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Legendary actress Maureen O’Hara, turning 92, involved in legal dispute with former assistant over her Foundation

Saturday, August 11, 2012 She was the screen icon who put Ireland in the Hollywood limelight. But a battle over her legacy could take the shine off Maureen O’Hara’s glittering career. Investigative Correspondent Conor Ryan reports HIS is a dispute that threatens to herald a very sorry end to a truly celebrated life. At its core is the question of control over the life’s work of a cinema icon and the legacy she has wanted to leave in her adopted home on the Cork-Kerry border. Maureen O’Hara pioneered the success of Irish idols in Hollywood. The Ranelagh-born actress’ contribution is already projected through the generations of film stars with Irish accents that followed her. But she wanted more than that. She had a dream. "Sometimes I ask myself what was the purpose of all those glorious years. The struggle? The uncompromising pursuit of excellence? How can we pass this on to future generations?" she told perspective donors in 2009. In the same video address, Ms O’Hara went on to introduce plans for a school and museum that would carry her name long after she was gone. She celebrates her 92nd birthday on Friday with her legacy now seemingly at the mercy of the family courts. Meanwhile, those she entrusted with realising her dream, the Maureen O’Hara Foundation, have been accused of distorting it. Demands have been made by her new legal team to reveal what the foundation has done with its money and what of Ms O’Hara’s has it got control of. In Glengarriff, the fledgling foundation has been torn apart. It is now in limbo, unsure of the continued support of its lead patron and unwilling to continue without her. Suspicion first circulated through innuendo, but was articulated by Ms O’Hara herself, following the intervention of some of her family. These developments have prompted the foundation’s chief executive, Glengarriff accountant Frank McCarthy, to open the books. He said the foundation is anxious to explain what it has done with the trust, goodwill and contributions from Maureen O’Hara, her international friends and her neighbours in West Cork. Mr McCarthy has outlined the ambitious vision that the group had been preparing to unveil to the public. He set out what it needed from Ms O’Hara’s estate. And he gave a detailed account of the money it has raised and spent since its inception. He said far from the foundation distorting the actress’ legacy, he believed it was on the cusp of securing it. "The foundation remains steadfast in its primary purpose of making the dream and creative legacy of Maureen O’Hara a reality," he said. His words are echoed by Ms O’Hara’s stepson Chris Blair, who is a director of the American arm of the foundation and said in his conversations with the actress the dream espoused by the foundation was ambitious but it was what she wanted. Still, he said, that dream is in grave danger. "The current difficulties are beyond distressing, and I certainly hope that all questions can be cleared up through independent review as quickly as possible. "With so much uncertainty about the future, I think it is impossible to move the organisation and its mission forward until this is accomplished." THE DISPUTE The reputation of the foundation, and that of those involved in it, has been swept up in a rancorous split between Maureen O’Hara’s friends, her family and her erstwhile team of advisors. In May and early June, rumour wreaked havoc. Initially, Ms O’Hara was forced to come out and deny that she was the victim of elder abuse. She had to confirm that the many events she attended had not been organised to tout her fame for money. The elder abuse suggestion was dismissed after a visit from the Health Service Executive. Around the same time, the High Court was asked to rule on who should take charge of her affairs. The choice has effectively come down to her extended family or the friend she trusted to look after her estate during her old age.


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