The Quiet Man – Behind the Scenes

I thought I’d share some background information and a behind the scenes look at the making of The Quiet Man, bearing in mind the number of people I have met and spoken to over the years who were actually involved in the film itself.Quiet Man posterA few minutes into the film we see Barry Fitzgerald and John Wayne travelling towards the fictional village of Innisfree. At one point Fitzgerald stops their horse and cart on the crest of a humpbacked stone bridge which spans a small river.

Leam bridge as it is known is still preserved by Galway County Council and can be found just off of the Galway- Clifden N59 road about five miles past the village of Oughterard. The location is suitably sign-posted for all Wayne / Ford / Quiet Man fans. I stopped off of there way back in 1993 with my family on the way to Cong, where a lot of the locations were shot for Ford’s film.The Quiet Man early scene Parking the car on the other side of the main road I walked onto the bridge to take in the breath-taking scenery on either side of the stone structure. After a few moments, I detected the sound of voices a few feet below me on the bank of the stream. Gazing down from the bridge I was treated to the unforgettable sight of two French female backpackers shaving their armpits in the water. Kind of took the magic away for a moment if I’m totally honest.

During the sequence on the bridge, Wayne looks across to the small cottage, White O’Morn, in which he was born. The actual cottage was nowhere near Leam bridge but was located at a place called Teernakill about 15 miles West of Cong.

Unfortunately, the cottage is no longer standing with only a pile of rubble to indicate the foundations of this now iconic location from The Quiet Man.

The Quiet Man Cottage today

There’s a Facebook Quiet Man Cottage page dedicated to the restoration of White O’Morn which was officially designated a heritage site back in 2015. Apparently, this has still not galvanised the Irish Tourist Board to put money towards the renovation of the building.

There are many people calling for the cottage to be restored to its original Quiet Man state, a number of individuals pointing out that it would make a great tourist attraction for the area. In the meantime, if you want to know what the cottage looked like in its former glory – you’ve always got the film.

Pat Cohan’s Bar features quite heavily in the film, both as a meeting place for the various characters in the village of Innisfree, and as the endpoint for the final punch, Wayne throws at Victor McLaglen to settle their epic fistfight. It’s a well-known fact that the exterior of the building in Cong wasn’t actually a pub, John Ford’s crew painting the outside façade of what was originally a shop to look like a pub.

The continuing popularity of The Quiet Man means that you can now actually walk into the door of Pat Cohan’s Bar and order a drink as it was refurbished a few years ago, initially just as a pub but now also serving as a gastro-pub restaurant as well.The Quiet Man pub todayWhen I visited Cong back in the late 1990s I was accompanied by a couple of film producers interested in turning a screenplay I wrote about a family living in Cong when The Quiet Man was being filmed into a movie that has still yet to get off the ground.

The village of Cong is quite small and before we knew it word had quickly spread that there was a group of ‘film men’ in the vicinity. I lost count that day of the number of people in Cong who offered to provide the catering should my movie ever get made. Whilst eating in a restaurant on our last night in the village I was momentarily mistaken for Steven Spielberg because of my grey hair, glasses and – how can I delicately put this – the classically sculptured Jewish nose that I have sported since birth.

Luckily everyone in the establishment eventually realised I wasn’t who they thought I was, otherwise I think I would have ended up with the bill for the whole restaurant.

Believe it or not, there was no electricity available in Cong at the time Ford and his cast and crew rolled up into the village. The Electricity Supply Board was busy placing the required telegraph poles in the surrounding vicinity whilst the film was being made and the occasional sound of dynamite exploding to create a firm foundation for the poles made its way onto the soundtrack.

A compromise was reached in which the electrification of Cong was postponed as Ford required the village to represent Ireland as it was in the 1920s, without electricity poles everywhere. Electricity finally came to the village on July 6th, 1951, in which John Wayne oversaw a ceremony in which the last paraffin lamp was turned off and replaced by the new source of energy from the ESB. It should come as no surprise that this ceremony was held in a pub.

On one of my occasional visits to Cong I was introduced to a sprightly gentleman in his early 80s by the name of Tom Ryan. It turned out that Tom was appointed as John Ford’s personal chauffeur back in 1951 by dint of the fact that Tom had a car. Tom told me that on occasion he was also required to transport both John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara to and from some of the locations as part of his job.

Previous to my meeting with Tom I had been asked to tone down a couple of sections of my screenplay in which I referred to John Wayne’s propensity for the occasional drink or two. Seeing as Tom was actually there during the shooting of The Quiet Man in Cong I asked him for this thoughts on this.

Looking over both shoulders to make sure no one could hear him Tom confessed to me that Wayne would on occasion take a nip from a bottle of whisky that he secreted under the passenger seat of Tom’s car. He then added that ‘John Wayne would never drink in the car if Maureen O’Hara was also in the vehicle art the same time. He was a real gentleman like that’.

During one of the many excursions John Wayne took into Cong to sample the local brew on offer, he took part in a drinking bout with one of the extras in the film, an extra who also happened to be a professional boxer by the name of ‘Marching’ Mairtin Thornton. Apparently, they both ended up in the bar of Ryan’s Hotel whereupon an argument broke out between Wayne and his boxer friend.

Duke was heard to threaten Thornton – a moment here to take in the coincidental fact that the surname of Wayne’s character in The Quiet Man is also called Thornton – that only one of them would survive should they have a fight. Before their drinking bout could turn into a boxing bout Ward Bond arrived with backup and hustled Wayne back to his hotel.

This was probably a good thing for Wayne, who according to witnesses was ever so slightly more inebriated than Mr Marching, as he would have quite possibly suffered serious injury from the fists his pugilistic drinking friend.

Victor McLaglen’s son, Andrew, recounted to me – and I’ve also read this elsewhere from other sources – that John Ford rode his father quite mercilessly when filming the wedding sequence in which Victor, as Red Will Danaher, sweeps a pile of money off of the table in front of him.

His character finds out that he has been tricked into letting his sister, Mary Kate, marry Sean Thornton after being told that there is an implicit understanding that the Widow Tillane will offer her hand in marriage to Danaher, which turns out not to be the case.

Apparently, Ford goaded McLaglen by ordering numerous takes of the actor angrily clearing the table of money. According to Andrew McLaglen, his father displays real fury in that scene, and is actually ‘in the moment’, as actors might say today. A case of Ford getting his cast to indulge in a little ‘method’ acting when required.

There is actually one other ‘method’ moment in the film, and it takes place right at the end when Maureen O’Hara whispers somewhat suggestively into Wayne’s ear.Maureen O'Hara whispers to John Wayne in The Quiet Man
The reaction from Wayne indicates he is caught by surprise at whatever it was she said to him, and now with the demise of Maureen O’Hara the secret of what passed between them will stay a mystery. Apparently, the line she whispered was an unscripted piece of dialogue devised by Ford to provoke an unexpected reaction from Wayne, which it obviously did.

There has been a lot of conjecture over the years as to exactly what that line of dialogue was, and there are numerous websites devoted to unravelling the mystery. One site suggests Miss O’Hara is inviting him to have sex with her, which I guess kind of goes without question really.

One of the many books on the making of the film muses on the possibility that the actress is whispering an Irish romantic suggestion such as ‘how would you like to go halves on a baby with me?’ in his ear. All I know is, if The Quiet Man were remade for today’s audience, you would be left in no doubt as to what was said. There’s an element of tantalising mystery at the end that will always leave the audience guessing, and that’s why the film endures to this day.

Some of what you’ve read here is from my own personal recollections of visiting the village of Cong in County Mayo. I have also incorporated information from two superlative books on The Quiet man, In the Footsteps of the Quiet Man by Gerry McNee and The Complete Guide to The Quiet Man) by Des MacHale, both of which are still available for purchase on Amazon.

Photo of author
Steve is a film scholar of note, gaining both an MA in film studies and a Ph.D. for his thesis on the silent films of John Ford. Steve, a scriptwriter and published novelist, provides much of the content you see here and is a dedicated aficionado and longtime fan of John Wayne, John Ford and Western films in general.

32 thoughts on “The Quiet Man – Behind the Scenes”

  1. I’m really glad I found this site. I love all of the Wayne-O’Hara collaborations but this is a special favorite, it has all of my favorite Wayne gang actors; Victor Maclaglen, Ward Bond, and Mildred Natwick as well as some of the most beautiful scenery on film.

    I have a feeling I’ll be back to visit again and again.

  2. My wife and I were just in Cong on July 13 and 14. We had a wonderful time. We took the walking tour from the Quiet Man museum and found it to be very interesting. We did stump our guide with a couple of questions. She vowed to watch the film again to see what we were talking about. We did go to see the White o’morn site. It’s sad but I can see that it would take a huge investment to restore it plus create the infrastructure to support the site. By the way, watch out for the sheep.

  3. “The Quiet Man” is one of my favorite films . The humorous interplay between the characters is timeless. I visited the village of Cong several years ago, I found it a friendly and charming place . I have planned on visiting again on my upcoming vacation in April ’17. Thanks for your insight and sharing your experience.

  4. Like several other respondents, I call The Quiet Man my all-time favorite film. Thanks for the article. It made me smile.

  5. Love, love, love that movie my all time favorite! Thank you for the article, very interesting….now I need to go watch the movie again!

  6. My daughter and I visited last summer. In preparation of visiting Ireland, we watched several Ireland-centric films, but this is the one that stuck with her. When we arrived in Cong, she asked if we could make a documentary about the locations. Here it is:

  7. Been twice now and loved it both times. Second time at the station. I remember sat on my dad’s knee watching opening sequence. The signal is hidden at the station and we found it. Priceless 🙂

  8. Visited Cong in February of 2015; I was the only tourist there and had the whole town to myself! A local in the new art gallery told me that in the summer they have forty tour buses a day!
    Danaher has only one “n” by the way, not two as stated in your article above.

  9. My favourite film of all time. Been to Cong loads of times and obsessed with all the intriguing facts such as, John Wayne forgot to remove his genuine wedding ring whilst emerging from the train. All of JW’s children acted on the film as did Maureen O Haras two brothers. John Ford’s brother played “the old man”. As I said, obsessed.

  10. Being part Irish and married to a huge Duke fan… I found the information very interesting. Would love to visit Ireland someday. And yes, some of us Irish do give directions just like in the beginning of the film (LOL)

  11. My alltime favorite movie. I watch it each and every time it is broadcast. I’d bet that after the cameras were shut down for the day, that a very good time was had by all. As to the comment whispered into “The Dukes” ear, well it may be lost to history as far as accuracy goes, but the implications seem clear to me.Bless their memories.

  12. The Quiet Man is one of my favorites of the John Wayne films.Have seen it many times and will watch it many more. Have never been to Cong, but, when I watch the movie, I feel like I’ve been there, Thank-you for your article.

  13. The Quiet Man and Casablanca are my two favorite films. I watch The Quit Man every St. Patrick’s Day as well as several other times during the year. And I been to Connemara and the area where it was filmed. I love the little behind the scenes tidbits that you shared. I imagined that what she whispered in his ear was that she was having a baby. Maybe too tame?



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