Community uses the foundations of past glories to build a bright future

Its railway station was captured on film forever as one of the iconic scenes of the Quiet Man – but that was ancient history. And, as JESSICA THOMPSON discovered, restoring the old railway station in Ballyglunin was as much about ensuring a vibrant future as reliving those halcyon days.

Basking in past glories is good and well, but the community around Ballyglunin realised that time might have somewhat eroded the village’s fame as one of the focal points of the Quiet Man.

So rather than resting on their laurels, they set about restoring their old Railway Station – famed from the John Ford movie that starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara – into a modern, vibrant part of their village today.

And, almost as a parallel, the Ballyglunin Railway Restoration Project teamed up with local drama group Abbey Acts to bring back the Quiet Man itself to the place where it all began.

With the script provided by Frank Mahon, a Chicago-based playwright who adapted the original story by Maurice Walsh for the stage, the play was directed by Padraic Mannion and Marion Williams and performed by a cast of seven from Abbey Acts.

“It was an equal partnership between the two groups and I think that’s what led to the whole success of it,” said Mark Gibson, Secretary of the Ballyglunin Railway Restoration Project.

“We [the Ballyglunin Restoration Project Committee] focused on the production side. We commissioned a local artist who came down here and painted a lovely painting of the station specifically for the promotion of the play and that was the start of people really getting involved. From there on we just grew and grew and grew,” he said.

Local artist and art teacher Órla Forde produced the painting used on the posters – 500 were circulated all over Galway, and fliers and booklets were printed and distributed by the committee who also set up the website and online ticket sales.

Meanwhile, Abbey Acts focused on the acting and performance of the play, which was completely sold out for all three performances.

Micheál Finn, Chairman of the Restoration Committee, pointed out that “the sales surpassed all expectation. We’re delighted with the result. It was a complete success from the first night to the last.”

The local community really got involved in every aspect of the project, with people donating gravel, flowers and their time. The Rural Social Scheme did a huge amount of work to prepare the site, including strimming, painting, raking, sweeping, construction of flower boxes and the planting of flowerbeds.

A major part of the project was the transformation of the storehouse, in which the play was performed. The storehouse was first restored in 2006, when the community raised enough money to reroof the building to prevent any deterioration to the walls and structure of the building. The Restoration Committee hopes to turn the building into a visitor’s centre.

“We’re very much of the mindset that we cannot put all this effort into restoring the building and just wrap it in cotton wool and try and preserve it. It’s very much about using it for the community and any profits would be reinvested into the site, and even the area once we get this up and running,” said Mr Gibson.

As part of the transformation, a stage had to be erected, the building had to be secured, and seating area had to be constructed, as well as a set. All of this was done by Eugene Finnegan.

“Padraic Mannion was probably the main driving force behind the layout of the building and Eugene Finnegan got involved then. When he heard about this project he just leapt on board; he just loved the idea of it. He was a major inspiration,” Mr Gibson explained.

The creativity and innovation of the community provided a positive visual impact to the project, using theatre to bring a historical building back to life. The Quite Man has long been an iconic part of Ireland’s cinematic history and by bringing it back to the railway station, Ballyglunin has been firmly put back on the map.

The Ballyglunin Railway Restoration Project hopes to run regular events at the station to help fund the restoration project. The plan is to create an internationally recognised heritage site that will attract foreign and Irish visitors alike. It will also be a key meeting place for the Ballyglunin community.

“This whole event has really opened our eyes to what the possibilities could be. We could have some really lovely, intimate gigs here. There’s a place down in Dingle that kits this old church out and puts on gigs in it.

“We could do the same thing here,” said Mr Gibson who would be interested in using the building for “classy” parties or conferences as well as an annual staging of 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. Most poignant of all are the loyal friendships that run deep throughout.

With all three nights sold out, and a standing ovation to finish every performance, the play was a huge success.

“It was really humbling and totally deserved. It was really gratifying and satisfying. It was a genuine appreciation. People are just sending us message saying they had a fantastic night. A lot of people didn’t know where Ballyglunin was, so [the play] has really put it on the map,” said Mr Gibson.

The benefits this project will have on the community are endless. The Restoration Committee firmly believe that it has created a huge sense of community and boosted morale in the area.

New lasting relationships have been formed and local pubs and hotels have confirmed that the play has made a big difference to their businesses.

The restoration of Ballyglunin Station’s storehouse will continue, with rising support from the local residents, businesses, and even Maureen O’Hara, who starred in John Forde’s classic.

In a personal message to the Ballyglunin Restoration Committee Project last March, Maureen O’Hara said: “The wonderful Ballyglunin Railway Station is one of those special locations used in The Quiet Man that helped bring the cosy village of Innisfree to life.

“John Ford loved the name Castletown used for the station and I can still remember sitting in the last carriage of that grand old steam train waiting for John Wayne to come and save me.

“I hope everyone will join the cause and help save the Ballyglunin Railway Station. It truly is part of Ireland’s great cinematic history.”

Now that Ballyglunin is firmly back on the map, the committee hopes to see more visitors arriving at this iconic symbol of Ballyglunin’s heritage.