Maureen O'Hara - Star pupil of the "Ena Mary Burke School of Drama and Elocution" 1937
".... I was born in Ireland of Irish parents and I'm very proud of it, and I'm very proud to be Irish by birth. The special qualities of the Irish are to realize that for centuries they have lived in a very difficult situation and can still wake up every day and laugh and smile and be wonderful hard-working people. Ireland, of course, is a very very special country, full - every inch of the way - of beauties that will paralyze you they are so beautiful to look at the mountains and the sea. God made Ireland I think that was his most beautiful job. " (Maureen O'Hara 1999).
Please note: Maureen O'Hara is the second oldest of the FitzSimons children and although she attended Ena Mary Burke School, at the time most of these photos were taken, Maureen had already made "Jamaica Inn" and was later on her way to make "Hunchback of Notre Dame" in Hollywood. There are, however, earlier entries from Barbara's Burke diary, that refer to Maureen when she was a student there. I know you are going to enjoy these entries. June Parker Beck 02-19-2005
My mother often spoke of Maureen. She died in July 2000 but before she died she wrote her memoirs and she gave me her photos and a diary which she had kept spasmodically from 1937 to 1941. There are several references to Maureen and Charlie.
did nothing about these until my sister saw Maureen on 'Richard and
last year promoting her book, 'Tis Herself'.
Burke [photo no. 17] was the mother of Barbara, Thomasina (Tommy) and
[Fionn] Burke and sister-in-law to Ena Burke. In 1940, Barbara
24 years old, Tommy 20, and Fionn 16. Ena and Barbara lived
in Dublin where Ena ran her School of Elocution and Drama. Anne, Tommy
and Fionn usually lived in Southhampton but Fionn was in Dublin for a
when war broke out I 1939 so we had to stay there. Tommy visited on
from the WAAFs.].
March 1942: Charlie in his first dress suit.
Burke’s Diary 24th July 1937 – 18th September 1941
(Barbara was 21 when she started her diary and 25 when it ended)
**Extracts mentioning Maureen O’Hara and her brother Charlie FitzSimons**
Wednesday 22nd December 1937
Christmas draws near and I am not going home. However, there will be plenty of jollifications here.
I passed my exam. (The ALCM in Elocution.) I received 86%. Irene got 83% and Maureen FitzSimons 91%. The latter is going to play a part opposite Charles Laughton in some film. Jean Arthur is also in the running for the role so Maureen will have to be very good to be selected in favour of an artiste like Jean Arthur.
Monday 24th April 1939
(Ena Burke held a ‘performers’ party’ the previous Monday, 17th April, for those taking part in the play “Mirror to Elizabeth” for the Father Matthew Feis.) We continued revelling until 1 am and Nancy Carroll voted it a better party than our Christmas one.
Maureen FitzSimons(Maureen O’Hara to film fans) came, and certainly did not seem to worry much about her diet. She is even lovelier than ever. We are eagerly awaiting her first starring film, “Jamaica Inn”, opposite Charles Laughton. Her next will be “The Admirable Crichton” with the same leading man. All the Dublin papers showed photographs of Maureen this week, ‘holidaying in Dublin’.
Sunday June 23rd, 1940
week ago (16 June), Aunty, Fionn, Charlie FitzSimons and I went to
Eye’ for the day. We brought two meals – Russian salad and slices
of cold roast lamb for dinner and cheese, tomato and egg sandwiches for
tea. We went to Howth by bus and crossed to the island in a small
motor boat. We changed into our ‘togs’ and lazed in the sun all
Aunty minded the clothes while we went exploring. We climbed to
topmost peak of the island and Charlie got two seagulls’ eggs for
These got broken subsequently and were very mushy and smelly.
We had two delightful bathes, but the water was cold. Charlie’s father said that the water round this island was the coldest in Ireland.
FitzSimons in Fionn’s beau and the only boy who is allowed to take her
out. (Fionn was 16 years old.) He is brother to Maureen O’Hara,
reputed to be earning £650 per week in Hollywood as a star.
Sunday January 21st, 1940
Once more, Christmas with its noisiness and feasting has receded into the past. Our party was the climax to a joyous holiday and everyone declared it was the best ever. The highlight of our party was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, adapted by myself. I played Sneezy and Fionn was the Prince. Charlie FitzSimons played Snow White. Florrie FitzSimons was Sleepy. Jimmy FitzSimons was the Queen and the Witch. He tried to conceal his lines in the pages of his Book of Evil (Picture Post) but he dropped them all over the floor amid roars of laughter. The playlet was a howling success as all mistakes were attributed to our endeavours to make fun so it was certainly hilarious.
Sunday 28th July 1940
saw Maureen O’Hara in ‘A Bill of Divorcement’ this afternoon. She
was very good and will be a top-line star. Her brother Charlie is
at this moment playing cards with Fionn here in the dining room.
Thursday 18th September 1941
Last weekend (Saturday - Monday 13th - 15th September), Fionn, Charlie Fitz and I cycled down to Dunleer to visit Nancy Carroll. The journey was 42 miles and we felt every mile of it the next day. We lounged around Nancy’s all day Sunday and cycled back on Monday. Fionn borrowed Aunty Ena’s new bike, Charlie had his own and I borrowed Marie Brennan’s.
O’Hara, film star, got her divorce in Reno lately. I expect
Maureen will soon marry again now.
(To prevent perpetuation of information that is not entirely historically/chronologically accurate as regards Ms. O'Hara's career in the US, I have edited a couple of areas indicated by asterisks **) - keeping in mind that some areas of information reached Miss Burke by word of mouth or incorrect published information at that time.
References to Maureen O’Hara and the FitzSimons family
We had a party for Aunty Ena’s senior pupils. Maureen FitzSimons, whose film name was Maureen O’Hara, came to it. She was so happy to be home and she said she enjoyed the party better than any function she had been to in Hollywood! She had been Aunty Ena’s star pupil for many years and her brother Charlie was Fionn’s beau. She said she still preferred the simpler life and wasn’t looking forward to going back to the hurly-burly of film acting.
Perhaps this is not the place to give a potted history of Maureen, but it seems as good a place as any. She and her two sisters, Florrie and Margo and her brothers, Charlie and Jimmy all came to Aunty Ena’s classes for years.( * * Her mother owned a millinery business and was very keen to support her children in whatever career they chose. Her father was manager of the Dublin branch of Woodrow's, an English firm, specializing in gentlemen's hats and overcoats. The whole family eventually moved to the United States and of course, her parents are dead now. At one stage, Mrs FitzSimons, her mother, wanted me to go to Hollywood as a sort of paid companion to Maureen, but I declined. (Maureen's father was also part owner of the Shamrock Rovers, a Irish soccer team).**)
Subsequently all the children played in films. Jimmy was the young curate in “The Quiet Man”, starring Maureen and John Wayne. Charlie was also in that film in a pub scene. Margot and Florrie played supporting roles in a couple of movies, but they never made the same impact that Maureen did. Even when Maureen lost her slim figure she still continued starring in films, mainly with John Wayne. She is now a millionairess.
She had three marriages. The first ended in divorce, the second brought her a daughter and the third was to a man who ran an airline and who died tragically in an air crash.
Charlie became a lawyer and also produced films. Fionn was bridesmaid to Margo when she was married in London. The film star Franchot Tone, was Best Man and squired Fionn all that day.
I met Maureen at Aunty Ena’s Memorial Mass and she told me all the details of her brothers’ and sister’ weddings and children. She also invited Maurice and me to go any time we liked to stay at her holiday castle in Southern Ireland. She gave me the phone number and said we didn’t have to be there if she wanted to go. Just ring up, she said, and the housekeeper would accommodate us! It was an invitation we never took up.
My mother was born in May 1916. She was the eldest of three daughters of Mark Burke and Anne Brookes who had been married in the Garrison Chapel Salisbury in May 1915.
Her father, Mark, was in the British Army at the time. He came from Dublin and was the eldest of seven children, three boys and four girls. Auntie Ena (Thomasina), born in 1892, was the second eldest. The others were Edmund, Austin, Nuala, Grace and Maura.
My mother lived in London during the first few years of her life. When her sister Thomasina (Tommy) was born in July 1920, Aunty Ena came over to England for the christening and took my mother back to Dublin with her. She was just over four years old and she stayed in Dublin with Aunty Ena and the Burke family for nearly two years.
The family rented the third and fourth floors of a house in Brunswick Street (now Pierce Street), above a monumental mason’s. Mark was married and in England and Edmund had been killed fighting in France in the First World War in 1915, but the others all lived at home with their parents, my mother’s grandparents.
The house was dominated by my mother’s grandfather, Edmund Burke, who was a Professor of Elocution and Belles Lettres. He was a very arrogant and self-centred man, whom nobody liked, but everyone had to defer to. He bullied and beat his children. I remember Aunty Nuala saying to me that he ‘was terrible to the girls but he murdered the boys’. His son Edmund had joined the Army to get away from him. He taught Elocution in the two teaching rooms in the house and at various schools in Dublin and beyond. He had a good reputation for curing speech impediments like stammers and stutters and was supposed to have coached the future King George VI (who had a stammer) at one time.
Unfortunately for the family finances, by 1920 he had become rather lazy. He was supposed to teach, but he often would refuse to get out of bed and instead put a notice on the door, which said, ‘The Professor is unable to teach today’ and the pupils would have to go away without their lessons. He had also been very pro-British during the 1916 Irish uprising and that had lost him a lot of pupils. Aunty Ena also taught elocution in the house and in schools but no one else in the family earned anything so money was rather short. The other four were all students at the National University of Ireland. Grace qualified as a barrister and Austin studied Science. They were a very well educated family, but not very wealthy!
My mother describes the flat in her memoirs. Her grandparents had their own bedroom but the four girls had to share a bed in the only other and much smaller bedroom. When my mother came to stay, she shared that bed too, sleeping across the bottom! Austin slept on a camp bed in one of the teaching rooms. If one of the girls had exams she was given the privilege of having her own camp bed in the other teaching room!
The living room was on the top floor. All cooking was done there on an open fire, except in summer, when they had an oil stove to cook on. The only running water came from a cold tap over a sink in a cubbyhole half way up the stairs. The only bathroom was on the ground floor and contained a huge bath covered in rust. My mother couldn’t remember it ever being used. If she needed to be clean for a party or special occasion one of the aunts would take her to the public baths.
My mother went back to England when she was six or so, by which time her parents and Tommy had moved to Southampton. When my mother was eight, her sister Fionnuala was born and again Aunty Ena came over for the christening and this time took both my mother and Tommy back to Ireland with her.
This set the pattern for my mother’s childhood. She would spend a couple of years in Ireland and a couple in England until finally, from the age of eleven she went to boarding school in Dublin (Loreto College, Stephen’s Green) and went home to Southampton for the holidays. When she left school she went to the National University of Ireland and after she graduated and got her Teaching Diploma she lived with Aunty Ena and taught elocution in schools and to various private pupils.
By this time, in the late 1930s, Aunty Ena had moved to 20 Kildare Street, which is in the centre of Dublin, off St Stephen’s Green, and opened her School of Elocution there. Here she held classes and took private pupils, though she also taught in schools as well.
Grandaddy Burke had been removed to a nursing home. His wife had left him and moved in with her sisters.
Ena never married, but Maura, Grace and Nuala married in the 1930s. Maura did not finish her University studies. She married Uncle Robbie and had three children. He was a male nurse and they lived in England but often visited the family in Dublin. They are mentioned frequently in my mother’s diary. Grace married a widower and had one son. She and Uncle Peter lived in Northern Ireland for a time and in England but also frequently came back to Dublin. They are often mentioned in the diary too. Nuala married a ship’s doctor and went with him to India and Australia. He died and left her with three boys. During the war, Austin married a Manchester girl and moved to England.
My mother met my father, Maurice Coffey, a Dublin man whose family came from Terenure, when they were students at university and in the Dublin Shakespeare Society. He was a teacher but in Ireland all the good jobs went to the clergy so he applied for a job at a grammar school in Street, a small town in Somerset, England, and after they married in 1947 they moved there. I was born in 1948, my sister Hillary in 1950 and my brother Eamonn in 1956.
My father taught at the grammar school for the rest of his working life. He also produced plays with current and past pupils and directed a Gilbert and Sullivan opera at the school every year. My mother taught part time in schools but she also continued her family’s tradition and set up her own School of Elocution, teaching classes in a church hall after school and on Saturday mornings and teaching private pupils too. We also attended the classes! She entered her pupils for Speech and Drama Festivals in Bristol, Highbridge and Taunton and they won certificates, cups and medals. We also did the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama exams. Every year her pupils performed a show for their parents and friends.
My grandparents, Mark and Anne, split up during the war. Their marriage had always been turbulent. When I was a child we often visited my grandmother in Southampton but I never met my grandfather until I was fifteen, when he surfaced in a hospital in Southampton. I wrote to him when I was at university and visited him several times in the hospital where he died in 1968.
Aunty Ena came to visit us often when we were children. She was my godmother and quite a formidable figure – very strict. As a family we didn’t have much money and when Aunty came to stay she would take us shopping to buy us books and clothes from shops. This was very special as apart from this my mother used to make all our clothes and we had to get our books from libraries!
Nuala sometimes visited us too. When she was widowed she returned to Dublin in 1952 with her boys. The eldest now lives in the US and I visited him and his family in Montana in 1977. The younger two live in Dublin. I am in close touch with them and they came to my mother’s funeral.
Grace split from her husband Peter and became rather reclusive. Her son still lives near Dublin and we keep in touch. He came to my mother’s funeral too.
We have lost touch with Austin’s part of the family.
Maura and Robbie retired to Devon and we used to visit them when we were young. Often the other aunts were there too. I have strong memories of them all standing around in the kitchen, smoking, with their coats on. It was always freezing cold and they would wear long fur coats and dead fur animals round their necks. Aunty Maura never wore anything on her feet except fur boots. They would drink endless cups of tea.
In the 1950s and 60s Ena, Nuala and Grace supported themselves and their families by teaching elocution. They lived separately in Dublin and received news of each other through their shared home help, Mrs Daly. They were all very strong-minded, independent and dominant women.
When Aunty Ena retired she moved to Kingston-on-Thames and lived with Maura, who was then a widow. She died in 1972 and is buried there. The other aunts died in the 1980s.
I went to Liverpool University and read History. I married in 1971, but my husband and I split up in 1997. We have four daughters: Jessica, who is married and teaches Maths in London, Rachel who lives in London and works for the BBC, Alicen who is at university in Bristol and Stephanie who is still at home and in her last year at school.
When I was married, we moved around quite a lot because my husband kept changing his job but we have lived in Sheffield now for 20 years. I taught History and English in various schools but in 1999 I had a career change and I am now a part time administrator for the National Women’s Register.
My sister Hillary was a teacher too, until her marriage broke up. She now works part time in a charity shop. She has three children. My brother is married with four children and lives near Carlisle.
The only one of us who has kept up the family acting traditions is my sister Hillary who is a member of the Folkestone and Hythe Operatic and Dramatic Society. She appears in plays and also directs plays for them. She also writes amusing verse and has a weekly slot on Radio Kent. I appeared in plays when I was at university but have done nothing much like that since. However, I am always grateful for the elocution training my mother gave me: as a result I have no fears about public speaking – in fact I very much enjoy it!