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Maureen O’Hara and her husband, the late Colonel Charles Blair, arrived in Glengarriff in 1969 when they bought Lugdine House, which is part of the Dromgarriff Estate in Glengarriff. Colonel Blair was a legendary aviator who flew the first solo flight across the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole in his single engine plane. He was also the first pilot to fly passengers and mail, non-stop, across the Atlantic from Foynes to New York in 1942.It was he who choose the location in Glengarriff as it was ideal for landing his sea-planes.
Following her husband’s tragic death in 1978 Maureen continued to spend her Summers in Glengarriff. In recent years she has made it her permanent home.
During the 1970’s and early 1980’s she noticed a steady decline in tourist numbers visiting Ireland and in particular the Glengarriff/Bantry area. Because of her international film career, Maureen had spent many years abroad but, she always remained loyal to her native country and especially to her adopted home in Glengarriff. Accordingly, she felt a compulsion to try and initiate some activity that would encourage an increase in the numbers visiting the area. She was conscious that tourism revenue was important to the economy of this region. She discussed her ideas with a number of people in the area, among them a couple of members of Glengarriff Golf Club. After some deliberation, the idea of a golf tournament was floated. This was to be a golf tournament with a difference.
Maureen’s approach was a totally new concept. Her idea was to stage a tournament of such appeal that it would attract golfers from Ireland and abroad who would play their golf and spend some time in the area. Thus, the format of a team event was conceived. A golf festival would be held over four days every Summer, catering for both ladies and gents. This was the first time such a format was played in Munster.
It was called the Maureen O’Hara/Charles Blair Golf Classic.
The first tournament was held in July 1984 and was a remarkable success. Club golfers from all over Ireland, England, Wales, Germany, United States and Canada took part and continue to do so. Current and past members of the Irish International teams played, together with well known showbiz personalities.From the beginning it was a unique venture and stood out among other golf competitions for its excellence. Golfers were attracted by its special character, and not least by the opportunity to meet the charismatic lady herself and have their picture taken with her.
Maureen provided perpetual trophies for the ladies and gents winners. She used her international status to secure significant sponsorship in the early years from the National Dairy Council and Murphys’ Stout. In recent years, business people in Bantry, Glengarriff and Cork have provided generous sponsorship.
In the early days of the tournament, the clubhouse was inadequate to cater for the large crowds. A large marquee was erected in the car park and this added to the carnival ambience of the occasion.
The tournament has continued to thrive since then, with the time-sheet fully booked out and a waiting list each year. Golfers from all over Ireland and abroad play in the competition and organise a family holiday locally. It has proved a valuable input into the local tourist economy.
The funds accumulated from the tournament in the early years provided the initial monies to build the beautifully designed clubhouse, which the members enjoy, to-day. This money formed a substantial seed capital which enabled the committee to make application for funding from the Government for grant aid from the ‘Bantry Package’, which had been set up after the Whiddy Island disaster, in 1979. As a result of this, the clubhouse was built at no cost to the members. Without Maureen’s involvement this project would never have got off the ground.
Maureen’s presence as Lady President within the golf club from 1986 raised the profile and status of the golf club, which has always had a vibrant and unique character of inclusion and multiculturalism. Maureen brought a charm and warmth to all club gatherings, a touch of the exotic and a flavour of Hollywood. She held a Honorary Life Membership with the club by virtue of her distinguished iconic position as one of the all-time greats of the motion picture industry. She was dedicated to the welfare and continuing success of Glengarriff Golf Club, participating in a very committed and focused way in major decisions regarding the club, where her common sense and no nonsense approach was invaluable.
Maureen was been a great ambassador for Ireland all her life, treasuring her Irishness, its language and culture. She was honoured by several academic and cultural institutions. She was always keen to promote Irish interests at every opportunity, not least those of Glengarriff Golf Club.
The Maureen O’Hara/Charles Blair Open Golf Classic still retains its vibrancy and freshness, after many years, and the name of Maureen O’Hara is now happily synonymous with Glengarriff internationally.