Memory Lanes: Ongar and Rita Hayworth

What have an actress from “The Golden Age of Hollywood” and the West Dublin Suburb of Blanchardstown have in common?

The answer might surprise you.

As you walk past roads named “Hayworth Drive”, “Hayworth Place” etc., you might simply  think this must have been a place where hay was stored, but how wrong you would be. It’s not rolls of hay, but rather acting roles that are source of the names of these streets - it was here that Hollywood legend Rita Hayworth once resided.
For most of the 20th Century a splendid house was situated in the area were these streets are now located, known as “Ongar House”. It was at one stage owned by the famous Aga Khan Dynasty.

To those with an interest in horse racing, this name may well be familiar, but there’s more to the name than that! The person known as the Aga Khan is the de facto Head of Ismaili Muslims, who believe him to be a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Khans are said to be billionaires and own many luxury properties around the world.
In the 1920’s the Aga Khan began buying up lands in Ireland for the purposes of setting up stud farms. He selected the land and house at Ongar as one of the locations for his horse breeding operation.
Back then the area now known as Dublin 15 was really a rural hinterland with the area consisting of mostly farmland. To but it into some context, it was only in 1930 that houses in the suburb of Cabra, some 13 km away were built; This was then seen as the city limits. It was to be another 30 odd years before the first housing estate was built in Blanchardstown. In the “Topographical dictionary of Ireland”, published in 1837, Blanchardstown is described as a village containing 57 houses and 342 inhabitants.
The population in 2022, now stands at over 70,000.
And the far end of this Dublin 15 suburb, straddling the Dublin-Meath border, was the house and lands of Ongar House.
In 1949, the Aga Khan married Hollywood superstar Rita Hayworth, his second wife, but 5 years later they also divorced. Rita alleged her husband was having multiple affairs, and this the reason for their divorce.
Rita was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on  October 17th 1918 in Brooklyn New York. Her Father was a dancer by profession and moved from Spain to the US five years before Rita’s birth. She made her film debut aged 16 in “Dante’s Inferno”, released in 1935. It was while filming her role in the 1939 film “Only angels have wings”, that Paramount Pictures made Margarita change her name to Rita Hayworth. She was married to her first husband at the time, but it is said she found out he was spending a lot of her money without her consent and left him. Rita would star in a few more films, but by the early 1960’s film roles became hard to come by and so she began to appear more on TV dramas. Her last film appearance was “The Wrath of God” in 1972.
It was while married to the Aga Khan that Rita first stepped foot in the house in Ongar. To say it was love at first sight would be quite the understatement. Hayworth continued to visit Dublin and stay in Ongar House after her divorce, despite the fact it was still owned by her now second ex-husband.
Rita developed dementia at a relatively early age (thought to be in her early 40’s), but it was not officially diagnosed until 1980, when she was in her late 50’s.
This star of the “Golden Age” of Cinema sadly passed away in 1987 at the age of 68.
Rita still to this day has quite the devoted Fan Club and she is still fondly remembered for the films she starred in, with the likes of Fred Astaire among others. I wonder how many of these Super Fans know of the love she had for what was then a quiet little part of Dublin? In 2001 it was announced that Ongar House and its lands – previously used in the business of Horse breeding, were sold by Rita’s one-time Stepson, the current Aga Khan, to Manor Homes, who at the time planned to build 243 home on the site. Now it is estimated that the number of housing units in the Ongar area stands at over 2,000.
As for the beautiful Ongar House, it was sadly destroyed in a fire that raged on the night of the 15th/16th of September 2002. Where this house once gracefully stood, now stands an array if duplexes and apartments. The roads these homes now sit on give a nod to the Hollywood starlet, who once used to grace the area with her dazzling presence.
Posted: 26/10/2022 14:49:52