If you happen to have a neighbor, or even a friend, who has recently returned from a visit to the ould sod and, after a couple of drops of the crathur’, they start babblin’ on about strange sightings in counties Mayo and Galway, take a good pinch of salt and, please, be patient, all will be explained!
It is just over 50 years since one of the first Technicolor films ever to be shot on location outside the U.S. was made. Directed by John Ford and based on a novel by Maurice Walsh, The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was mainly shot in Galway and south Mayo during September 1951. (See Joe McBride’s column in this issue).
For a half century the nostalgic appeal of this film has attracted millions of American tourists to the beautifully scenic area in which the film was shot. Quiet Man countryside is an odyssey of panoramic scenery that sweeps from Oughterard, Co. Galway through the breathtaking mountains of the Maam Valley and north towards the shores of Lough Corrib and the pretty village of Cong with its historic edifice, Ashford Castle.
“Quiet Man Celebrations” is more than just a creative and fun venture by three local businessmen, Paddy Rock, Billy Gibbons and Gus Martin, to mark the anniversary of the shooting of the film in September 1951 and its general release in September 1952. It is also a clever enterprise that enhances and markets the economic potential of this area as a haven for tourists. The first phase of The Quiet Man Celebrations was held at various venues in Galway and Mayo through the weekend of September 21, 2001. The highlight of the festival was the crowning or more accurately, the “bonneting” of a Maureen O’Hara lookalike by John Wayne, a.k.a. Graham Wilkinson, an actor from County Wicklow.
Throughout the summer thousands of red-headed Irish colleens vied for the honor of being chosen. National newspaper, The Sunday World, gave wide coverage to the competition whilst the independent television station TV3 followed 20 chosen beauties, who were flown courtesy of Aer Arainn to Galway, to be whisked in style through Quiet Man locations for the day.
Well begorrah! and bedad! you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were in a time-capsule on that balmy Monday during July. The staff of Ashford Castle were dizzied by a motley horde of Maureen O’Hara lookalikes who instead of suppin’ tea and nibblin’ porter cake were downin’ Guinness and puffin’ on enough Marlboro Lights to alert the local fire-brigade.
Shortly before 4p.m on July 9, a tour bus growled up the stately driveway and ejected a host of giggling beauties from its bowels. Some minutes later an exhausted John Wayne (Graham Wilkinson) emerged from the bus.
“One redhead is enough for any man,” he confided, visibly drained.
Fortunately, Paddy Rock and his cohorts had organized that two other male escorts, both fine specimens of country males and winners of the Culchie King Festival, were on hand to tend to the needs of the fiery colleens.
The backdrop that is Lough Corrib is in tumultuous turmoil as curly locks of red hair and demure skirts are breezily liberated in a most un-1950s fashion.
“Everyone called my father the Duke,” confides Maureen Judge from Ballina, Co. Mayo. “You won’t believe it, but he actually died on the same day as John Wayne. And to tell you the truth, I’ve always suspected that his mind was on Maureen O’Hara when I was conceived. I mean it does make sense, amn’t I the spit of her?”
Later that afternoon the damsels descend on Danahers Pub in Cong. The bar’s agog with oohs and ahhs as elderly locals check their pints with the bewilderment of a deja-vu experience. The TV3 crew are out in the square, it’s raining, the local garda assures me that he has absolutely no concerns about the influx of “fine bits of shtuff” into his village. “And anyway, I’m married myself to a good lookin’ redhead,” he assures, with a wicked twinkle in his eye.
The 2001 Quiet Man Celebrations were first and foremost oodles of fun and craic. The program offered a broad selection of events, hosted throughout the Quiet Man countryside. From a golf championship to a soccer match, to a vintage car rally and an exhibition of traditional crafts while the evenings were peppered with a miscellany of music and song. The Inaugural Quiet Man Country Celebration Ball proved such a resounding success that it’s set to become an annual affair.
So Irish America is giving you plenty of warning, folks, and we have it from the horse’s mouth, next year’s Quiet Man Celebrations promise even more craic, and sure won’t the Maureen O’Haras be even more beautiful as they mature and mellow in the soft mists of the west of Ireland. ♦