It’s a little after high noon, Casey’s Hotel on the main street of Glengarriff, a picture postcard town in West Cork that’s far more than just being the stopover on the road between Bantry and Kenmare.
For one thing, it’s a clean and well-maintained looking town with places to shop, eat, put up your feet or indeed exercise them.
And it’s geographically fortunate, being the jumping off point for other worldly Garnish Island and gateway to the Beara Peninsula, beyond argument one of the most spectacular landscapes on the entire island of Ireland.
But the Beara can wait.
And not just because there’s a soft, misty rain and the rugged landscape of the place is going to be half hidden under a blanket of what the Atlantic takes a delight in oft delivering around these parts.
It’s because that between the visitor and a trip down the magical dagger of land is a Hollywood legend.
Maureen O’Hara is just two days beyond celebrating her 89th birthday. But don’t let that fool you. She’s all business on this day, fired up and on a mission
Three days ago, on the eve of her birthday, O’Hara worked with a documentary film crew for six hours or so.
So it was no real surprise that a lunch meeting in Casey’s that might have been thought in advance as being brief was anything but.
Maureen O’Hara has lots to say. It’s as if, freed of scripts written by others, she is making up for lost words.
If you invite O’Hara to delve back into her long life and career, it’s like opening a treasure box.
She has 63 movies to her credit, has been all over the world and can list off the names of favorite fellow thespians who were her friends and that need no introduction or elaobration.
Most of them, as it happens, are men. Among them are James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, John Wayne (and here she adds “of course”) John Candy and, of course again, John Ford, the legendary director who might have met his match in a young red-headed starlet who knew what she was about, and where she was from.
Maureen O’Hara in real life was in some respects, and at certain moments, the fiery and strong-willed woman she played on the screen.
Ford, a hard man if ever there was one, found that out on the set once when he crossed tempers with O’Hara.
Suffice it to say, Ford, and it was a rare day for him, was put in his place.
Still, if O’Hara’s mission is fulfilled, the man she called on that day a “baldy bastard,” – he deserved it – will have his place in the Maureen O’Hara Legacy Center, a destination that will put Glengarriff on the map, again, and even bigger time.
Maureen O’Hara likes to go for lunch in Casey’s. She has a corner table that she prefers to the others, but today it’s occupied. She doesn’t mind, and sits at another to greet her visitors.
To say that O’Hara holds court here might be a bit of stretch. But only a bit.
That’s because the actress who once played a pirate queen is treated like royalty by people who come to seek her out here, or simply turn up and recognize a woman who still looks like, well, herself.
She’s generous with her time, conscious of the fact that people are inquisitive and curious. Few, if any, ever depart disappointed. Some are star struck, pure and simple.
O’Hara doesn’t travel all that much these days. She enjoys the local climate, warmed constantly by the Gulf Stream, and describes her former home on the Virgin Islands as being a bit too hot for her present liking.
Then again she doesn’t have to do the traveling. The world walks up to her doorstep, or at least the one fronting Casey’s.
And much more of the world will do so when the legacy center bearing her name opens its doors.
While O’Hara’s name will be the marquis attraction, the center is envisaged as being a kind of Hollywood Irish Hall of Fame. And that, for sure, is a lot of territory to cover.
In the tradition of halls of fame in America, the plan has not been to open it in a bigger town or city. Though, in the case of Glengarriff, this one will occupy a place that is, nevertheless, on the beaten track.
The center project, which has been set up as a not-for profit, was recently boosted by a two-night fundraiser at the New York Athletic Club.
The hope is to have the center up and running by sometime in 2011.
At its heart will be a display commemorating Maureen O’Hara’s long association with John Wayne and their collaboration in “The Quiet Man.”
The center will additionally house exhibits, displays and lectures and include facilities for live performances and year-round educational courses including movie production, John Ford-style and presumably otherwise.
O’Hara’s on and off screen relationship with Wayne has intrigued people for years.
What O’Hara still talks about with a somewhat pained look is the scene in “The Quiet Man” when Wayne drags her by the hair. She hurt her back in that scene, a bit of a rough one even for an actress who insisted on doing most of her own stunts.
Still, at least it made the final cut.
That final cut was just under two and a half hours. Lunch on this soft day in West Cork with Mary Kate Danaher lasted a few minutes longer than that.
Maureen O’Hara’s zest for life is undiminished and, as a result, she is adding daily to her extraordinary legacy.