Connemara Days – The Quiet Man revisited!

By Michael Fox

It can probably be argued, with some justification, that no film has done more to boost Irish tourism in the last fifty years or so, attracting in particular many visitors to Ireland from the USA, than the John Ford-directed and Oscar-winning screen epic “The Quiet Man”.
The “Quiet Man”, a romantic comedy, and with its balance of Irish joys and sorrows, is regarded by many critics as the best film ever made by the legendary Hollywood director. It has been described as a “loving, sentimental, and nostalgic tribute to his Irish ancestry and homeland”. Ford was second-generation Irish, his father hailing from Spiddal, a village located west of Galway city, along the coast road to Connemara.
The shooting of the film, in the summer of 1951, took place amongst the green, rocky hills of County Mayo and County Galway, lying around the village of Cong, another gateway to the rugged, but starkly beautiful, landscape that is Connemara. Another place where filming took place, further over in the east of County Galway, was Ballyglunin, its active railway station renamed “Castletown” for some significant scenes in the film (this “decamping” necessitated by the fact that the only railway line through Connemara had been lifted and its stations abandoned some 16 years before the film crews arrived).
The film relates the story of Seán Thornton, played by John Wayne, an Irish-American boxer, who returns “home” to the village of Innisfree (the renamed Cong!) disgraced after, unfortunately, killing an opponent in the ring. He is soon attracted to the obvious charms of the feisty red-haired Mary Kate Danaher, memorably played by Maureen O’Hara. His overtures to Mary Kate are thwarted by her brother, the local squire, portrayed by Victor McLagen. He is resentful of Thornton, with his “modern Yankee ways”, for buying a cottage in the locality that he has been after for some years.
The cottage is, of course, of the idyllic whitewashed variety, complete with thatched roof, a half-door at the front leading into the kitchen, the requisite numbers of roses around the door, and, running across the cottage frontage, a babbling brook crossed by a small wooden bridge carrying a path leading to the cottage door. As such, an abundance of the (essential) “visual clichés” required by any self-respecting Irish film of a nostalgic nature!
However, after many adventures, including a memorable “fisticuffs” between protagonists Thornton and Danaher, lasting a considerable length of time and played out over a number of fields, and followed by a growing, mobile, band of enthusiastic and vociferous locals. Thornton finally won the object of his romantic intentions and, true to the ending of any good story, everyone lived happily ever after!
Still, a topic of conversation in Cong is the day “The Quiet Man” came to town. In 1951, in fact, electricity was specially brought into the village, to permit John Ford’s production team to establish its “camp” at nearby Ashford Castle, a splendid edifice to this day. It was here that Wayne, O’Hara and other stars from the film company resided, while the film was being shot. Whilst the completed film, released in 1952, was panned for its “Oirishness” it became, nevertheless, the most successful of all of Ford’s film classics.
Despite the ridicule of the film critics, the film has prompted many American tourists over the last 50 years or so to make the “pilgrimage” to Cong, visiting places associated with the film, as well as “The Quiet Man Museum” located in the village. Sights to see include the iconic “Pat Cohan’s” bar which played a pivotal role in the film. Interestingly, the building in question, in the centre of the village, at the time of the filming and whilst looking for all the world like a “pub”, in fact, never was one (it was a shop). However, just over two years ago, this “anomaly” was corrected with the establishment realising its true destiny, coming to life as a real public house, a place not to be missed by those on “The Quiet Man” trail.
Now, all these years later, the Mayo village of Cong is set to be again immortalised on the silver screen. It was announced earlier this year that “The Quiet Man” is to be the inspiration for another epic film. Producers from Belfast-based Causeway Pictures are planning to make a film (and one supposes that this had to happen one day!) based upon the making of “The Quiet Man” in 1951.
The new film, to be titled “Connemara Days”, and a romantic comedy like its predecessor, will tell of the impact the making of “The Quiet Man” had on the remote village of Cong and its environs, in 1951. Ireland was relatively underdeveloped when John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara arrived to shoot the film, however, with the rest of the country queuing for jobs, food, fuel and almost anything, Cong was “booming” as a consequence of the work provided to locals by the filmshoot and particularly to those employed as “extras” in the film, being paid the princely sum of 30 shillings a day for their endeavours. In an article at the time, the Irish Times noted that, in contrast to the queuing in the rest of the country, in Cong “they were queuing for crisp pound notes”!
The new film is to tell the story of an eighteen-year-old local girl, Heather O’Dea, who falls for John Ford’s assistant director. The backers of the film, tourist body, Fáilte Ireland, are hoping that the new film will lead to the Cong area again receiving an economic boost.
The film is to star a cast of Hollywood actors, including Sir Roger Moore (of James Bond fame), Aidan Quinn, Stacey Keach (who is to play John Ford), Geraldine Chaplin, Sarah Bolger and Thomas Dekker. Moore, returning to the screen after a 10 year break, is also listed as an executive producer for the film. The script for the film is based upon a novel by British author, Steve Mayhew, and is said to blend a terrific story of the reaction of a rural community to the arrival of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, coupled with the looming electrification of the area, to produce “a touching, funny and endearing screenplay in the mould of the great Ealing comedy classics”.
It has been reported, however, that with the time it has taken to settle the financing of the production, and with the advent of bad weather, the filming schedule has had to be deferred to Spring 2011, however, it is anticipated that if everything goes to plan, “Connemara Days” should be on general release in 2012.