As the film turns 70, Ivan Little reminisces on his love for it, and speaks to one high profile NI fan...
Eamonn Holmes has lost count of the number of times he’s watched one of his favourite movies, The Quiet Man which is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its release this year.
“It may be sentimental slush, but it’s the best medicine I know for making me feel good,” says Eamonn. “As soon as I hear the music and see the wonderful technicolour pictures I’m happily hooked.”
But the Belfast-born broadcaster knows that Irish American John Ford’s movie divides opinion Marmite-style among film buffs… and in his own house.
“My wife Ruth is very definitely not a fan,” he says. “She thinks the film glamorises violence towards women. She can’t abide the way that John Wayne’s character, Sean Thornton, treats his wife, Mary Kate Danaher, played by Maureen O’Hara.”
At one point little is left to the imagination as Wayne throws O’Hara onto a bed, breaking it, yet despite his violent behaviour the next morning she happily makes him his breakfast.
In another scene during a marital row a woman offers Wayne ‘a good stick to beat the lovely lady with.’
Eamonn says because of his wife’s opposition he invariably ends up watching The Quiet Man on his own.
One sometimes forgotten piece of censorship of the film was prompted not by domestic violence, but rather by the Irish troubles that were raging during the time the film was set in the 1920s.
In a wedding toast an IRA man said of the happy couple: “May they live in peace and national freedom”, but Republic Pictures edited out the word ‘national’ in post-production, fearing it could have caused political problems.
In several other scenes, the IRA are referenced by name, and it was later learnt that Ernie O’Malley, a well-known commander of the anti-treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War, acted an advisor on The Quiet Man set to John Ford on what was called ‘local culture’.
The movie, whose interiors were filmed in Hollywood, has been long been slammed by critics for its idealised and unrealistic ‘Oirish’ portrayal of Ireland in the 1920s.
In more recent times, the film hit the headlines again after reports that a remake was to be produced with Meghan Markle in the lead role of Mary Kate.
However, amid all the brouhaha the Irish Post newspaper had to calm the hysteria by revealing their story was an April Fool’s prank which tricked mainstream media who hadn’t checked the date of the original publication.
There’ve been other more genuine claims that a sequel was to be made by a Belfast-based production company, but nothing has so far come of the plans.
Eamonn Holmes has already ‘starred’ in a re-working of the movie, playing the part of Sean Thornton in a Children in Need special in 2001 with Ballykissangel actress Victoria Smurfit in the role of Mary Kate Danaher.
Eamonn, who’s a huge fan of John Wayne, said: “The BBC did it really well. Gerry Anderson who wrote the new script acted the part of the matchmaker that Barry Fitzgerald made legendary — you could hardly tell the difference between them. Jimmy Ellis took Victor McLaglen’s part of Squire Danaher. It was a real privilege to be part of it, especially as I was working with so many real, and fantastic, actors.
“The only drawback was that we didn’t get to go to Cong. We filmed it in Downpatrick and at the Folk Museum at Cultra.”
But Eamonn, who can quote chapter and verse from the movie, has been on a personal pilgrimage to the village of Cong on the Galway/Mayo border and to the nearby Ashford Castle hotel where some of the exterior scenes in the film were shot in the grounds.
His trip came in 1982 when we were colleagues in Ulster Television, and I supplied him with my ‘guide’ to the locations.
For declaring an interest here and now, I have to admit that I’m as big an obsessive of The Quiet Man as Eamonn.
Like him, I was reared in a house where the film was loved with an almost religious fervour by parents who thought it was a ‘lovely wee movie.’
Eamonn says the journey to Cong lived up to his expectations. “It was marvellous visiting all those iconic locations where the film was shot,” he says.
I first went in search of The Quiet Man locations in 1978 in a very un-touristy Cong where shopkeepers were reluctant to share any secrets and there was nothing to mark the fact that an Oscar-winning movie had been made anywhere near the place.
At the five-star Ashford Castle hotel all the talk was of the celebrities who were staying there at the time, like Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel and Rod Stewart who was arguing with his wife, Alana Hamilton, over the price of apples in a village shop when I saw him.
In subsequent visits, one with my mother, I found villagers more forthcoming with information about the film and in 1996 I was back in Cong to make a short film about The Quiet Man and Ashford for a joint UTV/RTE holiday programme.
I interviewed local people like Robert Foy who had been extras in the movie, and I was told of a John Wayne Appreciation Society from Omagh, which wanted to restore Sean and Mary Kate’s cottage near Maam Cross which had fallen into disrepair.
However, my subsequent inquiries about them in Tyrone came to nought, proving they really were Quiet Men.
Not so quiet, however, was a famous guest in my 1996 film, the late Terry Wogan who was staying at Ashford Castle and agreed to let us record a cameo appearance from him.
The highlight for me, however, was finding and filming Ballyglunin railway station, which doubled as Castletown station where Wayne arrived at the start of The Quiet Man.
The disused and dilapidated station was restored in 2017 after an online funding campaign which got the support of Liam Neeson who said that 60 of the 70-plus directors he had worked with said The Quiet Man was in their top five of favourite and influential films.
“The movie has become part of Irish folklore and is justifiably and rightly called a classic,” he said.
Martin Scorsese is on record as saying that The Quiet Man is one of the greatest movies of all time and Steven Spielberg was such an admirer that he included a clip from it in his movie, ET: The Extra Terrestrial.
A large number of documentaries and books about the making of The Quiet Man have been produced, illustrating that the film has lost none of its popularity, especially in America.
A few months ago I returned to Cong for my first trip in years and discovered that the village — where Rory McIlroy was married in April 2017 — has become even more of a tourist trap than ever before. There’s a Quiet Man museum in a replica of the Quiet Man cottage and tours of the film locations attract thousands of visitors every year particularly Irish Americans who call themselves Quiet Man-iacs.
A lot of hotels and B&Bs now have names that are nods to movie characters and there’s also a life-size statue of Wayne and O’Hara in one of their most famous scenes from the film.
However, the biggest surprise of all was to discover that the ‘fake’ Cohan’s pub from the film is now a fully functioning bar and restaurant which was opened in September 2008. In the past it was a store and only the frontage was seen in the movie.
My fresh information about the ‘new’ Cong intrigued Eamonn Holmes who says he would love to visit Cohan’s bar now that it is the real McCoy.
“I had the idea of buying the store back in 1982 and turning it into a pub with videos and pictures all around the bar,” he says.
Another restoration is to be found in the grounds of Ashford Castle where the film is shown regularly in a small cinema.
Squire Danaher’s, a house which is seen in The Quiet Man, has been refurbished to make it look the way it did in the movie.
A package offering food, wine and use of the house doesn’t come cheap at €3,150 for a group of ten. Irish dancers, musicians, and storytellers plus a group of Quiet Man actors are extra.
The film won Oscars for John Ford as best director and for Victor McLaglen as best supporting actor, but in 2013 it received another accolade as it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as ‘being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’.
Don’t tell Ruth Langsford...