Throughout her film career, Maureen O’Hara captured the essence of the Irish colleen in all its contradictions. In The Quiet Man, as Mary Kate, she went toe-to-toe with John Wayne’s Jack Thornton, in one of the most rugged screen courtships in the history of film.
There were a lot of Irish actors in Hollywood at that time, weren’t there?
Yes, Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Shields, Jackie MacGowan, George Brent. In the old days, before my time, there were Adrian Ames and Madeleine Carroll, a schoolteacher from Limerick.
There was the John Ford Irish group, of course. We’d go to his house and have dinner or a buffet. Then we’d all have to entertain. He’d make John Wayne sing about his Mary, Ford’s wife. Wayne could sing, but the whole joke was he’d sing off-key, which he did.
Whenever we came over, Mary used to say, “Oh God, I’m getting nothing but Irish tonight. What am I going to do?”
I became an American citizen in 1946, I think it was. I put down on my papers “nationality – Irish citizen.” When I went down to City Hall for the exam, and passed, I was sent to pledge for my citizenship. The person told me to put my hand up. Then to my horror, I was asked, “Do you forswear allegiance to England?”
I said, “Just a minute, I can’t do that. I have nothing to do with England, I’m Irish.” She said, “Well, you better read this form.” So I did, and everywhere I had written “Irish citizen” they had put “nationality – English.” So I created a fuss and they sent me before this judge and we argued about Irish history. He had to telex Washington to see what they said and the reply came back that I was English.
Well, I got very upset. I said, “I’m not responsible for your antiquated record-keeping in Washington that doesn’t even know there’s an independent Ireland. I’m sorry, I don’t accept this. You’re trying to take from my grandchildren their right to talk about their wonderful Irish grandmother.”
At that, the judge threw his hands up and said, “Give her anything she wants.” And so I got “Irish citizen” on my papers. – February 1987