Friday 9 December 2016

'The Quiet Man' changed Cong forever

Published 14/08/2010 | 05:00

In early June of 1951, the director John Ford arrived in the obscure village of Cong, Co Mayo, to make The Quiet Man (1952). Cong had hardly been glimpsed at by the Irish urbanite, let alone penetrated by such an exotic thing as a camera lens.

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Since the Famine it had been one of the poorest rural allocations in the west, dependent on the mealy cottage industries of timber, firewood and fishing. It was just four miles from where Captain Boycott lived, and the peasantry of Cong were among those that alienated him in the mass 'boycott' of draconian rents in September 1880.

Ford chose this historic location after much soul-searching. He came with a troupe of personnel, a rag-bag of technical and artistic paraphernalia and a cast that included Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne, who was dressed in 'white tropical trousers and a crimson shirt', according to an amused bystander. Alongside the 80 staff from Republic Pictures, Ford drafted in 200 locals for a wage of 30 shillings a day.

The Rural Electrification Scheme had been launched hot on their heels by the ESB in 1946. Ford inexhaustibly had the campaign for electricity in Cong speeded up, knowing the scale of power units that would be needed for filming. This also meant a release from primitive oil-burners and candles for the cottagers of Cong: for the first time people were able to hang a 40-watt light bulb to lighten the daily rituals.

He had telephone wires fitted in the area, which involved dynamiting parts of the countryside; loud bangs that often interrupted the serenity of open-air filming.

Although the bread rations all over Ireland still lingered from the recent war, Ford had special reinforcements of wheaten soda bread brought for his Cong throng. The filming had also fallen into a neat parcel with the formation of the Irish tourist board, An Bord Fáilte, that July.

During the economic stagnation of de Valera's Ireland, this was a microcosm of prosperity. On July 11, 1951, a national newspaper reported: "One began to feel that Cong was going to take a long time to get over this."

It never did.

Cong is still dining heartily on the spoils of the film. From a sign on the Clifton road that points to "Quiet Man Country", Cong is the West of Ireland's Disneyland; a rural boutique of Wayne/O'Hara-themed dramatisations, quizzes, memorabilia, film screenings in pubs, a branded cafe and a thatched heritage centre to entertain the surge of tourists that arrive each year.

Irish Independent

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