Quiet Man Touring Adventures in Western Ireland
"The Quiet Man" Visit to Counties Galway and Mayo:
During ten weeks in the summer of 1951 Hollywood descended on the old-world Irish village of Cong to film a movie (the village had its first electric power installed that year). John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara and other Hollywood stars were trundled down narrow Irish roads while townsfolk looked on in curiosity. The Quiet Man film project must have been underwritten by a higher power because miraculously there was not a drop of rain that Irish summer to spoil the shooting schedule.
If you don't already know, and if you care a bottle cap about 1950s-era John Wayne films, "The Quiet Man," is based on Maurice Walsh’s short story, “Green Rushes.” It is set in rural Ireland of the 1930s. According to Robert Osborne of American Movie Classics, the film was the only movie produced by Republic Studios (mostly known for westerns) that was ever nominated for the academy award for best picture. Here's a synopsis: a prizefighter from Pittsburgh (played by John Wayne) killed a man in the ring so he retreats to the land of his roots and seeks out a quiet existence in his old family homestead, a thatched, whitewashed cottage called "White O’ Morn" outside of a fictitious town called Innisfree.
The famous director, John Ford, claimed he was born Sean Aloysius O'Fearna in a postage-stamp-sized coastal town west of Galway City. I read that this family history has been disputed, or even disproved. John Ford was able to bargain the use of Ashford Castle in Cong to house the actors and crew for the movie. The movie was filmed in technicolor on locations all over Counties Galway and Mayo. Scenes were shot in view of the low hills called “The Twelve Pins” and as far away as the seaside of Clew Bay. The movie towns of Innisfree and Castletown were invented from scenes shot in real life Cong. John Ford took home the best director Oscar for 1952 (it also won best color cinematography - here are all the 1952 Oscar nominees and winners).
Ford bought the rights to "The Green Rushes" as early as 1937 (he spent $10 for the rights), but couldn't get backing for a venture that required expensive technicolor and on-location shooting in Ireland. Even with Wayne, O'Hara and Barry Fitzgerald committed to do the film, Ford couldn't secure a backer. Republic agreed to finance the film if Ford and his leading actors for the project would first shoot a black-and-white western, the profits from which were expected to offset any loss from the Quiet Man project. In fact, both films, the western "Rio Grande" and the Quiet Man, were profitable for Republic.
What's in Ireland Left from the Movie?
Besides some small tourist attractions there are not many obvious landmarks remaining from “The Quiet Man." Several shops in Galway City have photographs depicting the actors being outfitted in country tweeds to play their roles. Galway City is the local county seat, with a colorful main street lined with pubs and stores. The salty smell of the bay infects lunchtime appetites and drives travelers to the oyster and seafood restaurants along the pier and the High Street. Galway is a big town in this part of the world, and the motion of its traffic seems to be in a curious balance with an overriding Irish languor in the atmosphere.
To the north of Galway City, on the other side of Loch Corrib, the village of Cong is small and contented. Cong is perhaps more self conscious that it was in the days before it was chosen by Hollywood to represent a postcard image of rural Ireland. Cong has two major intersecting streets that conform to the path of the trout stream that gives the village its name. This glass-clear stream runs along the south edge of the village and the main street rolls down a hill to the stone cross that serves as the central roundabout. Many of the local business run on the lingering fumes of the Quiet Man movie. Reminiscence of 1951 is almost a cottage industry amongst the Cong townsfolk.
Some of the Cong villagers have written accounts of the filming, many of which are still found in Cong shops. If you want to find old filming landmarks you need some local guidance. It's useful to buy a copy of "The Complete Tour Guide to The Quiet Man Locations" written under government permit by Lisa Collins, an enterprising young Cong woman who apparently operated Quiet Man tours for years. This pamphlet-sized publication is widely available at local tourist shops in Cong. Paddy Rock, a local tourguide and festival organizer who dropped me an e-mail after spotting this page, reports that he charges 150 euros per day per couple for personalized Quiet Man tours. I've not met Paddy in person, nor taken his tour, but he takes an earnest delight in the movie, as well some other local peculiarities, like his involvement in the quest to find County Mayo's heaviest person (here's a link to Paddy's enthusiastic Quiet Man Movie Club website).
Tracking down the movie landmarks takes you conveniently over some of the most scenic countryside in the region. The Castletown train station depicted in the film is virtually intact, but it is in fact 20 miles away from Cong in the real life town of Ballyglunin. Similarly, Leam Bridge exists just outside of Oughterard in a condition almost identical to 1951 (here are some nice images from the region). This is the bridge where Sean Thornton dreams of his youth in the opening scenes of the movie and hears his dead mother’s voice describing White O’Morn cottage. The beach where John Ford filmed horseracing scenes is in the costal town of Renvyle in view of Lettergesh Post Office.
Within the town of Cong there is the richest assortment of movie landmarks. Ashford Castle, where the crew and actors lived during filming, is just south of town. Nowadays it is a luxury castle hotel with crenellated towers and a moat. Ashford Castle has only a small role in the actual movie. It is shown as a backdrop to the opening credits. However, the surrounding golf course was used in several scenes, including the climactic sequence when John Wayne drags his movie wife back from the Castletown train station to return her to her family. The fairways are strewn with sheep manure and I doubt Maureen O'Hara was able to rescue her movie costume from that day of filming.
The most obvious movie feature remaining in town is Cohan's Bar, depicted in several scenes. Actually, Cohan’s Bar is a shop, not a bar. A sign reading “Cohan’s Bar” was put on the exterior of the shop for filming and it is still in place (the interior scenes of the bar were shot on a Hollywood sound stage). The location is much the same as it was at the time of filming. In the center of the intersection in front of Cohan’s Bar is a stone cross and roundabout that is depicted in several shots.
Of course, the big tourist draw from the filming of the movie is the actual cottage, White O’Morn, which is the centerpiece for the movie plot. There is a reproduction of the cottage in nearby Maam Cross that is open to tourists. With a bit of research, and a bit of mucky, off-road snooping around, one can find the original cottage near Maam Bridge along the Failmore River. The cottage is next to a single-family house that was built since the filming of the movie, but the house has since been abandoned. The original White O’Morn cottage is in a state of ruin. All that remains on this tufted patch of earth is shaped pile of housing stones. The thatch appears to have gone first, after which water seeped into the 18-inch-thick stone walls and washed out the mortar, peeling off the whitewash as the breakdown progressed season by season. During a visit in July of 2001 there was rumblings that the original cottage would be restored and made into some kind of tourist attraction. However, as recently as June 2003 it was still found crumbling to the ground with no evidence of any construction project. The word is that a Californian has owned the property for 22 years and remains unmoved by requests to sell so the cottage can be restored.
One aspect of the cottage remains definitely in place – the stone bridge over the Failmore River. Early in the movie the Barry Fitzgerald character brings John Wayne to White O’Morn on a blustery night. As they approach the cottage they cross a bridge with waist-high concrete railings. On a run down patch of land with an abandoned house and a ruined cottage, the concrete bridge stands out to the careful observer as an unmistakable landmark from the movie. The stepping stones used by Maureen O’Hara as a romantic alternative to the bridge are now long out of place. All of the principal actors from the movie have now left us, except for Maureen O'Hara, who continues to summer in Ireland and attend festivals there, I am advised by June Beck, manager of the official Maureen O'Hara website. For fans of this sentimental movie the spirited theme will always be playing in the background of the imagination.
From the United States the most convenient destination airport is Shannon (SNN) located 15 miles east of Ennis, Ireland. Aer Lingus (800-223-6537) offers direct flights to Shannon through Boston and New York (JFK), while Continental (800-231-0856) flies direct to Shannon through Newark, New Jersey.
Regional train and bus service are available in western Ireland, but to scout the locations around Cong a rental car is needed. Several major rental companies, including Hertz, operate out of Shannon Airport with weekly rates from $300. Advance reservations are advised. When renting out of Shannon consider that the great majority of cars in the local fleet will be right hand drive with manual transmission. Before requesting a mid-size or full-size car, consider that smaller cars enjoy certain advantages on the narrow country roads. Finally, many credit cards that offer collision damage protection for car rental in other places of the world exclude coverage in Ireland. Check your insurance provisions and bear in mind American drivers are prone to hedge scrapes and other small vehicular abrasions while driving rented Irish cars.
Ashford Castle, Cong, County Mayo, Ireland, tel. 353-92-46003, fax 353-92-46260 (see www.ashford.ie). Rooms in summer season from approximately $230 per night and in low season from $170 per night.
Galway City is good base camp for your search of the Cong area. If you are staying in Galway City consider relying on the excellent hospitality of Dee and Mark Keogh who run the orderly, fashionable and conspicuously clean Norman Villa, 86 Lower Salthill Road, Galway, Ireland, 353-91-521131 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Rooms starting at approximately $55 per person per night.
Nine miles north of Galway City in the direction of Cong is Cregg Castle, a casual, family-operated castle hotel that is not so grand or pricey as Ashford Castle. The property dates from 1648 and there are informal musical performances in the Great Hall where guests are invited to joint in. Cregg Castle, Corandulla, County Galway, Ireland, 353-91-791434 (see www.indigo.ie/~creggcas). Rooms starting at approximately $45 per person per night.
To find the ruins of White O’Morn cottage take R345 east from Cong to the Maam Bridge and the intersection with R336. Take R336 south toward Maam Cross. Watch for the first small bridge that crosses the Failmore River – a hundred yards on your right is a small turnoff and a gate. Follow the mud drive on foot for 30 yards toward the cottage.
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© Copyright 2006 Chris Cloud.
Last update: 9/5/2006; 8:32:56 PM.