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Saturday 27 May 2017

Cong's queen gets royal treatment

Maureen O'Hara arrives for the opening of The Quiet Man Festival in Cong yesterday.
Maureen O'Hara arrives for the opening of The Quiet Man Festival in Cong yesterday.

Kevin Keane and Tom Shiel

IT WAS one of the biggest blockbusters of its day and put a small corner of Ireland firmly on the tourist map.

And, some 60-years after Hollywood descended on Cong, Co Mayo, the tiny village returned the favour by throwing open its doors to welcome home its biggest ever star.

Legendary actress Maureen O'Hara, who made her name as a feisty, red-haired starlet alongside John Wayne in the classic film 'The Quiet Man', broke down in tears as people recounted their memories of the time the cameras lit up a small corner of 1950s Ireland.

Last night, six decades after she starred as Mary Kate Danagher alongside John Wayne in the 1952 movie, O'Hara presided over the official opening of the Quiet Man festival in Cong.

And, by her side, in the place of her beloved John Wayne, his daughter Marisa Wayne stood proudly.

After a cheeky question as to whether she might consider a remake of the box office hit, O'Hara, who celebrated her 91st birthday last week, responded to applause: "Why would you remake something that was that great?"

O'Hara laughingly revealed she "never missed a Rovers match when I was in school" after learning Shamrock Rovers soccer team had historically qualified for the Europa League.

Her late father, Charles, was a director of Rovers for a time. It is hoped the festival, which will see re-enactments of the iconic film, screenings, lectures and music may become an annual event for the village.

'The Quiet Man' helped shape American perceptions of Ireland that last to this day.

In the process, it also spawned a tourist industry all of its own.

Excitement

Festival organiser Gerry Collins said there was great excitement when Mrs O'Hara arrived in Cong.

"We had a piper and just as she crossed the bridge a clap of thunder went off, just like the scene in the movie," he said.

Mr Collins is a self-confessed 'Quiet Man' fanatic and runs a museum dedicated to the film. "It's one of the best movies ever made, it's a cult and it has retained its charm." And he credits the film with putting Cong on the tourist map.

"People are still coming from all over the world, they come from Japan, from China, They coming in their thousands, they are even coming over from Ballyglunin in their busloads."

"It's not going to die off, people think when this generation is gone that the 'Quiet Man' is gone, it's not because parents are bringing their children even to Cong."

Cong was transformed during the six weeks that director John Ford and his crew spent filming but, according to local man John Joe Mullin, the real change came a few years later when American tourists started seeking out spots where scenes had been shot.

The 78-year-old worked in the Ashford Castle Hotel at the time and brought Mrs O'Hara her breakfast every morning during filming.

"It was a lovely job and she was a lovely lady. Very, very gracious in her manners."

Among those milling around the famous Cohan's Bar, where John Wayne supped a pint in the film, and the other many haunts were Wayne's granddaughter, Laura Monoz Bottini, singer Daniel O'Donnell and his wife Majella, and Dana.

Irish Independent

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