Remembering Maureen O’Sullivan’s Visit to Boyle on Sunday August 7th 1988
Tony Conboy wrote: “On Tuesday August 7th it will be 30 years since the visit of Hollywood star Maureen O’Sullivan who paraded through the town of Boyle on a fine sunny Sunday. It was a memorable occasion with the weather on that day contributing in an otherwise dreary summer.
An active and imaginative committee had worked hard in facilitating the visit and it all was a resounding success. The idea shared by Frank Geelan and the writer of this note had been floated for some time. Contact was made with Miss O’Sullivan to see if she would like to return the town of her birth and when she accepted the invitation, the committee got to work. Eventually on that August week-end Maureen and he husband James Cushing arrived staying at John Burke’s Riversdale House in Knockvicar where she had lived for some time as a young lady.
The Film Star
Maureen had been born on Main Street Boyle in 1911 in what is now Sheerin’s premises then Judge’s. She was the daughter of Captain O’Sullivan an officer in Boyle Military Barracks now King House. The family later lived in Riversdale in Knockvicar and then moved to Dublin. The beautiful lady was ‘discovered’ in Dublin and invited to Hollywood to play a part in a film with the great Irish singer Count John McCormack. Sometime late she was cast as the original Jane in the series of Tarzan films based on the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Her co-star was the American Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller who took the lead as Tarzan. Another important element in those films was the monkey Cheetah. Maureen later took part in a number of movies with the brilliant Marx Brothers in ‘A Day at the Races’; also Charles Laughton in ‘Payment Deferred’ and in ‘David Copperfield’ with W.C. Fields. She married Australian Film Director John Farrow in 1936 and she semi-retired to raise their family one of whom was Mia Farrow. Mia also became a famous film star and celebrity through marriage to Frank Sinatra, Andre Previn and Woody Allen. Maureen’s husband John Farrow died in 1963 and Maureen returned for a small number of films one being ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ with her daughter Mia directed by Woody Allen. She married James Cushing in 1983.
Frank Geelan managed to make contact with Maureen in early ’88 with the invitation to her to return to Boyle at some convenient time. She replied thus; “I am deeply honoured and touched by your offer and that of your committee to ‘welcome me home ‘ to Boyle”. The August date emerged and so it transpired. She arrived at Riversdale House on the Saturday and came to Boyle attending Mass on the Sunday being welcomed by Father Greene and so a memorable and full day of events followed. Sacristan Paddy Leonard showed her, her baptismal cert giving her a copy after Mass and the atmosphere built in the following hours. In the afternoon the parade started at the railway station led by a magnificent Mullingar Town Marching Band to the stage at the entry to King House. The event was covered intensely by the national media and RTE news cameras. Crowds draw crowds and it all snowballed into Main Street where Maureen got first glimpse of her birth home and responded emotionally. The band gave a telling rendition of ‘Everything is Beautiful’ . And so it was on that gorgeous day.
There were a number of ‘speeches’ of welcome and she responded tellingly with what such lines as;
“My life has come full circle. Today that circle has kind of closed and I am home again where I was born and where my happiest days were spent.
I have lived in a great many places but the best part of me I owe to Boyle. Its influence, Lough Key, the countryside, has given me whatever poetry is in my soul, whatever love I have of God. Whatever it is, it comes from here”
Later she unveiled the plaque which can be seen on Sheerin’s today, planted a tree with vigour on Military Road, visited the Arts Festival exhibition at the Parochial School and signed a multitude of autographs on the event booklet. That evening she attended and participated in a concert given by the best entertainers from the town and area.
She then retired to Riversdale House where next day the trip continued with the planting of a ‘monkey puzzle’ tree in the grounds. She visited Mister Frazier, a relative, in Ballinafad, The Roscommon Herald officers where Patsy Brennan presented her with a framed picture of her father in his army uniform and was also honoured by Boyle Town Commission with a further presentation. Maureen and James were taken back by cruiser skippered by committee member Frank O’Mahoney across Lough Key to Riversdale.
Legacy of her Visit
And so concluded a memorable week end which got front page headlines on a variety of national papers plus RTE main news bulletins. Pictures from it were later published in Hello magazine as part of a biographical series on Maureen.
Maureen returned to the U.S. laden with gifts and especially vivid memories. Shortly afterwards she wrote to the committee thanking them for everything they did, for the crowds for the heart-warming welcome and emphasising how much the visit meant to her and her husband. It was just a triumph for all and reflected in a hugely positive way on Boyle town and its people. Even though it is thirty years ago the memories and beneficial legacy seem as if they are still in the air. Those of us privileged to be involved on that memorable Sunday August 7th 1988 will not easily forget, not just a true movie star but a beautiful, bright lady that was Maureen Paula O’Sullivan.
The event was extensively ‘videoed’ for the committee by Donal Farrell and Michael Beirne. After 30 years those videos are somewhat (!) short of the crystal clear quality of camerawork today. However, towards the end of this month we will have an edited summary (one hour or so) of that visit ready and will show it perhaps in the studio in King House. A particular element we will focus on is the concert in the Royal Hotel on the Sunday evening which featured (amongst other), Agnes Devine Conlon, Maye Conroy, Rosaleen Moran, Mary Ryan, Jim Casserly, Sister Richard, Josephine Carroll, the McTiernan family from Ballyfarnon, Gerard Tivnan, Josie McDermott, Eileen McGowan, Anne Conboy, Mrs. Dwyer Morris and of course, very prominently, Maureen O’Sullivan herself.”