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Thursday 23 November 2017

The screen siren and her dashing captain

Maureen O'Hara and her husband Charles Blair
Maureen O'Hara and her husband Charles Blair
Maureen O'Hara with Lal Kirwan Dowley, the first ground hostess for the flying boat, museum director Margaret O'Shaughnessy and Carol Davenport, whose husband David was head of operations

Barry Duggan

IT'S an image of a glamorous bygone era: a world-famous movie star smiles at the photographer while sitting in the cockpit of a flying boat with her dashing pilot husband alongside her.

And yesterday screen legend Maureen O'Hara was back in Foynes, Co Limerick, reminiscing about the days when her husband, Charles Blair, piloted flying boats -- passenger aircraft which could land on water -- between the Shannon estuary and the United States from 1937 to 1945. O'Hara, who turns 91 in August, said it "would be wonderful" to celebrate her 100th birthday at Foynes Flying Boat Museum, of which she is patron.

"Please God, the ones up in heaven are saying to God: 'Don't let her up here yet a while. Give us some peace,'" O'Hara joked.

At the museum yesterday, O'Hara recalled the heady days of flying boats and transatlantic flights with former ground hostess Lal Kirwan Dowley (86).

It was a special day for Mrs Kirwan Dowley, the former British Airways hostess, at Foynes. She saw images of her younger self in a specially designed holographic exhibition.

Mrs Kirwan Dowley -- originally from Monkstown, Dublin but now living in Cape Cod in the US -- was present when the world's very first Irish coffee was created by Joe Sheridan at Foynes air terminal in 1943.

"I was hired to go out on the launch (a boat) and meet the passengers. They would be brought back here for breakfast in the restaurant and a drink perhaps," Mrs Kirwan Dowley explained.

Flying boats were a familiar sight in Foynes from 1937 to 1945 and O'Hara recalled that her husband, Mr Blair, flew the last flying boat out of Foynes and the first flight into Shannon, where the base had moved to, in 1945.

Mr Blair died in 1978. O'Hara, who now lives in Glengarriff, Co Cork, starred in 63 films.

"I am very proud to have represented Ireland in the motion picture industry -- we have done very well," she said.

She described 'The Quiet Man', in which she acted alongside John Wayne, as "one of the greatest pictures ever made".

She also recalled her role in the film 'Miracle on 34th Street' and brought laughter from the 150 guests when she noted it had since been remade.

"Thank God, it is not as good as the original. It's very depressing when somebody does something and it is better than you did," she said.

O'Hara also said she hoped to soon get to see her beloved Shamrock Rovers play soon.

"One of these days I will have to go to a match, but it will break my heart if they lose," she said.

Irish Independent

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