For the film, the American director of Irish descent created the now mythical town of Innisfree as a setting for the love story between the former boxer Sean Thornton, portrayed with a gentle warmth by the mythical John Wayne, and the indomitable Mary Kate Danaher, a redhead with "a fearful temper", brought to life on screen by Maureen O'Hara. And while Innisfree is a fiction brought into being by movie magic and the genius of John Ford, the locations where the filming took place are as real and as unmistakably Irish as ancient taverns serving pints of stout while intermittent rain falls on gentle green hills.
The main location used for The Quiet Man was the tiny village of Cong on the borders of County Galway and County Mayo in the west of Ireland. Like the rest of Ireland, the countryside around Cong boasts a multitude of shades of green. In fact, the colour appears in every scene of the film – though hardly at all in the costumes – and the result was such that at the first showing, studio chief Herbert Yates proclaimed it was “too green”. Reception by critics and public was considerably more favourable and the film won two Oscars; the award for Best Director was one of four that Ford would receive over the course of his career, none of them, surprisingly, for his best known genre, the western.
It seems that the shooting was as just as much fun as the movie itself: John Wayne travelled with his four children, and he and Maureen O'Hara became fast friends, while Ashford Castle, the luxury hotel where they stayed, became a second home for the whole team. The thirteenth-century castle, still a five-star hotel, was also used in some of the scenes and is one of the main stops for fans following the trail of the characters in the film. Another of the highlights of a visit to the area is Pat Cohan's Bar, a grocery store at the time of filming, but now a true Irish tavern, though a little less noisy and liable to erupt in a brawl than in the movie. Close by, the beach at Lettergesh was site of the horse race, another unforgettable scene.
Sixty years have passed since the filming, but the locals are proud of their associations with The Quiet Man and there are plenty of references all around. The bridge, the church and some of the typical village houses claim their part in the great romance, and one of the steeply pitched thatch roofs sits atop the Quiet Man Cottage Museum, which houses clippings and memorabilia from the film and a ground floor designed as an exact replica of the 'White-o-Mornin' Cottage.
Nearby, in County Galway, where John Ford's father was born, other scenes were filmed, including the arrival of Sean Thornton by train at another fictional location, Castletown. This memorably comic scene, in which all the locals try to explain how to get to Innisfree, was shot at the station at Ballyglunin, where little has changed over the decades. It is worth taking time to visit the picturesque city of Galway, whose streets are enlivened by numerous street musicians, and then travelling on to the Cliffs of Moher, one of the Emerald Isle's greatest tourist attractions. The primitive grandeur and power of these dramatic vertical walls that rise to heights of 200 metres was the setting for the rather more tragic romance of Ryan's Daughter.
There's no doubt that, as well as the welcoming people, the real attraction of Ireland is the landscape: the gentle curves of the land whose colour changes from brilliant emerald to muted green, to almost the same dull leaden colour of the clouds; the clouds themselves that blur the borders between earth and sky, giving a dream-like quality everywhere; those same clouds that at any moment may break apart to let through a dazzling ray of sunshine and set the whole land sparkling; the angry winds and the rainbows; the bucolic images of cows and sheep grazing on soft hills... this is the Ireland of The Quiet Man: haunting and enchanting, endearing, passionate and welcoming.
When to Go
The best time to visit Ireland is in the summer. Although you're likely to find rain at any time of year, there's more chance that summer will bring sunshine, and the days are long with night not falling till 11pm around the solstice.
Rent a car at the airport to get the most out of your road trip exploration of the Emerald Isle – but remember many of the roads are very narrow!
Where to stay
Staying at Ashford Castle in Cong is quite an experience not just for film buffs, so check the website for special offers; note that even if you aren't staying at the castle, you can take a tour. The Pat Cohan Bar website lists a number of local B&Bs, some of which have connections to the film. If you choose to stay in Dublin, the award-winning Number 31 combines a classical Georgian townhouse and a modernist mews, refurbished with cosmopolitan flair.
Where to eat
After the obligatory pint at the Pat Cohan Bar, just a few steps away in Abbey Street you'll find the Hungry Monk Cafe which serves cakes, salads and sandwiches throughout the day. For a more sophisticated meal, the restaurant at Ashford Castle is one of the best in Ireland.
The west of Ireland is full of stunning countryside and ancient monuments and stones. In Cong itself, there are the ruins and gardens of Cong Abbey, founded in the seventh century. Described by Oscar Wilde as "a savage beauty", Connemara, and particularly the Connemara National Park, is one of the last unspoilt areas in Ireland. Farther south, off shore from the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, www.cliffsofmoher.ie lie the wild and rugged Aran Islands, the birthplace of John Ford's mother. If your flight takes you via Dublin, take time to explore this modern city with its bars offering live music, the delightful Georgian houses and the heritage of great writers including James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Bram Stroker and William Butler Yeats.