An Unforgettable Experience

Michael O'Connor (Oughterard Newsletter May 2011)

A film was to be made in Connemara

It all began in the summer of 1951. I was just a teenager, working for the local council, spreading turf with many neighbours and friends, in the turf bogs in Leiter which is part of the beautiful Hills of Doon in Connemara. One day as we sat around talking during lunch break, somebody mentioned that they heard that a film was to be made in Connemara. This news really excited us all, as never had this happened here before. Sure enough the news spread locally and eventually it was on the national newspapers. We were all very excited as most of us enjoyed the films being shown in Oughterard and Galway and also by travelling cinemas who called to the various parishes throughout the West of Ireland at that time.

John Wayne.

We were particularly interested in John Wayne. He was our idol, and little did we ever imagine that this idol of ours would be soon on his way here, to star in the first major film to be shot on location in Connemara. What excitement seized us – especially those ardent filmgoers among us like Joe McDonagh and Paddy Halloran who never missed a western. So there and then we decided that we would have to see John Wayne in the flesh, while he was around.

An Opportunity

A few weeks passed when suddenly our wish was granted. A garden party, a fundraising event was advertised in the local press and it was arranged to be held in Spiddal Village. It was to raise funds for the NSPCA (National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). And presto – who do you think were invited to this garden party? Yes, you have guessed – the whole cast of the film The Quiet Man, What luck! Everybody around the place was delighted, as it gave people from this area a better chance to get to see them in Spiddal and the big day was worth waiting for.

Getting to Spiddal

Paddy Halloran and I started making arrangements early on. We got our bikes ready, I had just purchased a new Raleigh bike which I thought was a bit heavy for the trip, so as Paddy Gill had just bought a Racer I asked him to swap bikes for the day – which he did. So all things ready, including a hearty breakfast, we hit the road for Spiddal with great excitement and expectations. We lived just twelve miles from Spiddal, but this trip was our first time to see the place. Unbelievable but true. Transport was scarce and most people either walked, went by horseback or maybe like us, some were lucky enough to have a bike handy.

The day was nice and dry, but overcast, we really enjoyed the journey, as for both of us this was unchartered territory and the landscape was really exciting. The views were spectacular from the hilltop and the beautiful Galway Bay in the background really completed the picture.


Crowds were beginning to arrive in the village – everybody was so excited, after a cupán tae we made our way to the grounds of Spiddal House where the big event was planned. The place was filling up and at that point the sun broke the clouds. The timing was perfect, we started to pick out the VIPs form the crowd, but we had no problem finding John Wayne.

He stood out from the rest. He was very tall but looked exactly how he did in the films; this was really exciting for us, as we gazed around the lovely garden. Next we spotted Maureen O’Hara with her really beautiful red hair and a wonderful Irish smile. Then we picked out the others of the cast – namely Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald, his brother Arthur Shields, some Abbey Theatre actors and our own Galway actor Sean McGlory. The only member of the cast that was missing that day was Victor McLaglan. We certainly missed him as he played such an exciting role in the film as the Squire Danaher, who was the big baddie in the film.

A Rewarding Trip

All around the garden there were collection boxes and all donations were deposited in these. Each star had a box and as we approached each star we placed our donations in these boxes. Each star shook our hands and had a nice word of greeting for each of us. It was really wonderful to meet these famous stars. So we got their autographs and greetings before we left for home. I thought it was the most rewarding trip I had ever undertaken and the most satisfying. As I said earlier we were always fond of films but after this encounter with these stars now more than ever were pure film fanatics.


This page was added on 05/05/2011.

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