Museum founder Margaret O’Shaughnessy with Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan viewing the collection Picture: Oisin McHugh/True Media
WHEN Hollywood movie star Maureen O’Hara stepped off a plane in Foynes with her husband Captain Charles Blair in the 1970s, it would be the beginning of a relationship that would last the rest of her life.
And now, a portion of the late actress’ personal collection is available to view at Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum. A much larger collection – most of Maureen’s things, in fact – will eventually be displayed when a new wing is built at the museum.
It is a project that Margaret O’Shaughnessy, founder of the museum and a friend of Maureen for some 30 years, hopes will be completed by August 17, 2020 – which would have been Maureen’s 100th birthday.
“Some time after Maureen’s death, her only grandchild, Conor Beau Fitzsimons, called me and asked would I be interested in taking a few of Maureen’s dresses for the museum. He didn’t have to ask me twice! Of course he later decided to donate a vast collection of her memorabilia to the museum,” said Margaret.
“In total we have over 500 items of memorabilia, including 200 clothing items from movies, Hollywood nights, TV appearances… She was honoured and awarded all over the world, and we have many of those items along with very personal belongings as well.”
The new two-room exhibition, which cost €100,000 to build, includes her costumes and accessories, glamorous red carpet outfits, correspondences with movie stars and world leaders including Ronald Reagan, international awards including her Oscar and many personal items including her passports and makeup case.
The exhibition includes a display room for her memorabilia and a small cinema area with a six-minute rolling film on the life, music, film and fashion of the ‘Queen of Technicolor’.
The proposed new wing will have a full-sized cinema screening area and more rooms to show off the full collection, the lion’s share of which was donated by Conor Beau. Margaret O’Shaughnessy added to the collection herself at a Bonhams auction in New York, where some of Maureen’s other memorabilia went under the hammer.
“The Maureen O’Hara Exhibition cost €100,000 to build, which was partly funded by Limerick City & County Council, and I would like to acknowledge the local authority’s contribution,” said Margaret.
“It has been a tough year for the museum as we have fought to overcome damage caused by serious flooding this past winter.
“An investment of €580,000 to repair the damage means the museum is even better than ever.”
Maureen is perhaps most famous for her role in 1952 film The Quiet Man alongside John Wayne. Her film career began in the 1930s, but her first major film role was a part in Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn, which was released in 1939.
This Monday morning marked exactly 29 years and one day since the star cut the ribbon on the Foynes museum, as its patron. So it was fitting that on that day, the ribbon on her own exhibition was cut by Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan.
“It was only after Minister O’Donovan confirmed his availability that the significance for Foynes of the date, July 9, struck me,” said Margaret during the launch.
“In 1934 on July 9, Foynes was the hottest spot in Ireland at 32.2 degrees Celsius, and it still holds the record of being the second highest temperature recorded in Ireland.
“In 1939, the Pan Am Yankee Clipper arrived from New York with 19 passengers on board – the first commercial transatlantic passenger flight.
“And in 1989, the museum opened to the public. Maureen had officially launched it the day before.”
Maureen O’Hara was the museum’s patron until her death in 2015.
Her late husband, airline owner and pilot Capt Blair, regularly flew in and out of Foynes throughout his career, particularly during the flying boat days of the 1940s.
“It would be more than 30 years before his wife would join him in Foynes when he landed in his own Sandringham Flying Boat in 1976, and returned again in 1978.
Maureen then visited Foynes “on an almost annual basis”, during which time her relationship with the place, and the people, developed.
“A lot of you have met her over the years when she visited Foynes. Maureen was the attraction and always gave of her time to everyone. She often signed autographs for several hours,” said Margaret.
“We are determined to preserve the memory of one of Ireland’s most iconic movie stars and a proud Irish woman.”