Irish Classic Annotated

St. Patrick’s Day graces a Saturday this year, which is a leprechaun blessing to emerald-clad celebrants everywhere.

In my case, it means I’ve got all day tomorrow to work in my annual cinematic reunion with John Ford’s Irish opus.

Star-studded and shot on location in Ireland, The Quiet Man is the film du jour every March 17. It’s the story of a Yankee boxer who returns to his Irish roots in the village of Innisfree, where he falls in love and is forced to confront not only cultural clashes, but also his beloved’s paternalistic and belligerent brother.

Released in 1952, the movie was a resounding success with popular audiences, critics and professional peers alike. It grossed well at the box office and garnered Academy Awards for cinematography and best director–crowning John Ford’s career with a still-record fourth Oscar.

In homage to Saturday’s holiday, here are some interesting and fascinating notes about The Quiet Man that you can enjoy, even if you don’t watch it (again).

A family affair

Ford had a well-known troupe that he used in all his movies, but when cast and crew packed up and headed to Ireland for the six-week shoot, many brought family along–and Ford worked most of them into the scenes as extras, and sometimes the script.

Brothers of Dubliner Maureen O’Hara, who played Mary Kate Danaher, both had roles in the movie (Father Paul and Hugh Forbes).

Ford’s brother, Francis, is the old man who leaps from his deathbed when he hears that the fight between Sean Thornton (John Wayne) and “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) is underway.

Wayne’s four children are grouped in the cart with Mary Kate during the horse race scene; the youngest two deliver a couple of lines.

Arthur Shields, who played the Reverend Playfair, is the younger brother of Barry Fitzgerald (Michaleen Flynn).

Fictional village

There is no real town of Innisfree in Ireland (the “Innisfree” of Yeats’ poem is an uninhabited island). The village portrayed as Innisfree is Cong, in County Mayo, home to around 1,000 Irish souls.

Many of the area landmarks visible in the movie remain virtually unchanged in nearly seven decades, including the beautiful stone bridges, Pat Cohan’s bar (it was a grocery store then) and the train station.

White O’Morn, however, lies in ruins along a sheep road not far from town. A replica of the thatch-roof Thornton cottage was built in Cong for tourists.

Spoken Irish

It’s rare to hear “Gaeilge”—the original Irish language—spoken on-screen in Hollywood films. Audiences get a small, lilting dose in The Quiet Man when Mary Kate confides in Father Lonergan (played by Ward Bond) at the fishing hole using her native tongue.

For those who aren’t fluent in “the Irish” and who might have wondered all these years what Mary Kate was saying, here’s the translation:

“I didn’t allow my husband into bed with me last night. I forced him to sleep in—oh, in a bag for sleeping! A bag for sleeping … My dowry, he didn’t fight for it. Is it a sin?”

Melodies galore

Composer Victor Young earned an Oscar nomination for his work on the film, which incorporated a number of traditional Irish melodies, jigs and ballads in the soundtrack.

One of the signature tunes is “The Rakes of Mallow;” it’s the “dum da, dum da, dum da, diddle didda” reel hummed by Michaleen Flynn that also accompanies Sean’s dragging of Mary Kate from Castletown station.

A “rake” as referenced, incidentally, has nothing to do with a garden implement and instead describes a fashionable youth drenched in rowdy debaucheries.

Super stuntwoman

In that dragging scene, Maureen O’Hara performed her own stunts as she was manhandled over hill and dale by John Wayne, leaving her bruised up from the filming.

In addition, the actors had been engaged in an ongoing dung duel, with Wayne and director Ford kicking sheep feces onto the hill where she was to be dragged (face down, no less) and O’Hara and her friends kicking it off.

The last kick—and laugh—went to the Duke.

Mystery ending

In the final scene, after the credits, as Sean and Mary Kate are waving, she leans up and whispers something into his ear.

The immediate, resulting expression on John Wayne’s face is one of priceless, genuine spontaneity—Ford had previously instructed Maureen O’Hara to deliver the unscripted line precisely to achieve a shock reaction.

What did she say? We’ll never know.

The secret died with O’Hara in 2015. Ford and Wayne took it to the grave as well.

What we do know is that at first she balked, telling Ford she “couldn’t possibly say that to Duke,” presumably because of its risque or naughty nature.

But in the end, she said it, and Ford got the punctuation mark he wanted to wrap up his romantic Irish masterpiece.

Ford would write later that his time in Ireland took him to “the only place I have found peace.”

Most of us may never be lucky enough to visit the Emerald Isle, but thanks to The Quiet Man, we can sample and savor a wee bit of that same peace.


Hibernophilia Day

Today is the day for all good hibernophiles to celebrate the object of their affection. That is, the lore and life and culture of Hibernia.

If you’re pondering the link to St. Patrick’s Day, it is traced to antiquity. Hibernia was the name used by the Romans to refer to the island we now call Ireland.

And everyone’s a hibernophile, to some degree, on March 17.

The Chicago River runs green, and if you haven’t watched the time-lapse video of the dyeing, it’s worth a couple minutes of YouTube time.

St. Patrick’s Day parades across America boast amazing durations, some even preceding independence. New York’s first parade was 1766, Philadelphia’s in 1771 and Boston’s in 1794.

Unlike most metropolises, which host their observances on the nearest weekends, Savannah’s historic parade—sponsored by the Hibernian Society since 1824—is always held on the actual date. Despite its frequent workday scheduling, hibernophiles in Savannah turn out in numbers matching those in much larger cities.

But celebratory processions are a product of the holiday, not the cause of it.

It’s easy enough to forget the reverence of the day because of the revelry surrounding it. Especially so since the Irish penchants for festivity are so inculcating. The wearing of the green, the witticisms and proverbs and toasts, the gift of blarney, the legends of shillelaghs and leprechauns—they all seamlessly slide in alongside the shamrock and the patron saint.

The lilting blessings complement the sacred and comprehensive prayer of St. Patrick’s breastplate (which no true hibernophile can ignore). That’s the powerful protection prayer, penned in the fifth century, whose more familiar lines include “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me …” and a continuing litany of like construction invoking not only Christ, but also God and listing perils and temptations. Its words were set to music in the 1889 hymn “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” the title taken from the prayer’s opening line.

Collectively it all casts a broad vision of the enduring qualities hibernophiles hold dear: Irish love of life coupled with intense religiousness, sprinkled throughout with impish humor.

Part of the lure stems from Ireland’s ancient roots, which reach back millennia without the curbing effect of Roman conquest.

The early Brehon Law is a fascinating study in itself, and its shaping effect on the Irish society until it mixed and merged with adoption of English jurisprudence in the 17th century is notably relevant.

The native legal system invoked no state power, and was remarkably pragmatic and often ahead of its time on issues such as women’s rights. It emphasized restitution rather than punishment in criminal matters, and addressed with particularity many of society’s most basic details. For example, according to Brehon dictates, a doctor’s house was required to have four doors that opened out so patients could be seen from every side.

Its precepts and principles sought fairness and justice, and the Brehons—arbitrators and jurists, rather than legislators—often made decrees in forms of shrewd and sagacious statements.

Those centuries of early Irish law begat many of the popular proverbs surviving to this day. Adages such as “Many a time a man’s mouth broke his nose,” and “Everyone is wise until he speaks,” are traceable to Brehon traditions.

The early doctrines often meshed easily with early Christianity, too. Brehon Law demanded that “whoever comes to your door, you must feed them and care for them with no questions asked”—such blind hospitality was legal requirement, not custom or cultural etiquette.

Drawing from such a deep and rich well, the wealth of treasured Irish blessings isn’t surprising, whatever the occasion. Beyond the familiar “May the road rise to meet you” toast, here are a couple more worth savoring this Hibernophilia Day.

May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
Quick to make friends.
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing
    but happiness
From this day forward.

Fishing figured prominently among Irish pastimes, even so far as to provide a Gaelic twist on the bird-and-bush aphorism declaring that “a trout in the pot is better than a salmon in the sea,” and a similar-themed toast:

The health of a salmon to you: A long life, a full heart and a wet mouth.

However you might pay tribute on this St. Patrick’s Day to the delightful Irish people and traditions, do so with a nod toward their universally adoptable spirit that well regards God, nature, heritage and language.

I’ll leave you with appropriate excerpts from a poem attributed to Thomas Langan, titled “Where is Ireland?”:

Wherever there’s a song to sing,
A friend that needs a hand,
A cause to follow, come what may—
There is Ireland!

You’ll know it by its laughter,
You’ll know it by its tears,
You’ll know it by the warmth of heart
That lasts through all the years.

Ireland is everywhere today.

May you read a little Thomas Moore, watch a few scenes of The Quiet Man, hum along to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and find yourself among friends.

A Study in Green

In less than a week, a particular hue will pigment the popular visage, suffusing food, drink, apparel, skin and even large bodies of water. A certain trifoliate plant will be adorned by millions and adopted as the unofficial national symbol for a day.

The alcohol and spirits industries will celebrate as rowdily as the myriad merrymakers who will toast, cheer, and otherwise repeatedly raise glasses to a 5th century saint honored with parades, parties and festivities.

You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day (Patrick himself wasn’t); indeed, it’s one of the most unifying of holidays—we’re all Irish Americans in spirit on March 17.

With Irish blood flowing in some degree in 40 million U.S. citizens, it’s easy to understand our magnitude of memorialization surrounding Ireland’s patron saint. Celebrations are so widespread that there are ranking competitions in blogs, online media moguls and major news organizations.

Perennial favorites include mega-metro locales that measure their enduring tributes in centuries, like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, where the city’s namesake river runs green (the dye’s precise ingredients are as closely guarded as the Coca-Cola formula).

But other smaller communities also show up on national lists of best places to celebrate, ranging from historic Savannah, Ga., where the trumpeted spigots in storied Forsythe Park’s fountain spew green water, to tiny Erin, Tenn., which boasts a week-long roster of events and claims to be one of the largest celebrations south of Chicago. ranks the celebration in Hot Springs among the top 10 in America. Heralded this year as the First Ever 13th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the parade route spans 98-foot Bridge Street, which was recognized in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the shortest active-use street in the world.

Because the holiday falls on a Thursday this year, most larger parades and celebrations will occur on the Saturday either preceding (March 12) or following (March 19) that date.

Before you join the sea of humanity that will sway to lilting Irish melodies, one sure way to catch the Erin Isle fever is to watch the silver-screen classic that preserves in timeless Technicolor Ireland’s alluring countryside—and the characters that dwell there.

The Quiet Man was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won two, for cinematography and director. It’s a movie that well warranted its Academy attention, with powerhouse performances, sweeping scenery, fantastic dialogue to go with a fabulous storyline, and a truly insightful glimpse into Irish life and lore.

It gleefully displays all you know about Irish stereotypes, and introduces you to more you didn’t know. Watching John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara—both at their finest—and a supporting cast which also drew an Oscar nomination, is as easy and satisfying as a fireside tea on a chill March evening.

The digital age has put music of all sorts within a finger-click reach on phone or tablet, and Irish songs are no different.

Two particularly good albums, both full of tunes to set your eyes (Irish or not) to smiling, are Top of the Morning by Bing Crosby, and Ireland’s Greatest Hits featuring favorites by Leo McCaffrey, Dennis Day and others.

One ballad—”Irish Jaunting Car”—contains the lyric: “Old Ireland for scenery commands the poet’s pen …” and it’s true that one oft-overlooked aspect of Irish achievement is its disparate contribution to world literature.

Ireland has produced four Nobel laureates, including William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, both of whom lived long, prolific lives leaving a rich legacy of luminary works and witticisms. (The other Nobel winners were Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.)

That’s a sizable list for a small country. The U.S., nearly 80 times the size of Ireland, has claimed only 10 Nobel prizes in literature.

Both Yeats and Shaw are imminently readable and quotable, and represent a welcome departure from the typical St. Patrick’s Day traditions that tend to numb, rather than stimulate, the intellect.

Yeats was a towering literary figure, and transitioned through the years from poetical works influenced by his fascination with Irish legends to later-life writings of weightier matters of state, politics and social culture. Shaw was a renowned playwright (his Pygmalion lives on most famously as the musical My Fair Lady) and also an author of essays, commentaries, articles and books.

Here is some thought-provoking Irish fare to savor over the holiday from each; a few may be familiar.

From Yeats:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire.”

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”

“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”

From Shaw:

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”

As we roll towards St. Patrick’s, may the road rise to meet you.