In the summer of 1951 legendary Hollywood film director John Ford descended on the tiny village of Cong in western Ireland and commenced filming what would the following year result in his receiving his fourth Academy Award for Best Director. Ford made more than 140 movies before his illustrious career was over and some say that movie he made in the summer of 1951 was his best. That movie was called The Quiet Man and it was made 69 years ago. But the people of Cong today have not forgotten.
Ford was getting worried. He got the idea of making The Quiet Man in the ’30s and brewed about it all during the ’40s. He had already picked out the stars he wanted for his movie years ago and they were no longer spring chickens and would soon be too old for their parts. But he kept on pitching his project and the producers kept on turning him down. Finally, the folks over in Republic made a deal: if he would first make another western with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara then they would finance his pet Irish project.
Ford brought Wayne and O’Hara to Monument Valley along the Arizona-Utah border and cranked out Rio Grande, the third of what would be called his Cavalry Trilogy, in 32 days. He then sailed away to Ireland with Wayne and O’Hara and the rest of his troupe of professional actors: Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick, Barry Fitzgerald and Arthur Shields. John Wayne even brought his second wife along as well as his four kids from his first wife. John Ford gave all four kids bit parts in The Quiet Man.
Cong is a tiny village in County Mayo just north of the Galway border. Wait a minute. The Galway Tours Company described our day-long excursion as a tour of the Connemara region in County Galway. But not only is Cong not in Connemara, it isn’t even in County Galway! We would soon discover that our fourth and final stop of the day would be back in County Galway but further east from Cong and so further away from Connemara. What is going on here? I guess you may have figured out by now that I really didn’t mind stopping at Cong. I grew up watching John Ford movies. I grew up watching John Wayne movies; twelve of them were directed by John Ford. I grew up watching Maureen O’Hara movies; five of them were directed by John Ford. Three of Ford’s movies starred both Wayne and O’Hara. The people of Cong have a term for American tourists like me. They call us Quiet Man Crazies!
John Ford was born John Martin Feeney in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1894. His father John Augustine Feeney was born in Spiddal in Connemara. His mother Barbara “Abbey” Curran was born in Kilronan on the Aran Island of Inishmore.
Ford is the only person ever to have won four Oscars for Best Director. Besides The Quiet Man in 1952, he won the Academy Award for The Informer (starring Victor McLaglen) in 1935, The Grapes of Wrath (starring Henry Fonda) in 1940, and How Green Was My Valley (starring Maureen O’Hara) in 1941.
Ford was an officer in the US Navy during World War II and during this time he won two Academy Awards for documentaries: The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th: The Movie (1943). He remained in the Navy Reserve after the war and was called to active duty again during the Korean War. When he finally left the service he was promoted to Rear Admiral.
Ford died in Palm Desert, California in 1973.
In The Quiet Man John Wayne plays the role of Sean Thornton, an American boxer, who retires and then returns to the family cottage in Innisfree. Thornton falls in love, of course, with Mary Kate Danaher, played by Maureen O’Hara. Other roles: Victor McLaglen is Mary Kate’s older brother Squire Danaher, Barry Fitzgerald is the matchmaker Michaleen Oge Flynn, Ward Bond is the parish priest and Arthur Shields (Barry’s brother – Barry’s real name is William Joseph Shields) is the C of I minister.
The Quiet Man won two Oscars in 1952: John Ford for Best Director and Winton C Hoch and Archie Stout for Best Cinematography. How could they miss with this beautiful scenery?
My favorite movies when I was growing up were Westerns and John Ford made the best Westerns period. John Wayne starred in most of those Westerns including Stagecoach which came out in 1939, the year I was born. It is said that Orson Welles watched Stagecoach 40 times while preparing for Citizen Kane. Wayne starred in all three of the Cavalry Trilogy movies, too: Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950).
I think it is very strange that none of the four movies for which Ford won Oscars were Westerns. Personally, I believe that the best movie Ford ever made (and John Wayne ever starred in) was The Searchers (1956).
And there’s a special place in my heart for The Quiet Man. Whenever I hear that popular Irish step-dancing song The Rakes of Mallow I think of the role of Michaleen Oge Flynn played by that great character actor Barry Fitzgerald. doop da doop da doop da, da da da da, doop da doop da doop da!
One more stop to go on our Connemara Tour and so we will have one more posting about our last day in County Galway.
Irish Music Bonus — The Isle of Innisfree by Tommy Fleming
Dick Farrelly was a Dublin policeman for 38 years. He also was a poet and songwriter and wrote more than 200 poems and songs. He wrote his most famous song, The Isle of Innisfree, while on a long bus ride from his native Kells in County Meath to Dublin. It was published in 1950 and recorded by Bing Crosby two years later. John Ford fell in love with the song when he first heard it and he immediately changed the name of his mythical village in The Quiet Man to Innisfree. The song is the main theme in The Quite Man and you can hear the melody eleven times during the movie, including the opening scene. Maureen O’Hara even sings a few verses of the song in one lovely scene.
Let’s listen to Tommy Fleming’s rendition of this beautiful song.