By Anthony F. Hughes

When I first lived in Swords back in 1970 some of its older residents occasionally referred to a spot on the Dublin side of the then village as ‘the Turnpike’. I didn’t know the origins of the term back then.

As it so happens, a turnpike was the equivalent of a modern-day motorway toll booth. The first turnpike came into being in Ireland in the 1730s and the system quickly spread to many parts of the country.

Private road developments enabled the stagecoach to ‘come into its own’; horse-drawn carriages were travelling to far-flung destinations that were previously out of the question.

For the thousands of Irish immigrants who set foot in the American Old West from the mid 1800s onwards, the sight of a stagecoach was no big deal – they had seen plenty of similar contraptions east of the Mississippi if not back in their home country.

Stagecoach travel was prohibitively expensive for the working-class. If, back in 1860, one wanted to travel from St. Louis (on the edge of the Prairie) to San Francisco (a 25-day journey), it would have cost $200 to do so. A ranch hand would be doing well to earn that much in six months. As for an ordinary U.S. Cavalryman, well, if he saved every cent of his pay for a year, he still wouldn’t have enough for the fare.

In 1937, a short story entitled The Stagecoach to Lordsburg (Ernest Haycox) was published in Collier’s, an American magazine. John Ford bought the film rights to the story, expanded the contents of same and then went looking for John Wayne to play the Ringo Kid. Ford called the movie Stagecoach. Released in 1939, it has a run-time of 96 minutes and was Ford’s first ever ‘talkie’ Western.

Ford, in his capacity as Director, did such a good job that when it came to Academy Award nominations the film received seven. It ultimately won out in two categories – Best Music Score and Best Supporting Actor; that Oscar going to Thomas Mitchell for his portrayal of the whiskey-loving Doc Boone.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own