On the afternoon of Wednesday, 6 August, 2014, our own Ryan O'Rourke had the opportunity to visit the site of the old White O'Morn Cottage in Tiernakill, Maumm, County Galway. This old site, which now lies in ruins, is better known to the world as "The Quiet Man Cottage." The structure was depicted as the home of Sean Thornton (played by John Wayne) and Mary Kate Danaher (played by Maureen O'Hara) in the 1952 motion picture "The Quiet Man."
Ryan was met at White O'Morn by Mike Ward of the "Save The Quiet Man Cottage" group, which seeks the complete restoration of the cottage. They, along with other groups, engage in an ongoing effort to find a solution that will be amenable to the cottage's current owners as well as Galway County Council.
We at The Wild Geese fully support any effort that seeks the restoration of this genuine treasure from Ireland's past. As the years pass, more stones from the original structure vanish as does the memory of this classic film -- a film which was the world's first glimpse into the magnificent natural beauty of Ireland in color images.
We invite you to join our discussion relating to the efforts to restore White O'Morn Cottage. For now, we hope you will enjoy this Q&A with Mike Ward of the "Save The Quiet Man Cottage" group:
The Wild Geese: Mike, in approximately what year was this cottage built, and who were the original inhabitants?
Mike Ward: The cottage is reputed to be between 200 and 300 years old. We do know it was well over 100 years old when "The Quiet Man" was being filmed in 1951. This means the cottage survived the famine years.
The film was earmarked to be shot in the town of Spiddal, County Galway originally. Cong won out as the filming location because of Ashford Castle's accommodations and the facilities there. It took about six weeks to make the entire film. It certainly brought a lot of activity into this area. The Joyce family were the ones who built the house, and their descendants still owned it and lived in the house when Hollywood arrived. I think they were paid something in the region of 500 pounds for the use of the cottage. All the exterior scenes were done in Ireland, but all the interior scenes were shot in a studio in America.
The Wild Geese: Do you think "The Quiet Man" still resonates with younger generations as a film?
Mike Ward: The older people would recall the film quite well, alright. It's left a huge mark on Irish culture and history. But some people from younger generations will say, "Oh, vaguely I've heard of it," but they're not terribly impressed with it. What I'm finding is that our biggest supporters come from Northern Ireland. We also have massive support, of course, from America. The film is still having phenomenal success with people all over the world, though. It's incredible to say that after 64 years, it's still rated as one of the top 100 movies ever made. As for the younger generations, we're getting a huge percentage within the last year who will come up and say, "Oh, I used to watch that film with my mom and dad when I was a child." They're growing up now and they're telling their own children about "The Quiet Man." It's lovely to see that the love for the film is being carried on to the next generation.
The Wild Geese: What would you need to get this cottage, now just a pile of stones, to a restored state?
Mike Ward: We'd need one of three things: An agreement from the owner to lease, sell, or donate the property. Nothing is happening there yet, but we're still working on it. Please God, something will come out of it eventually.
The Wild Geese: If you are able to secure what is needed to restore the cottage, what are your dreams for it?
Mike Ward: We'd love to have it all restored and actually have it open to the public ... not just as a private structure. It wouldn't benefit many people that way apart from just coming and taking a picture. We want to see it used as a cultural and heritage centre. Hopefully we will see that happen in our lifetime.
The Wild Geese: Finally, Mike, please give us the background of the "Save the Quiet Man Cottage" group of which you are a part.
Mike Ward: The "Save the Quiet Man Cottage" group was an idea I had been a fan of the film, as well as Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne, for all of my adult life. Starting about 40 years ago, I used to come down to Cong to have a look at the various film locations. I had an awful time trying to find the actual location of the White O'Morn cottage. And just typically as in the film itself, I was sent around here, there, and everywhere. Eventually after umpteen number of failures, I was actually able to locate the cottage. Like everyone else, though, when I did find it I was absolutely shocked and horrified to find the dreadful condition it was in. So, I decided maybe there was some way some of us could get together and try to get media focus on it.
At that time I was just becoming familiar with social networks. I was discussing the dreadful condition of the cottage with a friend who lived in America who was also a fan of "The Quiet Man" movie. Between us, we decided that perhaps we could harness the social networks to try and bring universal media focus on the situation. We didn't have a lot of hope for it, but we had a go at it. So, we set up a page and called it "Save the Quiet Man Cottage." That was in January 2010, and it took off. We couldn't believe the number of people; we thought we'd be lucky to get maybe a couple hundred people to join the group. In actual fact, it grew in leaps and bounds. Eventually, newspapers and magazines began contacting us and giving us a little bit of publicity, and then onto radio. Within about six months of the group being formed, we managed to get in contact with a local politician by the name of Senator Fidelma Healy Eames. She was a wonderful help for us. She introduced us to the man who was, at the time, the Minister for Irish Arts, Culture, and Gaeltacht Affairs, Jimmy Deenihan. After we had a meeting with him, our group actually received Irish government approval.
We had, in the meantime, gotten into contact with Gregory Ebbitt, the American-based owner of the White O'Morn cottage. We were able to get Jimmy Deenihan and Gregory Ebbitt talking on the phone. We had several conversations on the phone and through email. Everything looked to be terrific and the group was expanding rapidly; however, complications set in where Mr. Ebbitt wasn't as forthcoming as we had hoped. We had great hope ... things were looking good, then suddenly he was putting in extra stipulations. This made things more complicated, and as a result we ended up at an impasse. Four years later, unfortunately, we're still at that impasse.
The crux of the matter is basically this: The Irish government gave Mr. Ebbitt three choices. He could either sell the property, long-term lease it, or donate it. He thought a lot about it and discussed it with his family. It dragged on, and on, and on, and eventually what really spoiled the whole thing was when he came up with one offer that he would be allowed to build a replica "Quiet Man" village within the vicinity of the current cottage when it is restored. Because of a lot of complications with planning and environmental issues, that would seem to be out of the question. So, unfortunately, that's the way the situation is to this present day. There is a stalemate there. But, we have to keep hope.