Tom Grealy, the well known Galway accountant and music aficionado, remembers as a schoolboy the day John Wayne rode into the town. In 1951 Wayne, probably the best known cowboy actor of his day, was in Cong filming The Quiet Man. The film, somewhat surprisingly, remains a world -wide favourite. More than half a century later, it is still regarded by many film makers as the ‘perfect told story’. The involvement of local people among its star studded cast, which included Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, and Arthur Shields, all at the peak of their careers at the time, won their lasting affection. The occasion is still celebrated in Cong today.
Its director John Ford played a blinder. Born in California, the son of emigrants John Feeney, or OFearna, from Inverin (near Spiddal ); and Barbara Curran of Kilronan, Ford established himself in Hollywood, and rapidly became one of the most important, and influential, filmmakers of his day. Orson Wells, Ingmar Bergman, even Steven Speilberg, regarded Ford as one of the greatest directors of all time. He had made his reputation with uncompromising Westerns, including Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man who Shot Liberty Valance. A few years before coming to Ireland he changed tack, and explored other themes. His groundbreaking How Green Was My Valley, the story of a Welsh mining community, won five Academy awards.
A notable feature of John Ford films was that he used a ‘stock company’ of actors; so when he arrived at Shannon with his Quiet Man script, and some of his best actors, expectations were high. Ford was happy, and in excellent humour throughout the making of the film. He made it clear that he was ‘home’, and that he was going to make a completely different kind of film. Once it was safely ‘in the can,’ he described it rather racily as ‘the sexiest film ever’! ‘Many Westerns have a gutsy sort of sex’, he said, ‘ but The Quiet Man is all about a man trying to get a woman into bed: But that is all right, they were married, and it is essentially a moral situation done with honesty, good taste and humour.’
Lord Michael Killanin, of Spiddal, was a co producer on the film. When Ford said they he wanted absolute authenticity in every shot, he demanded hand-tailored coats, jackets, and suits for both men and women. Killanin suggested all the main actors head straight to Ó’Máille’s of Dominick Street (now located at 16 High Street, Galway ), and get fitted out.
It was lunchtime when word spread throughout all Galway schools that the world’s greatest cowboy, known as The Duke, was at Ó’Máille’s. There was a stampede as children rushed to get there, to see for themselves. The press of schoolboy faces at the window, and the crowds gathering outside blocked the actor’s car. Probably for the first time in his career, the Duke was finally trapped. There was no other exit. Would this be the end for the man whose guns never ran out of ammo? The Duke bravely went to the door, and stepped outside. A great roar went up from the crowd. They surged forward to get a closer look. But in a lightening move, instead of a Colt 45, the Duke pulled out a fist full of coins, and threw them over the heads of the boys. Chaos followed as everyone dived for the money. The Duke raced to his car. His driver was ready. With one bound, he dived into the back seat, and roared away... a free man once again. Tom Grealy believes he saw the genesis for Rooster Cogburn at that magnificent moment.
A brilliant business move
Ó’Máille’s is one of the great traditional shops in Galway, founded by Pádraig Ó’Máille in 1938. As the business grew he was joined by his brothers Sean, Stiofáin, and their sister Mary. In a brilliant business move, Pádraig realised that war in Europe was fast approaching. If he did not secure a large supply of tweeds and textiles quickly the shop would have nothing to sell. Shortly before petrol rationing was introduced, he spent months travelling throughout Donegal and Scotland, buying up all that he could find.
Pádraig brought together a talented group of tailors and seamstresses who worked in strictly demarcated areas of the shop. Seamstresses worked away at the back of the ground floor; while the tailors remained upstairs. The fun and the amusing anecdotes of The Quiet Man contract are still part of the shop’s colourful history today. John Small, a tailor from Ballinfoyle, made all McLaglan’s, and some of Wayne’s clothes; while Paddy O’Connor, of Cooke’s Terrace, made Wayne’s jackets.
Mary, known as Ciss, could work miracles on her small Singer sewing machine. She was given responsibility for Maureen O’Hara’s wardrobe. To add to the Hollywood razzmatazz, a Rolls Royce would regularly collect her at Dominick Street, and whisk her away to Ashford Castle, for alterations to Miss O’Hara’s costume. The two women remained warm friends all their lives.
Ó’Máille’s is celebrating 75 years of business this autumn. Through the years it has smoothly changed gear, without losing the traditional standards of its bespoke fashions, and its partnerships with some of Ireland’s great textile artists. The hand-dyed wool yarns of the legendary Millers of Clifden, McGee’s of Donegal, and Foxford’s Kersey’, blend perfectly with the more modern stoles, rugs, and scarfs of McKernan, Co Clare, Astrid of Slieve Aughty, and Liz Christy of Co Monaghan. The shop still retains its unmistakable smell of fabrics, and has all the colours of a Monet painting.
The list of Ó’Máille’s clients is impressive. But one man caught my eye, because when I was a schoolboy at the Jes he was a regular visitor. Claude Albert Chavasse lived with his wife Moirin Fox and their daughter Aebhgreine, in Ross Castle when it was a practical ruin. Not having the money for its repairs, the family lived in its great vaulted rooms, in sub zero conditions.
Chavasse was born in Oxford in the late 19th century. He became an Irish scholar, and one of the founder members of Conradh na Gaeilge. He was an avid Irish speaker. He refused to speak English. If he met you in the street, or stopped by your desk in the classroom, he would speak to you in Irish, and wait for your reply. His sister Marguerite Chavasse, had established a lace school in Keel, Achill. Chavasse went there on a visit, and was so impressed with island life, that he set up Scoil Acla, a renowned Irish school.
He dressed like an ancient Irish chieftain in a saffron kilt and cloak. To be honest as boys we were always a bit afraid of him, which was unfair as he was a gentle soul. I saw in its records that Ó’Máille’s made his kilt which consisted of an impressive five yards of hand-woven tweed, 28 inches wide.*
More on ’Máille’s next week.
NOTES: Poor Chavasse was once stopped for a minor driving offence in Macroom. He refused to answer the garda in English. He was hauled off to court, and once again refused to answer the judge in English. No one could speak Irish. As a result he spent two nights in jail.
He was elected as the Galway representative for Sinn Féin at the 1948 Ard Féis under the name Cluad de Ceabhasa.