A Night with Maureen O’Hara

Recently, my husband and I drove to the birthplace of John Wayne of Winterset, Iowa. Every year, the entire town holds a big gala to commemorate the Duke’s birthday with a 3-day series of special events which takes place the weekend closest to his birthday anniversary (May 26, 1907). I’m not gonna lie, I’m a fan of really good classic westerns. Ergo, I’m a John Wayne fan. But when I discovered this particular year’s theme and special guest, we simply HAD to go see… Maureen O’Hara.

THE Maureen O’Hara herself was this year’s special guest. When I told my hubby that we could see not only a real classic film movie star for a mere $125 benefit dinner ticket, but the Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara, there was no hesitation. At the onset I knew with Ms. O’Hara’s age of 92, this could likely be my only opportunity to see her as it may very well be one of her final public appearances. But there were many aspects of this Maureen O’Hara themed festival that appealed.

One of the major attractions of this event was the film line-up. The local theater- simply named the Iowa Theater- hosted a daily screening of all five of Maureen O’Hara’s films she co-starred with her favorite leading man, John Wayne… John Ford’s THE QUIET MAN (1952), Andrew V. McLaglen’s MCLINTOCK! (1963), George Sherman’s BIG JAKE (1971), John Ford’s RIO GRANDE (1950) and John Ford’s THE WINGS OF EAGLES (1957). But oh, THE QUIET MAN. Of all of these splendid films showing as part of this grand spectacle, I simply HAD to see this one on the big screen.

You see, THE QUIET MAN was repeatedly shown to me from a wee age in my family as sort of a “how-to” guide of our Irish heritage. For those who have never met me or in case you’ve been living under a rock, you may not realize that I’m quite proud of my Irish roots. I can claim Irish on both sides of my family (Mom’s side- O’Donnells from Donegal and Dad’s side- O’Sullivans from Kerry.) It was my grandmother on my Mom’s side that started this tradition of watching THE QUIET MAN as I listened to her stories of our Irish family and as she would share photos of our ancestral cottage in the tiny town of Cashleenan in Donegal (see below). With her vibrant red hair, ivory skin, high cheek bones and take-no-malarkey attitude, I soon began to equate my grandmother and our Irish family stories as the embodiment of Maureen O’Hara and THE QUIET MAN.

And while my husband is a mix of English and Finnish, he has been ‘aspirational Irish’ long before he met me. Early in our courtship, he revealed that he was convinced that I must be a selkie. Unfamiliar with the selkie folklore? It’s the Irish myth of the seal that can change into human form once on land. When in human form, the female selkie is a raven-haired, fair-skinned beauty who makes a devoted wife and mother after falling in love with a human. But selkies eventually become restless; longing to return the freedoms of the Irish sea. It’s said that their human husbands bury the selkie seal coat and keep it hidden to prevent their selkie wives from returning to their former lives. Romantic and melancholy- very Irish. For a great film on the selkie legend, I recommend John Sayles’ THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH (1994). So when I excitedly displayed my restless spirit to my husband because I was itching to go see Maureen O’Hara in Iowa and said there would be Irish music, Irish dancing and undoubtedly some Irish drinking, he was on-board.

Work and kid commitments precluded us from enjoying the entire 3 day stay. But we knew if hit the road bright and early on Saturday morning, we might just make it to THE QUIET MAN screening. We raced across the cloudy prairie highways for the almost 4 hour trip and made a tardy entrance. I was especially thrilled to join our fellow twitter classic film pals as a major perk to this grand adventure… fellow Kansan and #TCMparty co-host Trevor aka @tpjost, Eliz aka @VintageEliz, Summer aka @bucephalus02 and Kaci aka @kacik11. We’ve enjoyed Trevor’s company several times prior for the wonders of silent film that our state offers but this was our first face-to-face with the other fun film-loving twitter pals who also trekked across the Midwest to this quaint Iowan town. I was giddy as we sat in the dark, packed theater; watching Maureen O’Hara’s favorite film, directed by her fave director, along with her fave co-star John Wayne and the charming cast of characters like Victor McLaglen, Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond.

Afterwards, we met our friends out front and set plans for the evening’s big gala. After my husband and I enjoyed lunch (hubby happily gulped down the John Wayne special chili) at an adorable little old-fashioned diner, we got all decked out back at the hotel for the special evening. Wading through a sea of reserved tables, we found our way to an available table way in the back corner. Shortly, everyone in our band of O’Hara groupies was seated and after a scrumptious meal, the program began.

 Upon seeing a glimpse of Maureen O’Hara’s entrance, we were absolutely beside ourselves. It didn’t matter that she arrived in a wheelchair or that she was a woman in her early 90’s, here was a real-life classic film movie star in the very same room- a vibrant and larger-than-life legend. During a live auction segment of the evening to benefit the O’Hara foundation, my fellow gal pal groupies and I sneaked up to the side stage area where we attempted fairly unsuccessfully to take photos of her, as it became increasingly apparent a photo and autograph opportunity would never come. We each boldly smiled and charmed our best with security to get a direct view past through the roped VIP section. After a delightful succession of a few speakers like John Wayne’s daughter, a parade of bagpipers, Irish songs, and Irish dancing, we finally got to hear words spoken from our guest herself. She was as beautiful, classy, and sassy with that charismatic humor as ever. She was… thoroughly Irish.

When the program was over, we hurriedly lined-up to catch a closer view as she exited. She was completely generous as she smiled at each of us, even reaching out, touching our hands. Because I was fumbling with my iphone in an attempt to photograph the close-up moment, I got a passing cheerful comment out instead of an actual hand press- and no photo. Eliz and Kaci announced they may never wash their hands. Our responses were misty-eyed and stunned.

The best way to end the evening? At an Irish pub, of course. Our star-struck caravan drove over to a local Irish pub, appropriately named Little Dublin. With live Irish music playing in the background, the cozy wood-paneled tiny pub was the perfect setting for imbibing while recounting the evening’s magical moments with friends. At one point I set my Guinness down long enough to teach the techniques of a basic Irish jig, as we see John Wayne’s daughter Aissa squeeze past us. Later my husband and I shared stories of how we met and fell in love (Gawd, how does anyone tolerate us?!) then Kaci points out Maureen O’Hara’s grandson Conor, just a few feet away. What a memorable night! 

Indeed, it was an experience we shall never forget. And just so I could have a souvenir to take home in addition to my cherished memories, my sweet husband secretly bid on and won a beautiful brooch from the Maureen O’Hara collection in the silent auction and set it in front of me before the end of the program. What a lucky Irish gal I am…           


23 thoughts on “A Night with Maureen O’Hara

  1. Wow, it sounds like a fantastic time! And the lovely gift from your husband just topped it off.Miss O'Hara looks remarkable for 92, doesn't she? I'm so glad she was in good enough health to make the event.Believe it or not, I have never seen "The Quiet Man." I hope to get at it soon.Thanks for sharing your delightful experience with us.


  2. Kellee,I first learned of O'Hara visiting when reading David Lobosco's post earlier today. How wonderful that you were able to drive up and attend, meet the beautiful star.As I mentioned over at David's place, it's great that our favorite classic stars are remembered with these musuems, dedicated to showcasing their work, memorabilia.I really enjoyed touring the Gene Autry museum here in OK last summer which I wrote about and I can't wait to visit the Tom Mix and Will Rogers museums with my parents this summer. When we were kids growing up in CA, my dad was that guy who took us to every landmark and off the wall museum, side of the road attraction, regardless of how many miles out of the way it was. On one of our trips across CA, we visited the Roy Rogers museum and it was one I'll never forget. I was very sad to learn about it closing and all of the exhibits being sold off, including his horse, their dog, Bullet, etc. Thanks again for sharing your experience with us and with great photos.Page


  3. Kellee – really awesome blog post, you wrote from the heart:) You can see how much The Quiet Man means to you, and your love for it was infectious. There were so many special moments during that trip, best one we've had in a long time. The excitement of the room around Maureen was so strong, and she was so funny. Btw, our table rocked the Irish house!. Gary


  4. Kellee, I was there too and had a wonderful time. I'm glad you wrote about it. It was so much fun to meet fellow fans from across the country. It was a wonderful weekend.


  5. I AM IRISH, PEA GREEN WITH ENVY!!! Besides myself being there I'm super happy you were able to be! But, man oh man! I love Ms. O'Hara and THE QUIET MAN on the big screen must have been stupendous! Such fun! I should have gone! I thought about it and decided not to. What was I thinking?!Great post, Kellee! I felt like I was almost there! And that husband of yours…JAYSUS, A KEEPER!Aurora


  6. Patti- you absolutely MUST see The Quiet Man! I've seen it countless times & it never gets any less charming. My reference here is not an actual review so it doesn't do it justice. When you do see it, be sure to share your feedback. 🙂 Thanks for reading!


  7. Page- I totally agree. These museums & little shops of memorabilia are treasures that are often over-looked and we're lucky when we discover them & even more fortunate when someone cares enough to curate such places with the dignity they deserve. Too many folks have such a disposable attitude to our past and the same arrogant approach to acting talents. While I enjoy modern film & modern styles today, classic film & the legends of that era are true originals that cannot be replaced. Just being in the same room as a living legend felt so surreal. Thanks for reading, Page!!


  8. Our daughter was about 8 when we sat her down to enjoy "The Quiet Man". A little ways into the movie, she asked "Are they crazy?" We replied, "No, dear, they're Irish." She has learned to embrace the Nolan side of the family.


  9. I was also at Winterset that day. I had plans to attend the big celebration for John Wayne’s 100th birthday in 2007 but couldn’t attend. Our oldest daughter just had to graduate from high school that day!😀 When we learned Maureen O’Hara was going to be there in 2013, I told my wife she was getting a new dress and we were going. We had such a wonderful time that day. Seeing Quiet Man with several hundred people who knew every line was so fun. At the banquet that evening we sat with a British family that had flown in from London for the festivities. When Ms. O’Hara entered the room, she was wheeled past our table, we were only a foot or two away from one of Hollywood’s greatest legends. Her voice was strong as she related her stories of Ford and Wayne. Truly an unforgettable evening! Thanks so much for your article

    Liked by 1 person

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