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October 2015 NUI Galway Pays Tribute to Maureen O’Hara
It is with sadness that NUI Galway noted the passing of actor, Maureen O’Hara last Saturday (24 October 2015) at the age of 95. Maureen O’Hara starred in over 50 films during her film career and was hailed as Ireland’s first Hollywood star.
In 1988 NUI Galway conferred Maureen O’Hara with an honorary degree, a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. The University’s James Hardiman Library, Archives Collection also holds records from O’Hara’s most famous film, The Quiet Man in the Arthur Shields collection.
During her conferral ceremony then President of NUI Galway, Dr Colm Ó hEocha, made the following remarks as part of his citation to honour Maureen O’Hara:
“Maureen was born Maureen Fitzsimons in Dublin, and for a stage name another West of Ireland surname was chosen for her. The O’Hara’s are a dual sept – O’Hara Buí and O’Hara Riabhach – and no doubt she rightly belongs to the former.
After training at the Abbey Theatre’s acting school, Maureen went to London at the invitation of Charles Laughton and made her film debut with him in Jamaica Inn in 1939, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. After its release, she headed west to California, and shortly afterwards, Hollywood columnist Jimmy Fidler presented as his 1939 ‘Best bets’ for stardom – Robert Stack and Maureen O’Hara.
And what a good bet the young Maureen turned out to be. Starting with The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton again, she went on to star in over 50 films directed by such as Lewis Milestone, Jean Renoir, Andrew McLaglen and Sam Peckinpah. But the director with whom she is most closely associated with is John Ford, whose father, named Feeney, emigrated to the US from An Spidéal in 1872. Their work together started with How Green Was My Valley (1941), and then Rio Grande (1950) with John Wayne. There followed, after many years’ preparation by director and actors, her first film to be shot, in part, back in Ireland. It was The Quiet Man (1951), based on a story by Maurice Walsh in Green Rushes.
Reviewers of The Quiet Man placed particular emphasis on Maureen’s ravishing beauty and glorious red hair. The film also featured much magnificent scenery in the West of Ireland and is still attracting viewers and, consequently, thousands of tourists to the hinterland of this College. John Ford, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara went on to make other successful films such as The Long Grey Line (1954) and The Wings of Eagles (1956).”
President of NUI Galway, Dr Jim Browne paid the following tribute: “We in NUI Galway are honored by our association with the late Maureen O’Hara. Her work as an actor in Hollywood during the 1940’s and 50’s helped to establish Ireland as an important location for film. That legacy lives on, especially here on campus, where the history of the Irish film industry is well-represented in our Archives and Special Collections and where the Huston School of Film and Digital Media and the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance continue to encourage actors, directors and filmmakers of the future.”
Patrick Lonergan, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at NUI Galway added: “We at NUI Galway were saddened to learn of the passing of Maureen O'Hara. During her long career, she acted as a tireless champion for Irish theatre, Irish film, and indeed for the country itself. From her early days at the Abbey Theatre to international fame in The Quiet Man and beyond, she gained our affection and admiration in equal measure, as an actress of outstanding talent and intelligence. We are proud to have been able to give her an honorary degree in 1988, and to be able to number her amongst our alumni: she will undoubtedly continue to inspire generations of our students of theatre and film during the years ahead.”
The 1988 NUI Galway conferring citation concluded: Looking back on her films, Francis Truffaut described Maureen O’Hara as a “splendid actress” who played “some of the best female roles in American cinema between 1941 and 1957”. John Ford corroborated in a letter to Maureen: “Don’t let anybody bother you, you’re the best actress in Hollywood”.