very strong opinion.”

O’Hara’s burial ceremony took place on a crisp November afternoon next to her husband’s grave in the shadow of Arlington House, the memorial to the Civil War general Robert E Lee, and a few hundred metres from the grave of John F Kennedy.

A US Air Force honour guard of eight military personnel carried her coffin to the grave because her husband was a retired Air Force Brigadier General at the time of his death.

Singer Catherine O'Connell sang The Isle of Innisfree, the main theme song from The Quiet Man at O'Hara's graveside and the Shannon Rovers played her off with a medley of rousing Irish marching songs starting with Garryowen.

Mr Wayne's daughter, Melinda Munoz, who was also in attendance, described O'Hara as "like a sister" to her father and "like an aunt" to her and her family, attending family weddings and occasions.

She recalled how O’Hara testified on her father’s behalf in support of him being awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 1979.

"It was Maureen who said that it would be nice if you just put on there, 'John Wayne, an American' - so it meant a whole lot to my Dad," she told The Irish Times after the funeral service.

“She was a wonderful, wonderful woman, besides being a fabulous actress. She was real.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times