On the 70th anniversary of the Irish premiere of The Quiet Man, Liam Ó Raghallaigh recalls how Maurice Walsh’s short story became a much-loved film starring John Wayne & Maureen O’Hara.
In 1933, film director John Ford read a short story by Kerry author Maurice Walsh entitled The Quiet Man, in The Saturday Evening Post, and liked it. He bought the film rights in 1936 but it would be another 15 years before he could bring it to the screen as none of the big studios were interested.
Eventually, Herbert J. Yates, boss of Republic Pictures, (a low budget studio, established 1935) agreed to finance it, provided that Ford made three movies for him, with a Western first, to cover the losses he believed this ‘silly little Irish story’ would incur.
Ford went to Monument Valley and made Rio Grande and the stage was set for him to fulfil his dream of making a movie in his beloved Ireland, and in colour.
In 1946, he and his friend, Merian C. Cooper, had established their own production company, Argosy Pictures, and under that banner, in 1951, they headed for the Emerald Isle. Ford’s preferred location for his movie was Spiddal, County Galway, his father’s native place, but lack of suitable accommodation ruled it out, so he had to look elsewhere, and Cong, County Mayo, was chosen because of Ashford Castle and its facilities.
Cong – in Gaelic, Ceapach-Corcog, meaning ‘The Market Garden of the Beehives’ – was the venue of the very first recorded account of a game of hurling.
The first of the film company arrived in Cong on June 5th and the last were to leave on July, 14th. John Ford and the ‘stars’ stayed in Ashford and in Ryan’s Hotel, while the crew and minor players took lodgings in and around the village.
Ford’s ‘stock’ company had even more family connections than usual for this, his special project He had his own two brothers and his son Pat; Maureen O’Hara had her 7-year-old daughter Bronwyn and two brothers; Barry Fitzgerald had his brother Arthur Shields; Victor McLaglen had his son Andrew V.; and John Wayne (Marion Robert Morrison) had his wife Chata and his four children.
The 35mm Mitchell cameras and other equipment were shipped in from England, together with the technicians to look after them.This was more cost-effective than bringing them from the US, and Herb Yates kept tight control of the purse strings. The Irish ‘wardrobe’ was supplied by ó Máille’s of Galway and Dr. John McDarby of Ballinrobe was employed as Medical Consultant.
Ashford Castle provides the backdrop to the opening credits and that is the only time it appears on screen; Ford’s movie would be about the ordinary, real people.
Ford – an odd and contrary class of a man – had a local musician, Paddy Conroy, accompany him everywhere while he worked, playing Irish tunes on an accordion, while he himself chewed on the corners of linen handkerchiefs. He had chosen his locations very carefully and was now going to show off his beautiful country to the world.
The story is simple: an Irish-American bachelor returns home hoping for a quiet life, falls in love with and marries a local girl, falls out with her bully of a brother over the dowry, and then there is drinking, singing, horse-racing and fighting, before they all live happily ever after.