Bringing the golden era of cinema back to life

BY JESSICA THOMPSON

John Ford’s The Quiet Man has long been an iconic part of Ireland’s cinematic history and Ballyglunin Railway Station has successfully brought that part of history back to life.

It was back in June 1951 that The Quiet Man first came to Ballyglunin Railway Station. The feet of Hollywood stars such as John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara walked along the platform as director John Ford arranged scenes for the iconic film that put Ballyglunin, or Castletown as it is called in the film, on the map.

The Railway Station has been through a lot in the past 62 years, and now, in the summer of 2013, it has been restored to some of its former glory, with Chicago-based playwright Frank Mahon’s stage adaptation of Maurice Walsh’s The Quiet Man.

Set in 1921, the play follows the storyline of Maurice Walsh’s original The Quiet Man rather than John Forde’s film. It tells the intricately woven tales of domestic and romantic relationships between the characters, bringing great humour and emotion to the story. The two-act play has something for everyone; local and national politics, romance, humour and that famous fight scene.

Directed by Padraic Mannion and Marian Williams and performed by a cast of seven, the play was staged over three nights, selling out each night, and finishing with standing ovations from the audience.

Some very special guests arrived in Ballyglunin to see the play. One of these was Tom Bawn Enright who watched the Sunday night performance.

“He was the son of the main character, Paddy Bawn Enright who, in the film, would have been John Wayne. So the son of the guy that the original story was based on was here and he was in tears in the audience and the cast were all quite moved by that,” said Mark Gibson, Secretary of the Ballyglunin Restoration Project.

Other VIP guests included the grandsons of Maurice Walsh, Barry and Ross, who travelled from Dublin to see the play. There were people from Hungary, Germany, the UK and other parts of the world, as well as several from Chicago, where Frank Mahon is from. There were also members of the Niland family whose history is connected to John Forde’s film.

Joseph Niland, the son of the Ballyglunin Station Master, Tommy Niland and his wife ‘Baby’ of the Corofin Stephens football clan, was a seven years old when the Hollywood stars came to his house.

“I remember a lot of action around the station. There were vans and cars parked everywhere and my mother decided that we should have a day off [school] to see what was going on,” he said.

“I remember my mother providing a bicycle to John Ford while she also supplied a few old trunks that John Wayne had when he arrived back from America. My mother just seemed to take things in her stride – everyone got the same welcome whether it be John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara or the neighbour down the road,” he recalls.

The Connacht Tribune edition of June 23, 1951, carried a feature on the filming of The Quiet Man with access to the stars being given to the unknown reporter of the time, through the local press liaison officer, Lord Killanin. When interviewed at the time, Maureen O’Hara painted an idyllic picture of the West of Ireland and Cong, where most of the filming was done.

“I have never experienced such luck on any film. When we require brilliant sunshine, we get it, and when we need rain, it comes almost on the minute.

“I think Ireland is the star of this picture. No one has ever put Ireland in Technicolor on the screen before. This is something I have always wanted to do – the filming of The Quiet Man had been planned back as far as 1946 but something always turned up to postpone it,” Maureen O’Hara told The Connacht Tribune back in that Summer of 1951. In March of this year, she expressed her support of the restoration of Ballyglunin Railway Station, saying that “it truly is part of Ireland’s great cinematic history.”

The Quiet Man story first appeared in the US weekly magazine, the Saturday Evening Post of February 11, 1933, and spawned the notion in John Ford’s head of making a film version of the tale. The rest is history.