Celebration of the life of screen legend Maureen O'Hara in Foynes

 Gala event to kickstart fundraising campaign for new wing dedicated to actress

Colm Ward


Colm Ward

Celebration of the life of screen legend Maureen O'Hara in Foynes

Celia Holman Lee with the lifetime achievement Oscar presented to Maureen O’Hara

THE Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum will host a night of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour later this month to celebrate the extraordinary life of screen legend Maureen O’Hara.

The event, which takes place on the eve of the anniversary of her death, will mark the start of a fundraising campaign to build a new wing dedicated to the Irish-American actress whose entire collection of memorabilia has been donated to the museum by her grandson Conor Fitzsimons.

The lifetime achievement Oscar Maureen was presented with in 2014 is among the items in the collection which will go on display in Foynes, as will her many other awards and accolades.

The collection also includes never-before-seen personal items and her collection of Meissen China.

Also among the items on display will be costumes and accessories from many of her films, as well as the style and dresses the Irish beauty wore to major Hollywood events and broadcasts.

Some of these will be worn for the first time in years during the gala event on October 23 when models from the Holman Lee agency will showcase them on the catwalk.

Rarely seen footage of the actress will merge with clips from her best known films to provide a backdrop to the fashion show. 

Maureen O’Hara played a central role in the establishment of the flying boat museum, becoming the museum’s patron and officially opening it in 1989.

But her connection with Foynes went back much further than that; her husband, the aviator Charles Blair flew in and out of Foynes during the flying boat era from 1939-1945. Some 30 years later, Maureen joined him in Foynes when he landed in his own Sandringham Flying Boat in 1976.

When, in 1988, the idea of a museum for Foynes was first proposed, Ms O’Hara - who by then had a residence in Glengariff, Co Cork - was suggested as a potential supporter of the project. Founder and manager of the museum Margaret O’Shaughnessy was the woman tasked with contacting the Hollywood star.

She recalled: “I was given her telephone number in Glengariff so I called her, I was terrified. But I needn’t have been. She was wonderful and fully supported the idea and promised to do all she could to promote it.

“Each summer she would join us in Foynes for the Irish Coffee Festival which coincided with her birthday, so she would also celebrate her birthday in Foynes.  We had a special celebration at the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare for her 80th birthday.  All her family flew in for it.

“And in 1991 we hosted the European premiere of her last major movie, Only the Lonely, with John Candy, Ally Sheedy, Milo O’Shea and Anthony Quinn, here in Limerick at her insistence,” she added.

“When Maureen died last year I was invited by the family to attend her funeral in Washington DC, which I did. Now the family have decided to donate almost all of her memorabilia to the museum and we are honoured to house it in a new wing of the museum which is currently being designed,” Margaret concluded.

The gala event on October 23, entitled A Celebration of the Life of Maureen O’Hara Blair, will mark the start of the campaign to raise funds for the construction of the new wing.

A number of Maureen O’Hara themed prizes will be raffled on the night, including a return flight for two to either Boston or New York courtesy of Aer Lingus, and a weekend in the suite the Hollywood star stayed in in Ashford Castle, Cong, Co Mayo during the filming of the Quiet Man.

Tickets, priced at €50 each, are available from the Foynes Flying Boat musuem or by phoning 069 65416  or 087 2490830.

An anniversary Mass for Ms O’Hara will take place in St Senan’s Church Foynes at 5.30pm on Sunday evening, October 23, and is open to all.

Meanwhile, this Saturday, a specially commissioned sculpture to celebrate 100 years of Boeing will be unveiled at a private event at the musuem.

The commission, which is entitled Tail of Foynes is a 22ft high, steel sculpture featuring a tail of the iconic Boeing aircraft, the 747. The piece was created by Irish sculptor, Shane Holland, and is supported by Irelandia Aviation.

The museum has a special relationship with Boeing as it boasts the world’s only full sized Boeing 314 Flying Boat replica in its collection.